The recession has sparked a big increase in the number of people considering starting-up their own business, figures from Invest Northern Ireland reveal.
Between April and December last year, over 12,500 people called Invest NI's Go For It enquiry line following a major advertising campaign promoting the Enterprise Development Programme. This was 16% ahead of the Invest NI target and led to over 8,500 meetings with advisors to discuss proposals to start new businesses.
In addition, there were nearly 220,000 visits to the nibusinessinfo.co.uk website, which provides information to people in Northern Ireland considering starting-up businesses. This was 22% ahead of the Invest NI target. There are also 375 followers of Go For It on the Invest NI Twitter channel and 209 visitors have gone to the new Invest NI YouTube channel.
Sharon Polson, head of entrepreneurship at Invest NI, says that while the recession seems to be driving a higher interest in starting a new business, it is probably having a negative impact on the ability to do so.
"A recent report by Oxford Economics looking at the first six months of our new Enterprise Development Programme, concluded that the current economic environment may be having conflicting impacts on the programme," says Ms Polson.
"With many having been forced out of employment, unemployment expected to remain high for a while and employment creation expected to be subdued going forward, a lack of options may be leading to more individuals considering starting a business.
"On the other hand, as the recession has impacted on most sectors, there is lower demand with the result that a perceived lack of demand may limit the numbers starting a business in the short term."
The interest in setting-up new firms in Northern Ireland is consistent with the experience across the UK. Figures from the British Bankers Association reported that nearly 430,000 new business were established in the first nine months of last year, a 7% rise on the previous year.