This project is part funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth & Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) Programme

Why Northern Ireland has Start Up Success

DATE: 24/11/20


Most economies are feeling the pinch at present. 2020 has thrown up considerable challenges at all levels of industry. If you were considering starting up your own business, you may feel that it’s a risky time to do so with the world in such flux. However, at the same time as presenting risk, times of economic change also present opportunity. And there are some locations, where taking these opportunities has a higher rate of success than others. Throughout boom and bust, recession and political upheaval, Northern Ireland has continued to be home to a high percentage of successful startups. It has in fact been recognised as being one of the most small business-friendly locations in the world. But why is that? What is it about Northern Ireland, that makes it a magnet for entrepreneurs and all they need to set up their own successful businesses?

The Facts
In 2018 fDi Intelligence not only named Belfast the world’s most business friendly city but also one of the Top 10 Digital Economies of the Future. Not too bad for a city with a population of only 280K citizens. It’s also interesting that 13 of Northern Ireland’s companies made it into Deloitte’s most recent TechFast 50 which measures revenue and growth. The country may historically have been viewed as being behind the curve, but when it comes to start ups, and in particular the digital economy, we are well ahead of many of our peers.

History matters
Understanding why Northern Ireland is currently such a strong player in the startup world is deeply rooted in the past. Historically, cut off from the UK mainland, Northern Ireland was a nation of small businesses. Many of the larger international companies were slower to take up space in Northern Ireland so local companies set up, took root and grew generations of small business owners with innovation and entrepreneurial spirit at their core. In fact, looking back 20 years, many of the founders of now large organisations came from Northern Ireland originally. These roots in innovation, self-sufficiency, and resilience have grown stronger with each generation.

It’s all about knowledge
Just as critical to start up success is the fact that Northern Ireland is a knowledge economy. From a strong school system to excellent higher education establishments, we are known for a highly educated workforce. Each generation benefiting from what has gone before, feeding back into the entrepreneurial ecosystem year on year. The Global Entrepreneurial Monitor reports that in 2018, the entrepreneurial rate was highest in Northern Ireland in the age group of 25 – 34 years (10% of all startups), up from 5.5% in 2004.

Support systems
The industry of startups is also highly nurtured in Northern Ireland. From programmes like Go For It, Catalyst and entrepreneurial hubs such as the Ormeau Baths, right through to growth support, Angel Investors HALO, TechStart, Invest NI and The Regional Economy Development Organisation, there is an infrastructure that supports entrepreneurs from the idea stage through to growth, scale and exit. Whether it’s writing a business plan or seeking initial funding support, or perhaps it’s mentorship, pitching experience or investor relationships, there is a whole eco system that exists for entrepreneurs to tap into.

What’s the cost?
A big win for many small businesses is keeping the costs down in the early stages of launch. Northern Ireland traditionally offers lower rates, rents, and overheads. Salaries are less than in other central hub cities and in general, there are lower barriers to entry particularly for very small startups. The region is large enough to be a global player, to provide the infrastructure and depth of skill, but also small enough to be strategic, to make financial sense, and to maximise chances of business success.

Location helps
Small but perfectly placed, with airports connecting regularly to the UK, Europe and further afield, Belfast is an ideal location to stay connected to London and other business hubs, but also to benefit from being outside of a larger capital. With strong links to the ROI, UK, and Europe, it’s well positioned and has often benefited from large UK and US firms setting up subsidiaries here as a result. This investment in turn stimulates supply chains and economic health to make the location even more desirable.

Our experiences this year have forced every industry to shift. To stretch and find different solutions. Whether a startup or a well-established company, no one is immune to the ripples felt throughout the economy. While startups may be viewed by some as a risk, those that succeed will view them as an opportunity. An opportunity to take to provide a solution. To answer a need. To innovate and create something that will fill a gap. And taking that leap in Northern Ireland provides you with the best small business home you will find.

Whatever your business idea, whether it’s just something you’ve been mulling over or whether you’ve taken some steps on the entrepreneurial path already, we’d love to help. Read some of our Go For It Success Stories and get in touch. Our business experts will be delighted to hear from you and to talk you through everything you might need to know to move forward with your business concept.