Belfast Telegraph

Working with prospective entrepreneurs to help them towards successful careers

By Nigel Walsh, director of commercial banking at Ulster Bank

Belfast's entrepreneurial ecosystem is thriving - creating a collaborative culture of like-minded people who are diverse, hungry and co-operative as they turn ideas into enterprise.

At Ulster Bank we believe an important part of our role is to contribute to an environment where entrepreneurship is celebrated and understood to be a challenging yet intensely rewarding and achievable goal to pursue in your career.

From my perspective, working with entrepreneurs and small businesses across Northern Ireland provides an insight into what enables them to do well.

All early stage businesses are unique but speaking to enough of them provides a bird's eye view of what we expect to see in those that are more successful.

The first is counter-intuitive. It is about knowing when enough is enough - not continually throwing time after bad investments or decisions in order to try and retrieve them.

Many of the entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses have so much passion that the challenge they face is learning when to expend that energy to the biggest benefit for their business. Entrepreneurs have to balance a 'never say die' spirit with a practical realisation that they will learn and make mistakes as part of building a resilient business.

This is part of having the courage to understand the areas in which your business needs help. Entrepreneurship rightly encourages a culture of personal responsibility and trying to fix problems yourself, but targeted expert help - whether in the form of financial, legal or marketing advice - can provide a significant return on investment, keeping you and your ideas safe and secure, or allowing you to reach new customers.

Start-ups need the vision and drive of their founder - they don't need them to become a total expert on all factors that affect their business.

The best businesses also approach investment in the right way - focusing on getting their product right, rather than setting out straight away to grow and scale up.

Building a venture that is credible, backable, and which generates cash is an important signal to outside investors that can encourage them to trust you, while giving the entrepreneur the breathing space of working by themselves to beta test their assumptions, making it easier fort them to sell to others in the longer term.

Ultimately there is no one formula that covers all businesses - competition, luck and sector-specific opportunities all arise that move things along at a faster pace.

But the good thing about working in a community like Belfast's entrepreneurial teams is that there is a wealth of support and advice around to provide guidance along the way.

*Nigel Walsh is commercial director at Ulster Bank

Belfast Telegraph