SMEs and entrepreneurs are central to our national ambitions for generating broad-based growth and prosperity. I am convinced that to drive increases in living standards into the future, SMEs and entrepreneurship need to be at the heart of our focus on innovation, productivity and growth.
Ireland has a diverse SME ecosystem, of innovation driven enterprises, high-growth and high-technology, family-owned, rural, owner-managers, traditional sectors, and a diverse profile of business owners including those with disabilities.
My overriding ambition is to unleash the potential of SMEs and entrepreneurs in boosting innovation, productivity and economic growth resulting in higher living standards for all our people.
The OECD review of SMEs and Entrepreneurship in Ireland, which I commissioned last year, recognises that there is well-spring of entrepreneurship right across the country. It also recognises that the Local Enterprise Offices have made a marked improvement in the promotion of and supports for entrepreneurs and it is the LEOs that are the first stop shop for anyone thinking of starting a business, including those with disabilities.
I am ambitious for every region and want to achieve a further increase in entrepreneurs starting and scaling businesses in every county and the development of our entrepreneurial hubs and enterprise centres has been a key enabler of increases in recent years.
The 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), located in the Local Authorities nationwide are the ‘first-stop-shop’ for advice and guidance, financial assistance and other supports for anyone intending to start or grow a business.
The LEOs can offer direct grant aid to any microenterprises (up to 10 employees) in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sector which, over time, have the potential to develop into strong export entities. Subject to certain eligibility criteria, the LEOs can provide financial assistance within three main categories:
- Feasibility Grants (investigating the potential of a business idea)
- Priming Grants (to part-fund a start-up)
- Business Development grants for existing businesses that want to expand.
For Start- ups or expanding businesses, the LEOs may be able to offer ‘soft’ support in the form of training or provide a mentor to work with the business proposer including courses such as the Start Your Own Business programme guides clients through the various aspects of business and business planning and the Mentor Programme which is designed to match up the knowledge, skills, insights and entrepreneurial capability of experienced business practitioners with small business owner/ managers who need practical and strategic one to one advice and guidance.
I will continue to ensure equal opportunities for entrepreneurship across the population and to address gaps in the self-employment and entrepreneurship activity rates of women, youth, those with disabilities and migrants. My agencies will continue to work very closely with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Intreo Offices in every county to ensure those seeking to get back to work or start a business are aware of the range of supports available.