Belfast Telegraph

The next wave of entrepreneurs

By John Simpson

Occasionally, in the search for business initiatives, someone does something that is refreshingly adventurous.

Just 11 days ago, the building that celebrates ship building technology, the Pump House beside the dock where Titanic was built, hosted a very modern brainstorming session.

Over 200 people, many of them ambitious youngish business entrepreneurs, put their collective efforts and minds into asking and answering the question "what is it going to take to create a stream of unstoppable [business] start-ups?"

This audience was different. Conventional wisdom was crowded-out by unconventional ideas. Read the details on

As could be expected, the ideas were wide ranging and, in some cases, contradictory. The common purpose of a revitalised business sector was shared.

The drive for the unconference came from the Connect programme based at the Northern Ireland Science Park (NISP).

Setting the scene, Steve Orr from NISP Connect, laid out the challenges. "What is holding us back?" was the introduction. He quoted from the conclusions of the report by Oxford Economics on the scale of the benefits if Northern Ireland developed a modern knowledge economy.

To accelerate the arrival of a knowledge economy, high on Steve Orr's priorities was a plea that we should put the search for, and development of, entrepreneurs in the lead. Going further, this should be stiffened by giving the expansion of indigenous businesses priority status, possibly even ahead of foreign direct investment.

One of the memorable moments was when the organisers underscored the merits of the day as an 'ideaFest' - it was not a moanfest, nor was it a whinge session.

The list of ideas was impressive. They were captured by skilled, articulate mentors who examined suggestions on the availability and use of funding, the generation of a community with enhanced skills, the value of inter-business co-operation, the development of better market access and sales, and drawing on academic collaboration.

Nothing new in those themes. What was new was the building of a fresh approach to debate. We must teach, or nurture, a larger generation of entrepreneurs. The cultural entrepreneurial void, or failure, of the past must give way to a new shared culture, less averse to risk and more adventurous.