Belfast Telegraph

Many hands make lighter work for our entrepreneurs

By Lynsey Cunningham

With the first set of businesses completing their 18-month journey in the Belfast Entrepreneurial Spark Hub, it's a good opportunity to reflect on where we (and they) have come from.

The economic and political environment may have become more turbulent, but I think it's clear that we've given many entrepreneurs the impetus to grow and succeed much more quickly than they would have on their own.

The number of businesses supported by the programme has continued to rise and we've seen more and more sophisticated and established companies looking for the benefits that our accelerator can bring in helping them scale-up - not just start-out.

The halo effect of this has been really significant for us and it has been an important part of driving the cultural change that we hope to achieve - making failure okay as long as you learn from it, and celebrating entrepreneurship as a valid and respected career choice.

That's been at the centre of everything we do, whether it's hosting awards, presenting rapid-fire prizes or making new entrants perfect a 60-second pitch, because if we address all the practical, logical concerns, but don't give people the attitude and heart to overcome the challenges that come their way, then they will always find barriers, both real and perceived, as they try to progress.

Of course, one programme can't do everything, but we've been able to build really strong links with other accelerators and early-stage business development organisations to make sure that the right support is available to entrepreneurs at the right time.

You don't need a whole village to make an entrepreneur, but it's always great to have more hands on deck. Belfast does have entrepreneurial successes, but it needs more in order to keep growing sustainably and build a balanced, vibrant economy that creates jobs in the private sector. We've taken some big steps towards that, but there's plenty more still to do.

Lynsey Cunningham is Ulster Bank's entrepreneurship development manager

Belfast Telegraph