Just over 100 small businesses in Northern Ireland are helping to keep the economy afloat and have created over 3,000 jobs since the beginning of the credit crunch, according to a new report.
Santander Corporate Banking commissioned the Breakthrough Growth Champions Report, which examined growth patterns among businesses with turnovers between £500,000 and £10m.
The document found that around 4% or 131 'fast growth' businesses created 3,283 jobs during the difficult trading period of 2007-2010 and have had a significantly higher economic impact on Northern Ireland than the rest of the region's small and medium-sized business (SME) population.
Characteristics commonly held by such companies include strong teamwork and relationships, youthful leadership, high levels of ambition and directors with a history of entrepreneurial success.
Tracking such characteristics has also helped identify firms with a higher probability of achieving growth in net worth, sales and employment - of which there are 69 currently in Northern Ireland.
The highest performing sectors were in social work (14.7%), complementary medicine (11.4%), and architectural and engineering activities (7.7%).
Peter Torrens, Regional Director for Santander Corporate Banking in Northern Ireland, said that the firms have demonstrated that they can thrive despite the current financial climate.
"Contrary to popular thinking, these champion businesses operate across a wide range of industry sectors proving that fast growth is not confined to the technology industry," he said.
"Banks have a responsibility to support businesses to accelerate growth at all stages of their life-cycle. Using the common characteristics exhibited by Growth Champions, we can identify the fast-growth businesses of the future and provide the support they need to help them fulfil their potential," he added.
The Breakthrough Growth Champions Report was commissioned by Santander to explore how the credit crunch and resulting recession impacted on small and medium sized businesses.
Information and services firm Experian was commissioned by Santander to carry out the analysis into patterns of employment growth among the UK's smaller businesses - those with turnovers between £500,000 and £10m per annum. The analysis concentrated first on the period 2002 to 2008, and then separately on the period 2008 to 2010, in order to measure the impact of recession.
But Roger Pollen, Head of External Affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, warned that while small businesses are doing well in Northern Ireland, more needs to be done to support the private sector.
"Our figures estimate that 87% of all firms in Northern Ireland employ five people or less and there are only 100 firms classified as large businesses here - when you look at it in that light, 3,000 jobs in three years is not a huge figure."
But one company that is leading the way in the global market is Belfast-based Thompson's Family Teas. Currently employing over 50 in Belfast, this award-winning business was recently chosen as the Titanic Building Belfast's official tea provider.
Founded by Robert Thompson in 1896, Thompson's Family Teas has been owned and managed by three generations of the Thompson family. The award-winning firm has recently been appointed as the 'official tea provider' to the Titanic Belfast building.
The Punjana brand has been awarded double Gold in the Guild of Fine Food's 'Great Taste Awards' for three consecutive years. Currently employing over 50 staff at a tea blending and packing facility in Belfast, its major markets include the UK, Republic of Ireland, and USA.