Belfast Telegraph

Boot-camp to put the meat on the bones for new Northern Ireland businesses

Lynsey Cunningham, Entrepreneur Development manager at Ulster Bank looks forward to helping advance embryonic ideas

The entrepreneurs that I will get to work with every day are some of the best and brightest in Northern Ireland - I'm inspired by their creativity and passion already. The opening of the Entrepreneurial Spark hub, or 'Hatchery', this Thursday will be a clear signal that there is both the appetite and resources to think about doing things differently - to grow and develop our local small business culture.

The new Hatchery will be a place to develop early stage entrepreneurs and ideas, to allow them to stress test their concepts and build robust and investable businesses. But more than that, it will give them the space and opportunity they need to become better entrepreneurs that are flexible and resilient.

Powered by Ulster Bank, the Entrepreneurial Spark Hatchery will provide free space for up to 80 entrepreneurs, or 'Chiclets', offering hands on mentoring, a start-up 'bootcamp' and a free programme of up to 18-months of advice, support and expert clinics.

Our new accelerator hub will be host to new and existing businesses with exciting growth potential and adds to eight other Entrepreneurial Spark locations that are already open in Scotland and England.

Not every business idea that goes in to the Hatchery will emerge fully formed - after all, you don't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. But what it does do is support the people that make good businesses and encourages a local culture of entrepreneurship - removing some of the logistical barriers to turning an idea into something real. Everything starts and finishes with small business and getting entrepreneurs up and running is vital for the Northern Ireland economy.

Encouragingly, the Entrepreneurial Spark initiative - the world's largest free business accelerator for early stage and growing ventures - can boast a significant business survival rate for those that enter its programme. And 88% of start-ups and early-stage entrepreneurs who have been through its enablement programme since it was founded in 2011 are still going today. The 660 businesses supported by Entrepreneurial Spark have had an aggregate turnover of nearly £86m, attracted more than £45m of investment and created more than 1,800 jobs. At Ulster Bank, we're excited to see its potential locally and to give our people access to the vitality and enthusiasm that these entrepreneurs bring to the table.

The hub will work to provide practical support where it is needed - leveraging the connectivity benefits of being in Belfast, but open to applications from people across Northern Ireland and further afield. I'm really excited by the diverse range of people and businesses that are on board, ranging across sectors such as software development, agri-business and healthcare - different and strong industries.

Ulster Bank was founded by a group of local merchants in 1836 who were looking for funding to support their businesses as they sought to take advantage of the industrial revolution. With this initiative we want to see entrepreneurs develop as people just as much as we want to see their ideas develop - it's an approach that's in our DNA. Creating a culture that is supportive and welcoming towards entrepreneurs is essential in developing the local private sector and that's why I'm delighted to be providing support and advice to those starting out.

While we look forward to bringing our first group of Chiclets through the Hatchery in the coming months, even now we're looking ahead to the next group who are going to join us in August and start their own entrepreneurial journey. For those who think that they might have an idea or are interested in finding out more about our journey, they can follow our story on Twitter @ESparkGlobal and with the hashtag #GoDo or visit

Belfast Telegraph