Ulster Rugby star Tom Court tries out new business hub in former Benetton store changing room
Claire Weir reports on a new enterprise centre housed in a former Benetton store that helps new companies to cut their cloth
Rugby player Tom Court and his wife are in the process of trying out the business world for size with the help of a new enterprise hub in Belfast city centre.
The Ulster, Ireland and British and Irish Lions player is setting up a mobile app company while his wife Cath, is also launching her new children's clothes company called Jack and Jillaroo, both with help from social enterprise Ortus. Established in 1988, it provides property and business development support for start-up businesses in Northern Ireland, all on a not-for-profit basis.
To celebrate its 25 years in operation, Ortus has opened a new business hub in Belfast city centre offering free advice, hot desking, conference facilities and information events. Tom said the help he had received from the centre has been invaluable.
"Ortus can provide help and advice for everything from start to finish, from the idea to the launch of the business and beyond," he said.
However, he was coy about the exact nature of his new business as it's in the early stages of development.
"My business idea is an education and health-based mobile app and we are already in negotiations with schools and hospitals thanks to support from Ortus."
However, Tom's wife firm is already up and running.
"My wife's clothing company is set to really take off and she has received loads of interest already after only launching in the past week."
Cath hand makes "dribble bibs" for children which are designed to soak up dribble as well as help protect the child from cold as a result of damp clothing against the chest." While these two businesses are based in completely different sectors, the people at Ortus had all the expertise at hand to help us," Tom said. "This new centre is a great idea, it is right in the centre of town, it is welcoming and non-intimidating and should be a great benefit to the business landscape in Northern Ireland."
About her business, Cath said: "We started the business two years ago on Facebook but have just moved online with the help of my business partner Kirsty McCandless.
"The orders have been flying in since the website launch so we'll concentrate on the online side of things for now before talking to retailers.
"Tom has been very supportive but I'm sure there's a tiny bit of competition in there."
The new City Business Hub on Castle Lane will offer free business advice, help with writing business plans, links to other business providers, hot desk and small conference facilities, information evenings and help on access to finance.
The centre will be open six days a week with extended business hours as demand grows.
All the facilities and advice are free, donations are welcome and room hire for the large meeting room requires a nominal charge for appropriate businesses.
The hub is housed in an old Benetton store and rather than change the layout, Ortus has kept the space open and welcoming and indeed the hot-desking facilities -- where anyone can turn up to use wi-fi and print documents -- are housed in the old changing rooms.
Ortus chief executive Seamus O'Prey said that Ortus has already helped big-name Northern Ireland companies like the Shankey male grooming brand and the now-internationally known Suki Tea.
"We want to offer a one-stop-shop for all business needs right in the middle of Belfast," he said.
"We're really excited about the hub and what it will provide.
"We can support established businesses or someone coming in off the street with an idea in their head.
"We've split the ground floor into four areas, each of which contains information and help about the various different stages a business will go through from inception."
Among the other organisations that Ortus supports is Fire Risk NI, which has a portfolio which ranges from Northern Ireland's biggest and best hotels to contracts with the Diocese of Down & Connor and Dromore.
It offers fire risk assessments for all types of workplaces and has established a Fire Safety Training School, which offers fire safety training for individuals and employees.
As well as the new centre, Ortus also offers 375,000 sq ft of commercial property for rent, including retail, office, warehouse, manufacturing and storage facilities at competitive prices.
It provides a wide range of business support for SMEs, from pre- start through to strategic growth and expert franchise consultancy services and has developed and acquired a number of other new businesses including FLEX language services, Companyregistry.eu and Fire Risk NI.
In 2012, Ortus supported over 300 businesses to start, grow and develop and facilitated the creation of over 500 jobs and through its business parks, Ortus has generated £9.5m of salaries and £44m of economic activity.
The organisation has made almost £50,000 in cash donations and has provided educational bursaries and sponsorship of sports teams and community festivals.
The company also owns CompanyRegistry.eu and FLEX Language Services.
Ortus also helped establish Franchising NI which provides information and support for those who want to start their own business by purchasing a franchise.
A Social Franchising Programme was introduced in 2011 to help social enterprises and social entrepreneurs generate profits, social benefits and aid sustainability through a commercial franchising approach.
Over 20 organisations have gone through the start-up programme and a further 12 have gone through the growth programme.
Since it was founded in 1988, Ortus Property Services has developed and managed a number of sites throughout Belfast, and it currently hosts over 100 businesses.
Ortus currently owns two business parks, The Twin Spires Complex and Westlink Enterprise Centre in Belfast, offering 180,000 sq ft of retail, manufacturing and office space. In addition, Ortus also manages several property centres throughout the Belfast and Lisburn areas, comprising 200,000 sq ft of enterprise space.
Among other projects are the Regional Start Initiative, the Manufacturing Efficiency Programme, which will support 36 local manufacturers in enhancing competitiveness and productivity and Exploring Enterprise, a pre- start programme aimed at unemployed and economically inactive individuals who are looking to start their own business.
Since starting the programme in 2011, Ortus has provided assistance to 60 participants and over 65% have started businesses in photography, cake decorating, dress making, child minding, writing, and website design.
SERVICES THAT ORTUS PROVIDES:
* Lettings and sales
* Tenant liaison
* Property management
* Property rental analysis
* Service charge reviews
* Development appraisals
* Property investment advice
* Inspection and maintenance contracts
* Rental and service charge collection
* Storage facilities
* Fire safety & risk assessments
* Lease/license renewals
Turnover generated by businesses across Ortus properties
Salaries generated by businesses occupying Ortus properties
Businesses operating from Ortus properties
Organisations Ortus has supported since 2007
Free mentoring hours given to local businesses per year
Businesses which benefit from mentoring support per year
Donated to cross community projects
Average donated per year to local organisations
Donated through the Ortus Charity Golf Days since 2009
Donated to cross community projects
Put into local schools and education since 2007
Given to local businesses per year
"Dantes had historically been involved in retail, though recently re-positioned itself as a corporate catering company. We identified that we needed a new centrally located production facility, with good connections to the arterial roads. The move to Twin Spires has been very successful for us. The location is very central and we have been able to reduce our production costs."
Dantes Food service Ltd
"Ortus provided me with the support and assistance I needed to develop my creative business from a small craft industry to a fully fledged set of accessory brands which are now sold across Europe and into the US and Australia. Their guidance to implement best business practice and advice on export has been invaluable."
Grainne Maher Millinery