Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Questions (10)

Thomas P. Broughan


10. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the current supports provided by his Department to Irish residents under 25 years of age to start their own businesses; if he will be introducing further support for this category of entrepreneurs; and if he has any further plans to assist and encourage women entrepreneurs. [33414/13]

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Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Jobs)

Encouraging and promoting an enterprise culture in those under 25 years is an important area of activity for the county enterprise boards and the local enterprise offices. These offices seek to influence student attitudes in favour of enterprise at both primary and secondary level through the annual student enterprise awards and local or inter-county initiatives such as Exploring Enterprise, in which more than 20,000 students participate annually.

There are three areas dealing with young entrepreneurs. Young entrepreneurs interested in starting a business can contact their local enterprise offices to discuss options available. This is the first stop for enterprise, offering both grant support and soft support such as mentoring and training. The second support source is Enterprise Ireland, which provides a general suite of supports for start-up companies. These include the competitive feasibility fund and the competitive start-up funds, seed and venture capital, development capital funds, high-potential start-up funds, and the HALO business angel partnership, which is mandated to match business angels with appropriate projects.

The Government also established a microfinance loan fund in 2012 to improve access to credit for entrepreneurs and to facilitate the growth and expansion of viable businesses. This is particularly relevant to young entrepreneurs who do not have a track record or credit history, previous business experience, or other assets to act as security, which other financial institutions typically seek.

Enterprise Ireland has a number of initiatives to support young third-level researchers to establish businesses. These include the Enterprise Ireland commercialisation fund, innovation vouchers, applied research enhancement centres, incubation units in third-level colleges and community enterprise centres. The issue of youth entrepreneurship features large in the submissions received under the recent public consultation on the proposed entrepreneurship policy statement, which is currently in preparation by a group chaired by Sean O'Sullivan.

When will that report be available? It will be a major national statement on entrepreneurship. Is it expected this year?

I refer to the GDM report. Some of the comments about supports for young entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs were somewhat disappointing. Even allowing for the impact of the great recession, I wonder if more could be done. Youth unemployment is a common problem in most European Union countries. I refer to an interesting article in Süddeutscher Zeitung which states that what happened to Ireland was the result of a failure of the political class. I suppose this relates to a failure of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael down through the decades in that we could have had a much more community-controlled economy, as Deputy Tóibín said, and a more entrepreneurial economy based on our own strengths. Instead of which, the article notes the massive emigration figure of 300,000, which compares to 5 million Germans leaving Deutschland-----

The Deputy is over time now.

-----which would be regarded as a national catastrophe. Because of the failure of overall macroeconomic policy, are we not losing perhaps some of our most innovative, dynamic and business-orientated young people to Australia, Canada, the United States and Britain?

The Deputy must conclude.

Is this not a great tragedy? They will be entrepreneurs in a different culture. It is critical to get the macro policy right and follow it up. I know the Minister and the Minister of State are sincerely determined to try to keep the numbers at work at the current 1.845 million. They need to keep doing that.

The Deputy is now one minute over his time.

The Acting Chairman is used to my being slightly over time in different forums, although I have not been in a forum with him for a long time. The Minister knows where I am coming from.

I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me to speak. Like Deputy Broughan, I wish to compliment the Minister and his team on some of the great schemes that are available to help entrepreneurs. However, I think we could do with a bespoke scheme for young entrepreneurs because of the types of project and the age of the applicants. They might be at a disadvantage compared with older applicants. I ask the Minister to look at this again. A scheme designed specifically for young entrepreneurs would help to address the haemorrhage of talent from these shores.

The decline in entrepreneurship is disappointing but it is concentrated in certain sectors such as construction, which used to be a major entrepreneurial sector. As I mentioned in reply to Deputy Calleary, a bespoke scheme for women entrepreneurs was launched last year. It was very successful and was oversubscribed. We are continuing to build on that.

On the question of whether our most dynamic young people are leaving the country, it is recognised that Ireland has a really good start-up culture and that we have good availability of seed capital and many strong clusters in technology, medical devices and so on. In many areas we have really good environments for business start-ups and we are actively seeking, through the likes of Connect Ireland and other programmes, to get people to recognise Ireland as a good place for start-ups.

In reply to Deputy Hannigan, youth entrepreneurship will be at the heart of this review of entrepreneurship. Start-up support is located in higher education institutes in order to target young people who are undertaking research. There may be merit in having dedicated competitive start funds targeted at young people, as was the case for women entrepreneurs last year.

On the wider issue, the Deputy asked whether this is a failure. The Irish economy can be very successful and has been. There is no doubt but that it took a wrong turn in the 2000s and got wedded to a property bubble that was unsustainable, but basic enterprise, innovation and the capacity to export have been sound. The challenge for us in politics is to rebuild the capacity to build strong enterprises based on innovation and the ability to export. That is really what we are seeking to create.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.