Transform your business into a sparkling success
It's worth stressing just how much local food and drink businesses contribute to the Northern Ireland economy. They already export to more than 60 countries, according to Invest NI, and their exports were worth more than £1billion in 2014.
There are many excellent businesses in the sector which are growing and developing organically, overcoming setbacks, responding to changes in customer demand and constantly tweaking their plans to make the most of opportunities in the real world.
Our experience is that the best businesses are those that are most open to new ideas and learning from others.
To support them in that, Ulster Bank works closely with Small Business Can, an online and offline network which provides an extensive range of insights from businesspeople, so that SMEs can learn from other SMEs.
With approximately 50,000 visitors, 1.5million hits per month, 20,000 members and around 45 new helpful posts each month, as well as multiple offline local networking events, it's a vibrant resource for businesses large and small.
We're conscious, though, that like Northern Ireland's entrepreneurs, we need to be innovative in how we provide this support - providing something concrete on top of the funding and advice that we can offer. In line with that, Ulster Bank is planning to participate in the Royal Bank of Scotland's Entrepreneurial Spark initiative.
This will provide an accelerator hub for local entrepreneurs, offering them workspace, a chance to collaborate with others starting out and access to the experience of a new entrepreneur in residence.
It will give them a springboard to pitch to the right people, and we hope to see talent and ideas from across Northern Ireland become exciting new businesses.
With £1.5bn available to lend to businesses this year, Ulster Bank has the capability and the appetite to support Northern Ireland's entrepreneurs. There will always be challenges on the way forward, but we're delighted to work with exciting local businesses, such as Erin Grove Preserves and Keen Nutrition, to help our local businesses thrive.
In addition to providing SMEs with financial support and expertise, one of the other ways in which we do this is through the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards.
With eight categories for SMEs, including food and drink companies and agri-businesses, the awards provide an excellent platform for firms to showcase their success.
By entering the awards, you will have the opportunity to be provincial winners in one of the categories and to compete in the all-island final later this year. Winning an Ulster Bank Business Achievers Award is an endorsement of business strategy, a boost for staff morale and a great marketing opportunity.
So, as you grow and develop your business, we hope that you'll take the opportunity to enter one of the categories - whether that's food and drink or one of the others - to highlight how resilient and innovative you are and how much you contribute to the local economy.