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'Our aim at the Hatchery is to build the people who will build new businesses'

Ulster Bank’s Entrepreneurial Spark Hatchery is aiming to help new businesses in Belfast

Published 05/04/2016

Lynsey Cunningham, entrepreneur development manager at Ulster Bank
Lynsey Cunningham, entrepreneur development manager at Ulster Bank

When seeing the stories of people like Becca and Paula, profiled today, and how their business ideas are coming to life, it’s a welcome reminder of the depth of Northern Ireland’s pool of entrepreneurial talent.

That was particularly evident to me as we launched our Entrepreneurial Spark Hatchery, powered by Ulster Bank, around a month ago.

With over 400 people in attendance, there was a genuinely positive and aspirational atmosphere as attendees heard from senior figures in business and politics, as well as early stage entrepreneurs. And what a whirlwind month it has been since, as our first entrepreneurs have begun the rigorous process of building strong, sustainable and investable businesses. Their enthusiasm is infectious.

The new facility, based in Lombard Street in the heart of Belfast with space for up to 80 entrepreneurs, has been a hive of activity since it has opened, with speakers, mentors, bootcamps and funding clinics being organised and planned to help these businesses take flight, with up to 18-months of support. With over 80% of the businesses supported by the broader Entrepreneurial Spark programme still trading today, it’s clear that these ideas aren’t just a flash in the pan — they are stepping stones to success.

From workshops with food innovation experts and retail gurus, to events focusing on time management, knowing your numbers and building teams, time in the Hatchery focuses on adding to the Entrepreneurs’ toolkit; building people who build businesses.

Seven weeks into the journey and from new clients onboard, developing prototypes, securing new stockists and completely pivoting — we have had it all.

When it comes to developing and sustaining private sector growth, everything starts and ends with small businesses.

Personally, I have found that being able to support people on the front line of business as they hone their ingenuity and creativity to be very informative — it helps me better understand the type of challenges they face, and what kind of support is most beneficial to them. It’s a virtuous circle that helps provide meaningful help for what matters.

It’s certainly been a crash course for our entrepreneurs, which can only be a good thing. Providing them with a safe space in which to experiment, stress test their assumptions (while managing their risk) is part of our commitment to supporting a broader culture of entrepreneurial engagement.

One thing that I’m keen to make sure is that people right across Northern Ireland, not just Belfast, understand the exciting potential that this Hatchery has for their business idea. While we have a number of early-stage entrepreneurs who are just starting out, we also host more established companies, some of whom base a single representative in the Hatchery in order to expose them to new ideas and potential opportunities through collaborative thinking.

For those who are interested in finding out more about being part of the next intake, starting in August later this year, visit and follow the activity of our current crop by following us on Twitter via #GoDoBelfast.

Online Editors

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