As Global Entrepreneurship Week 2023 comes to an end, our thoughts turn to the future of entrepreneurship and providing the type of support business founders need to succeed.
Some describe entrepreneurship as the skill of spotting opportunities to start a new business, while others suggest an entrepreneur is someone who starts their own business to make a profit, make a difference or achieve both. However, there is more than one type of entrepreneur, so we need to think beyond the individual, opportunity and resources and try to provide a more cohesive and inclusive entrepreneurial environment for all founders.
We can separate new businesses into two broad categories:
- Traditional start ups – new businesses with the potential to grow steadily locally, nationally and possibly internationally.
- Innovation-Driven Enterprises (IDEs) – cash intensive in their early years as they develop their value propositions before growing rapidly, usually in large international markets from the outset, contributing significantly to the local economy.
While sharing some commonalities, the type and scale of support needed by each group differs; it is for this reason we are working with partners and stakeholders to develop a cohesive environment for business founders to thrive.
The view of the world-renowned MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) is that an innovative and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem is critical to fostering a vibrant entrepreneurial culture in any economy. This ecosystem requires active and coordinated participation of five key groupings, namely, government, academia, risk capital corporate enterprise and, of course, entrepreneurs.
REAP is a global initiative that engages with communities around the world to strengthen innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystems to transform economies, so when the opportunity for Northern Ireland to join this initiative, we seized the opportunity.
Prior to our involvement with REAP, despite having a wide range of excellent supports for innovative entrepreneurs, support for start up businesses was both fragmented and delivered by a range of organisations, leading to confusion in the marketplace.
To address this confusion, Invest NI led the region’s participation in MIT’s REAP. Over the past two years, 12 public, private and academic organisations representatives from the five key groupings, worked intensively with recognised experts to gain the skills and insights needed to create an inclusive and cohesive environment where IDEs can thrive.
The outcome of our collective work on REAP is already apparent; following the completion of an extensive piece of primary research, we now have a better understanding of entrepreneurial needs and recognise the need to nurture IDEs differently to other SMEs.
The REAP stakeholders have fostered stronger relationships and collaboration amongst the group and are keen to now extend this engagement to other important stakeholders in the ecosystem. We are working more closely together than ever before to ensure the ecosystem is coordinated to ensure that anyone, including those from marginalised groups or communities, can access the support and guidance they need to embrace the risk of starting a new business.
Longer-term objectives have also been established to transform the entrepreneurship environment in Northern Ireland; the REAP partners have agreed a clear pathway to support the formation and growth of more IDEs with global potential and together with councils have secured £27m funding require to deliver support to both SMEs and IDE.
These plans have received endorsement from DfE, which has included several key actions in the 10X Delivery Plan 2023/24 required for this transformation, including:
- Developing a new Entrepreneurship Strategy (led by DfE in consultation with the REAP partners)
- Introducing the Northern Ireland Entrepreneurship Support Service to support SMEs (to be managed by councils)
- Introducing/relaunching three entrepreneurship programmes (to be managed by Invest NI)
- Business Accelerator Programme
- Proof of Concept Programme
- Corporate Spinout programme
- Implementing a cohort approach for IDEs, for example focusing on specialisms such as enterprise software, deep tech and life sciences.
- Promoting entrepreneurship as a viable career path through education focused initiatives.