Belfast Telegraph

You can bank on our support

Small to medium-sized businesses account for 99.7% of all businesses and 76% of private sector employment. Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton looks at how the firms are coping in the present economic climate and highlights the help available for them

There is no doubt that running a successful business remains a significant challenge for many, but for small business with limited resources, it can be even more of a challenge.

The impact of the economic downturn has manifested itself in many different ways – reduced availability of funding through banks and private investors, declining sales and increasing energy costs, for example.

It is easy in these situations to think that the best approach is to 'sit tight and ride it out' – however, our advice would be to innovate, look to new markets and find new ways to grow your business.

And this is where we can help.

Over the last three years 90% of our offers of support have been to locally-owned SMEs.

In recent years we have refined our portfolio of support and introduced new measures to directly help businesses overcome the challenges they are facing.

Accessing finance to support business development is an ongoing challenge.

In the current financial climate the potential of many of our SMEs to grow has been suppressed by the more conservative approach to lending.

According to the 2011 Northern Ireland survey of Business Access to Finance, 65% of SMEs that applied for a bank loan were successful in their application, compared with 92% in 2007.

In response, Invest NI created its Access to Finance strategy, making available more than £100m of funding. Following the success of the Growth Loan Fund we are introducing the NI Small Business Loan Fund specifically targeted at micro and small enterprises.

The way to work with the banks has also changed in recent years.

We are introducing a new finance voucher to help small businesses access the specialist support they need to put their funding plans together to have a better chance of success.

Investing in skills development is another way for businesses to remain ahead.

This month we are introducing a new skills accelerator grant which will offer 50% support to SMEs undertaking training.

Looking to new markets should be another focus for businesses wanting to defy the downturn.

Exporting is the key way to grow our economy and helping businesses realise their export potential is a priority for us.

We have increased the number of countries in which we have support services, particularly in the developing markets such as South America, China and Russia, and we offer an extensive programme of trade missions, international exhibitions, including seminars on how to get 'export ready'.

Our innovation voucher scheme continues to unearth and support some of our most innovative small enterprises by providing much-needed partnering opportunities with research teams at our colleges and universities

By looking to the future, businesses stand the best chance possible.

Our Boosting Business campaign has generated over 15,000 enquiries – nearly 90% from companies contacting us directly for the first time – but we know there are more businesses out there that we could help and we would urge them to get in touch.

For help and advice contact Invest NI on 0800 181 4422 or visit

Invest NI is sponsoring the Excellence in Innovation and the Best Small/Medium Business categories at the Belfast Telegraph Northern Ireland Business Awards 2013.

Belfast Telegraph Business Awards

Closing date for entries: Thursday February 28 2013

Link: (for entryform)

Event: Wednesday April 17 – Culloden Hotel

Tickets: £100+vat or Table of 10 £900 + Vat

Email: or Tel JPR 02890760066

Belfast Telegraph