The vast majority of businesses need a helping hand at some point in their development. Here’s a list of state supports for new and growing businesses. 

A big supporter of SMEs and startups is the state itself. There are a large number of organisations that assist businesses to start, grow and expand. These organisations range from all-encompassing to sector-specific and provide a much-needed helping hand to thousands of businesses around the country.

Remember that competition for state grants and incentives is fierce, and agencies aren’t giving money away for anything. It is also important to consider that, occasionally, non-financial support, such as mentoring, can be just as helpful as financial aid.

State agencies

There are over 170 Government supports for startups and small businesses in Ireland. Here is a description of three of the major ones, and what they offer businesses:

Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs)

These are a great resource for start-up and small businesses around the country. There are over 30 LEOs around the country which offer a range of services, such as:

  • A ‘First Stop Shop’ service, which educates people on the steps involved in setting up a business
  • The provision of a range of ‘soft supports’, such as training and mentoring
  • Financial support, such as micro-finance loans, for setting up new businesses or expanding existing ones

Financial support is available in a number of different forms, including:

  • Feasibility grants: Designed to assist a prospective business owner with researching market demand for a product or service and examining its sustainability.
  • Priming grants: This is a business start-up grant, available to micro-enterprises within 18 months of their establishment.
  • Business expansion grants: Assists businesses in the growth phase after the initial 18-month set-up period. This grant may be awarded to a sole trader, partnership or limited company that fulfils certain criteria.

The Local Enterprise Office website also has a fantastic online interactive tool for SMEs that lets you input your business’s location, relevant sector(s), size, structure, stage, preferred support, and export and funding status. Once you have done that, the tool will automatically list all the relevant state agencies that can potentially assist your business, along with their contact information and, in many cases, the name of a person you can contact directly.

Enterprise Ireland

This agency is responsible for the development and growth of Irish businesses in world markets and supports the creation of thousands of jobs every year. The businesses it backs generate huge export revenues which are of benefit to Government finances. Indeed, Enterprise Ireland has been referred to as one of Europe’s biggest venture capital funds.

Enterprise Ireland has a large number of supports available to businesses of all sizes. Some of them are listed below:

  • New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Programme: Designed to support entrepreneurs with innovative business ideas who plan to set up and run their own companies.
  • Competitive Start Fund (CSF): This is an equity investment designed to accelerate the development of early-stage businesses with export potential by supporting them to achieve technical and commercial milestones.
  • High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) funding: HPSUs are businesses with the potential to develop an innovative product or service for sale on international markets, and the potential to create at least 10 jobs and €1 million in sales within 3-4 years of starting up. Grants and incentives are plentiful for these businesses and range from innovation vouchers and feasibility grants to mentor grants. More on HPSU funding is available to view online.

Bord Bia

The aim of this agency is to promote the sale of Irish food and horticulture both domestically and abroad. It has incentives for businesses, including:

  • Brand forum: A membership programme designed for manufacturers interested in branding their offering and looking to network with peers.
  • Origin Green: Membership of this group gives your business a sound platform for putting sustainable foods first.
  • Distributor search: Generates a shortlist of candidates for manufacturers looking for partners to bring a product to market.
  • Delivery services: Focuses on logistical solutions for physically shipping products.
  • Retail and food service programmes: Offer manufacturers structured approaches to local markets.

Also, be sure to keep an eye on any events run by the state agencies listed above, along with any others you identify. These represent an excellent opportunity to network with like-minded peers and gain valuable insights into your sector.

Tax clearance certificates

If you are seeking state aid for your business, the likelihood is you will be asked to produce a tax clearance certificate. This is written confirmation from Revenue that your tax affairs are in order on the date the certificate is issued.

4 Action Points

1

Create a business plan and strategy. Some programmes require you to have your strategy in place before you apply. However, the LEOs and programmes such as New Frontiers are there to help startups develop their strategies and implementation plans.

2

Identify the state agencies that could assist your business. There are plenty of grants and incentives available for qualifying businesses. The best way to focus your search is by using the SME interactive tool referenced above.

3

Research available grants and incentives. You will need to have a good business idea in place that explains why your business deserves one of these grants or incentives. Remember your local enterprise office may be a good starting point.

4

Go to events. At the very least, you will network with like-minded peers. At best, you will win new business.