Northern Ireland’s newest business accelerator for entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurial Spark powered by Ulster Bank Hatchery, has opened its doors today. Launched in partnership with KPMG, the new hub, or ‘Hatchery’, on Lombard Street in Belfast, can play host to 80 businesses and early stage entrepreneurs.

It is part of a major international movement to encourage and support start-up and scaleup businesses. Entrepreneurial Spark is the world’s largest free business accelerator for early stage and growing ventures. Ulster Bank, along with RBS and NatWest, has partnered with Entrepreneurial Spark to bring its first Hatchery to Northern Ireland.

Opening the Belfast Hatchery, the Finance Minister Mervyn Storey MLA said:

“The fact that Belfast has been chosen as a location for an Entrepreneurial Spark ‘Hatchery’, powered by Ulster Bank, is both a recognition and endorsement of the talent and entrepreneurial flair that exists in Northern Ireland and the potential there is to develop that further.

“Small businesses, and the entrepreneurs behind them, are the lifeblood of our local economy and it’s vital they receive the support needed to enable them to grow, innovate and invest in their business venture.”

Speaking at the launch, Richard Donnan, Ulster Bank’s Head of Northern Ireland, said that the new venture represented “an important step” in encouraging a local culture of entrepreneurial spirit.

He said:

“The new Entrepreneurial Spark Hatchery will provide practical and meaningful help for some of the most innovative entrepreneurs and businesses in our society – help for what matters to them while they build resilient, investable businesses for the future.

“At Ulster Bank we are proud to support them and play our part in developing the local private sector. Getting entrepreneurs up and running is vital for the local economy. It’s an exciting opportunity - in a globalised economy, there are significant opportunities for people from Northern Ireland to carve out a niche for their businesses that enables them to compete and succeed internationally.”

Each intake of up to 80 start-ups will be based at the Hatchery for six months, with the most promising given the option to continue for another 12. Businesses are provided with an Enabler who encourages their acceleration, and also benefit from free office facilities, access to Ulster Bank’s networks and contacts, a start-up Bootcamp, dedicated mentoring from KPMG, regular events, workshops and training.

The Belfast Hatchery is part of a network of hubs being created across the UK – 13 in total by 2017 – which will support around 7,000 entrepreneurs over the next five years. 

Alison Rose, CEO of Commercial and Private Banking at RBS, said: 

“Our stats show one in five people in Northern Ireland would like to start their own business. Across the UK, just over 10% of people are held back because there isn’t enough local support available, but that rate doubles in Northern Ireland. With Entrepreneurial Spark, we want to even the playing field, not just by providing the basics you need to run a business, such as office space, Wi-Fi and phones, but by giving access to our people and networks. This will let entrepreneurs concentrate on establishing and growing, while giving them the guidance to do so.”

Jim Duffy, CEO, Entrepreneurial Spark said:

“We are delighted to be bringing our tried and tested business acceleration formula for start-ups and scaleups to Belfast and can’t wait to become part of the entrepreneurial community in such a vibrant city. Having recently released our latest Impact Report showing that to the end of 2015 our Chiclets from across the UK created nearly 2,000 jobs and brought over £85 million of turnover into the economy, we can see yet again the impact entrepreneurs are having on the UK economy. With our application window open now across all UK Hatcheries for August entry, we can’t wait to work with Ulster Bank to create an inspiring place from which entrepreneurs can scale their businesses.” 

Applications are now open for the Belfast Hatchery’s second intake of entrepreneurs, who will start the programme in August 2016.

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