Belfast Telegraph

Start-ups crucial to build blooming economy: Bank chief

By Rachel Martin

The head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland has said he believes start-up businesses will be vital to a successful economy here.

Speaking at the launch of Entrepreneurial Spark, a start-up business support programme involving 80 selected firms, Richard Donnan said the only way to expand the economy was through growing businesses.

The firms taking part in the project in Belfast include Knight Systems, led by 34-year-old Jonathan Knight, who has come up with the world's first self-cleaning reversing camera for lorries, and Locate a Locum Now, an online pharmacy locum recruiter started by Michael Budden.

Mr Donnan said: "Northern Ireland has a rich history of entrepreneurs and I think this is the next generation of that. It's also a sign of the health of the economy. It's great to see new businesses starting, and I think that will then fuel other businesses."

Mr Donnan said those behind the business accelerator hatchery were looking for spark, the right mentality and a drive to be successful. "Then we're looking at their ideas and seeing are they something they can be investable and scalable," he added. "Part of this is about giving them confidence - confidence in building their ideas and growing so that they'll also learn it's not wrong to get challenged.

"Their ideas will be tested and really run through the mill, but all that will do is to help prepare them and hopefully help prove their ideas and prepare them for investors."

While it is the first year of the programme in Northern Ireland, it has already been a success in Great Britain. "Last year, businesses on the programme generated 1,200 jobs and £86m turnover - investments that would not exist without small businesses setting up," Mr Donnan added.

Finance Minister Mervyn Storey, who attended the opening, reiterated the importance of business growth to the local economy, adding that he would like to see Northern Ireland become a "go-to place for business".

According to Alison Rose, chief executive of commercial and private banking at Ulster Bank parent Royal Bank of Scotland, one in five people in the UK wants to start their own business but most lack the confidence.

She said: "There's a great sense of entrepreneurial spirit. There are lots of people want to start their own businesses but they get put off and don't know where to go to get help. It's confusing to navigate and it's that fear of failure.

"The entrepreneurs generally have a great idea about what they want to do, but it's knowing how you make that happen into something commercial and viable that will succeed. Those things are things we can help with.

"There's lots of help from Government, there are lots of grants and education - there are the CBI and all these different initiatives. The great thing about creating this in Belfast is that you can bring all of the ecosystem together."

Belfast Telegraph