Enterprise centre hopes approach will hatch new firms
A new business centre in Antrim is providing incubator units for budding companies. Jennifer McWilliams of Antrim Enterprise Agency said the region - which covers Newtownabbey as well as Antrim town - was already a good place to start a business.
Factors in its favour include a strong business culture, an impressive heritage and high quality accommodation.
Many world-class companies are also located in the area, including Wrightbus and Schrader.
It also benefits from the proximity of Ulster University, Greenmount College and Northern Regional College - as well as low levels of employment, with a claimant count of just 3%.
But manager Jennifer McWilliams said there was a low level of entrepreneurship in the area - and one of the lowest levels of self-employment in the province.
Ms McWilliams said: "As one of our key priorities to address, Antrim Enterprise Agency has started a campaign over the last number of years to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit, right from the school system with their innovative Biz Club, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics and how rewarding being self-employment can be and that it is an important career choice."
She said the agency was also helping people into self-employment with a free advisory and guidance service, which had helped 80 people considering starting their own business since the start of this year.
"We are committed to encouraging and supporting new business formation and supporting business growth through the delivery of small business support interventions," she said.
"We deliver Enterprise Northern Ireland's Exploring Enterprise Programme with Antrim and Newtownabbey which is a pre-start programme and Invest NI Regional Start initiative, the national business start up initiative for Northern Ireland.
"The programme provides a range of guidance, support, training and business clinics to develop and grow businesses and is focused on encouraging aspirant entrepreneurs to produce a business plan."
The agency has also founded 9:15BizNet, which is a forum for small businesses to come together and a network which meets at Antrim Enterprise Agency fortnightly.
And it has also opened the Hatchery NI, a co-working centre - which also includes starter units for companies.
The hatchery provides flexible accommodation for companies.
Ms McWilliams said: "Clients wanted accessibility and the ability to reduce the amount of office overheads they had. They wanted the professional working environment with meeting room facilities, but the flexibility in not having to be tied to a tenancy."
A staffed unit in the hatchery also offers services including a virtual office with a mailing address and telephone answering, as well as a co-working space.
There are also 247 desk spaces and mini-offices. The workspace units are around 85% occupied.
Ms McWilliams added: "With favourable rents and service charges, the enterprise park is fundamental in acting as a business hub and provides just more than a landlord service.
"With a fully serviced management office located on site, tenants know there is both office support services as well as business advisory services available."
She said that there was currently only one unit of 3,000 sq ft available - which would suit a light industrial or manufacturing business which was just starting out.