RESEARCH from a major global survey has revealed Northern Ireland is lagging behind other parts of the UK when it comes to promoting entrepreneurial opportunities – but the younger generation is performing better than its peers in Scotland and Wales.
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, supported locally by Ulster Bank, is compiled in Great Britain and Northern Ireland by academics including representatives from Queen’s University Belfast.
This year’s report highlighted some of the differences in outlook between local would-be entrepreneurs and other parts of the UK.
The entrepreneurial activity rate is highest in Northern Ireland among those aged 25-34 (10 per cent). This is a rise from a figure of 5.5 per cent in the period 2002-04, and compares to a figure of 9.2 per cent in Scotland and 6.5 per cent in Wales.
The proportion of people not currently involved in entrepreneurship but who thought that they had the skills to start a business was significantly lower in Northern Ireland (38.9 per cent) than in the UK as a whole (48 per cent) but there were no significant differences in the fear of failure rates.
The percentage of people saying that there are good opportunities for a start-up in the local area in the next six months was recorded at 29.1 per cent in NI – slightly below the UK average of 34.5 per cent, but an increase of almost half (47.8 per cent) in the past five years.
At a UK level, 66 per cent of women said they started a business to contribute to society, compared to 39 per cent of men. Over four in every five people surveyed in Northern Ireland (80.2 per cent) said that those successful at starting a business have a high level of status and respect in society.
Ulster Bank’s Director of Entrepreneurship, Lynsey Cunningham, said the report showed that early intervention was vital: “Northern Ireland still has a way to go to in creating the entrepreneurial businesses that will drive private sector growth, but there are some encouraging signs.
“In our Entrepreneur Accelerator, I see day and daily the talent and inspiring ideas of these start-up and scale-up businesses, and Ulster Bank is committed to supporting more and more entrepreneurs with the practical support, advice and funding that they need to thrive.
“We see that people recognise the importance and value of entrepreneurship. However, entrepreneurs need a supportive culture in order to grow and it is vital that all those involved in nurturing and developing early stage and scale-up businesses work together to signpost best practice and the tools they need to grow.”
Female entrepreneurs are less prevalent that their male counterparts in NI, with around one female entrepreneur for every two in Northern Ireland (49 per cent ratio) – a similar rate to the UK. However, 58 per cent of the most recent entrants into the Ulster Bank Entrepreneur Accelerator were women.
Dr Karen Bonner, lecturer in Entrepreneurship at Queen’s University, highlighted the positive changes in attitudes towards entrepreneurship: “It is encouraging that people are recognising opportunities to start a business in Northern Ireland, and importantly, fear of failure is no longer the major barrier it was in the past. “However, it is key that we continue to develop the entrepreneurial mindset, particularly amongst young people, and give them the confidence to start their own business as this is one area we are particularly lacking.
“Greater exposure to local entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship programmes such as those run at Queen’s are helping to foster these skills and positive attitudes, and cultivate our entrepreneurs of the future.”
Richard Ramsey, Chief Economist at Ulster Bank, said: “Enterprise is one of the key driver of productivity and economic growth. Entrepreneurs are vital as they are the people who build businesses.
“While NI’s level of entrepreneurship activity compares less favourably with the UK, entrepreneurial activity has been broadly following an upward trend over the last decade, particularly among the younger generation.”