Belfast Telegraph

Lack of support is hampering business growth, claims expert

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland companies are not being offered enough help and support to grow and expand from start-up businesses, an expert has claimed.

Firms here are facing a problem when they try to grow exports, increase staff numbers or open up new markets, according to Patrick Graham of the Business Growth Fund (BGF).

He said that while Northern Ireland was one of the fastest-growing regions for start-up growth, businesses were struggling to find financial support once they started to expand.

Mr Graham claimed the "infrastructure they enjoyed as a start-up" did not exist once a business was up, running and growing.

"We aren't helping our start-ups to become scale-ups," he added.

"The UK as a whole needs to be doing more to support its growing businesses. Northern Ireland is no exception."

He also warned that Northern Ireland must close the "scale-up gap", saying: "The UK's favourable tax rate and underlying infrastructure make it one of the best places in the world to start a business - something that could improve further in Northern Ireland when powers over corporation tax are devolved in 2018.

"And yet, we have a problem. When these businesses grow and try to move to the next stage - be that taking on more employees, opening in new locations or looking to export for the first time - the same support and infrastructure they enjoyed as a start-up does not exist.

"Northern Ireland, according to the Northern Ireland Science Park's most recent Knowledge Index, is the second fastest-growing region in the UK for start-up growth.

"While this is from a low base, it shows that the entrepreneurial talent exists in the region to make the most of these opportunities."

The BGF was established in 2011 to help the UK's small and medium-sized businesses.

And just last month, a family-run house-building firm in Co Londonderry became the first company here to win a multi-million investment from the fund.

Braidwater is run by father and son Patrick and Joe McGinnis and has been in business for around 40 years.

While the amount of the investment was not confirmed, the BGF, which was set up with a mission to provide growth capital to small and medium-sized enterprises, usually makes investments of between £2m and £10m.

Meanwhile, Mr Graham said that research carried out by Deloitte and the Royal Bank of Scotland found that as many as 150,000 jobs across the UK could be created if start-ups reached their potential size by 2034.

"Most scale-ups, from tech companies in London to Scottish-based oil and gas service providers and family-owned SMEs in Northern Ireland are facing similar issues as they seek to reach the next level," he added.

Belfast Telegraph