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Home-grown talent to fore with rise in Northern Ireland start-up firms


Stephen Henderson started making drums when he was 16 and now runs his own business

Stephen Henderson started making drums when he was 16 and now runs his own business

Stephen Henderson started making drums when he was 16 and now runs his own business

The number of start-up firms in Northern Ireland is on the rise — with hundreds more setting up shop last year than in 2013.

And entrepreneurs across the UK have created a record number of new businesses — with an additional 6,360 being created in Northern Ireland alone in 2014.

That’s an increase of 312 on the number formed in the previous year.

The figures show 581,173 businesses were registered with Companies House across the UK in 2014, beating the previous record, according to StartUp Britain.

According to Dr Norman Apsley of the Northern Ireland Science Park, Northern Ireland’s own home-grown talent is “better than most”.

“It’s something we have been trying to get the environment right for. Clearly, setting up a business is a risk — it’s a numbers game,” he said.

“For every one that fails, another one is growing. We have less than two million people here, but the quality is as good, if not better than most.”

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Northern Ireland has witnessed a raft of business success stories of all sizes in the last few years — including many within the region’s burgeoning technology industries.

One of those taking the plunge is Belfast mum-of-three Debbie Craig (31) (below).

She set up app firm Limejar to create software to help children with autism — inspired by her own son’s condition.

“I was in my final year in university and my son had been diagnosed with autism,” she said.

“I wanted to help children in the same situation — I had a lot of problems with him, but he worked really well with the iPad. I thought, I’ll try and create something to help, and it grew from there.”

And after securing £70,000 along with support from Invest NI’s Propel programme, she’s now working to develop her new smartphone and tablet app.

“The Propel programme was great — I didn’t have a clue how to get it off the ground and it helped me a lot.

“It allowed me to create a business model and to articulate what I was doing.

“The software now includes everything for the child to use, as well as for the parents and teachers.

“I’ve always wanted to work for myself and being project manager allows me to do this. Things are going well and I’m surprised at how fast everything is moving along.”

And away from technology, Stephen Henderson (20) set up Ruach Music, a firm building wooden cajon drums, as made– popular by groups such as Mumford and Sons.

He began making the instruments — sometimes referred to as a ‘drumkit in a box’ — when he was just 16.

And the Kilkeel-based entrepreneur is already seeking out big export business in the US and Europe.

“It’s been good so far, and there have been highs and lows — it’s been a great year,” he said.

“We now have around 30 retailers across the UK and Ireland, but internationally are talking to big music brands such as Guitar Center and Korg.

“We are getting the brand out there and getting an appreciation for the product.

“The US is our biggest market and that’s what we are going to focus on.”

Recent start-up success stories include brewing software firm Brewbot, which recently secured £1m in fresh equity funding