Belfast Telegraph

Innovate conference provides SMEs with chance to go global

By Mark Baxter, a DUP councillor and chairman of Craigavon Borough Council's development committee

It may not have featured in the pundits' post-match analysis, but the appearance of Moy Park's branding on the digital signs during this summer's World Cup football matches in Brazil certainly got the Northern Ireland business community talking.

It was a fine illustration of how the Craigavon-based food producer now dines at the global corporate marketplace's top table.

It was also a very global example of why Craigavon is one of Northern Ireland's best performing business regions.

However, while major employers such as Moy Park and pharmaceutical giant Almac are very much the flagship companies for the borough, it is the performance of the SME (Small and Medium size Enterprise) sector which paints a more rounded picture of a region's economic health.

Craigavon Borough Council has long recognised the responsibility which local government has to take a proactive role in making strategic investments which can stimulate economic growth amongst existing firms, harness the potential of emerging firms and encourage new businesses to locate in the area.

The council takes a triple-pronged approach of developing partnerships with academia and businesses to provide start-up firms and young entrepreneurs with all the support they require to realise their full potential.

The importance to business growth of research and development (R&D) and innovation has long been accepted, but it really can't be overestimated just how vital they are to any aspiring SME looking to expand.

The Northern Ireland Programme for Government and the EU Commission both identify innovation and R&D as key drivers for economic growth, employment and social integration.

Almost 200 delegates from SMEs across Northern Ireland will today attend the Innovate NI 2014 conference in Craigavon Civic Centre, which provides the small business community with a fantastic opportunity to learn from - and interact with - established companies with proven innovation and R&D credentials.

Firms such as global IT giant Fujitsu, Seagoe Technologies and International Synergies will be among the panel of experts, along with keynote speaker Alistair Fee, professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the European Business School.

As well as stressing the benefits to small firms of working in clusters, the conference will also provide advice on available opportunities for funding to stimulate innovation.

Hosted by Craigavon Borough Council in partnership with the Queen's University NI Technology Centre, the event is the latest example of local government and the education sector working in partnership with the private sector to boost economic growth.

Partnerships such as these will help future proof the region's business pedigree, create a thriving SME sector and, possibly, help develop more global players such as Moy Park and Almac in the future.

Belfast Telegraph