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.