Supporting Your Business: An Interview With Eibhlin Curley Of Dublin City Enterprise Board
Ireland ranks number 10 globally in terms of “Ease of Doing Business” according to a recent survey supported by the World Bank Group, which reviewed 183 economies in total. There are a number of Irish government agencies which provide financial and operational supports to ensure that it continues to be easy to do business here. In this interview with Eibhlin Curley of Dublin City Enterprise Board, we look at the supports provided by the thirty-five Enterprise Boards in general and by the Dublin City Enterprise Board in particular.
The Irish County and City Enterprise Boards, (CEBS), were established in 1993 to provide support for small businesses, (‘micro-enterprises’), with 10 employees or less, at local level. CEBS provide advice, grant aid, mentoring and training support to qualifying businesses. The qualifying criteria for CEB support will vary from one area to another, taking local needs and other available supports into account. This interview contains some information that is specific to Dublin City, but all CEBS operate in broadly the same fashion. You can find out more from your local Enterprise Board.
Eiblin Curley, Assistant CEO of Dublin City Enterprise Board, explains what supports are available and how to access them in this interview.
A small business owner might find it a bit daunting to contact a government agency for support. How do businesses get in touch with you and do they need a referral to get in touch?
If you are starting a small business with less than 10 employees contact your local Enterprise Board. The County & City Enterprise Board have 3-5 staff, so we are small, friendly and very approachable organizations.
If your business is a High Potential Start Up, (see definition in next question below), or is export oriented and employs over 10 staff then contact Enterprise Ireland. They have 800 staff and 39 overseas offices and 11 regional offices. You can start with you local Enterprise Board and then be handed over to Enterprise Ireland as your business grows. You don’t need a referral you can contact us directly.
Business Access to State Information and Services, (Basis), is a guide to all agencies and government services that you may require.
What businesses are eligible for support and how do you find out if your business is eligible?
County & City Enterprise Board’s priority is job creation and exports for micro businesses. We provide financial assistance to certain types of businesses only.
The types of businesses that are eligible varies from county to county. In Dublin, Irish businesses that are eligible for support include businesses that export a service, for example, selling technology outside Ireland, Irish businesses that manufacture an innovative product in Ireland for example a bakery or tourism businesses that attract foreign tourists to Ireland are also eligible for financial support. County & City Enterprise Boards can help small businesses with 10 employees or less. We can help, owner managers of established businesses, start up businesses and Entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business. Other business supports such as Training, Business Networks, Mentoring and Business Advice is available to all sectors of business.
Enterprise Ireland can help businesses with over 10 employees. They also fast track certain businesses that will achieve high growth businesses that will rapidly grow to 10 employees and a turnover over €1 million within 3 years, (High Potential Start Ups, usually in the technology sector).
Both agencies are funded through the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and EU Structural Funds, so there can be no duplication of funding.
What kinds of grants are available and what are the terms and conditions?
Business Development funding is available for established businesses. Funds can be used for new employee salaries, marketing and manufacturing equipment and fit-out costs, for example if you are setting up a food manufacturing unit.
Priming funding are for new businesses and help fund salaries, marketing and equipment costs. They are for businesses that are trading less than 18 months.
Feasibility/ Innovation grants which help towards prototype development, market research and patent costs.
The Priming grants and Business Development funds are partly refundable. The average grants in Dublin City Enterprise Board are Business Development €20,000, Priming €12,000 and Feasibility €7,500 depending on the number of new jobs created.
All grant applicants have to have a business plan. Do business owners have to hire a consultant to prepare the business plan and is that not expensive, especially if the application is unsuccessful?
You don’t need to pay a consultant to apply for funding. Enterprise Boards will help you prepare your own Business Plan and financial projections. There are many templates available and ‘Start Your Own Business’ courses are run nationwide that help you prepare a business plan and set up a business. Once you have a draft Business Plan and financial projections you could apply for a County & City Enterprise Board Mentor to review your Business Plan if you need further assistance.
Staff of the Enterprise Board will read your grant application and meet you before the information is sent to the Evaluation Committee. They will give you feedback and identify any gaps in your application or areas that need to further explained, for example sufficient market research. The County & City Enterprise Boards work on behalf of Ireland Inc. Commercial viability of the grantees is key so that there is value for tax payer’s money.
Grants from government departments usually mean lots of paperwork. Why is this so and how much paperwork is there?
An application form and the promoter’s CV is required for feasibility study/ innovation grant applications. In the case of Priming and Business Development funding a Business Plan, C.Vs, 12 month projected cashflow and 3 years of projected Profit & Loss accounts are required. For existing business the applicant must submit their recent accounts.
The applicant must make a strong case and provide as much evidence as possible of commercial viability, job creation and exports. In order to assess the business, the promoter and capacity to repay this information is required. This is the information that any investor, bank, Business Angel or Venture Capitalist would require.
How long does it take for a grant application to be evaluated and paid?
The applicant meets an Enterprise Board executive who explains the process, pre-empt any queries that the Evaluation Committee might have and ensures that there is comprehensive information for the assessment. The written grant applications and supporting documentation (Business Plan and financial information) are circulated to the Evaluation Committee in advance of the meeting and decision making. There are five members an Accountant, Bank Manager, Business person, Enterprise Ireland Manager and Local Authority Manager.
The Evaluation Committee makes recommendations about whether the application should be rejected, deferred (if they need clarification on particular issues) or approved. In the case of an approval, they will specify the level of funding and which costs in particular should be funded. They might also include some terms and conditions that apply to the funding. Their recommendations are circulated to the Board of Directors along with a summary of the application. The Board makes the final decision, but the decision can be appealed if the applicant can address the concerns raised, for example, commercial viability. The process takes approximately 4-6 weeks.
A business Tax Clearance Certificate is required for all payments. Payments towards salary costs are based on pay slips of full-time employees. The payment is paid in two instalments. The first month’s pay slip of the new employee and the second instalment is paid on the 6 month’s pay slip. All other approved expenses are paid on a receipts basis (excluding VAT), between the Board approval date and the expiry date of the grant offering. No retrospective expenses are paid for costs incurred before the Board approval date. When all of the required paperwork is submitted and everything is in order then it is processed within 1-2 weeks.
What rates of grant aid are offered and are the grants repayable?
The Priming grants are repayable at 33% and Business Development funds are 50% refundable. There may be variations on these rates depending on the applicants and the Board policy.
The average grants in Dublin City Enterprise Board are Business Development €20,000, Priming €12,000 and Feasibility €7,500 depending on the number of new jobs created.
CEBs offer mentoring to businesses. Is this popular and what does a mentor actually do for a business?
Mentoring is a very popular service, it is heavily subsidised. Sometimes the business advice is more important than financial support. In 2011 Dublin City Enterprise Board mentored 246 Entrepreneurs.
The mentor’s role is:
- To listen
- To advise and counsel
- To help identify problems and areas for improvement assist the Entrepreneurs in the preparations plan
- Or he/she contributes independent, informed observations to aid a company in its decision making process.
The Mentor will outline guidelines to follow, point out strengths and weaknesses in proposed projects, act as a confidential sounding board and assist the entrepreneur in the preparation of business plans.However, the Mentor is not a professional consultant and under the terms of the programme, may not become actively involved in the day-to-day management or assume the role of executive in the company. If assistance is needed in more than one field of expertise, one or more additional mentors may be assigned to the individual Entrepreneur.
There is an old Chinese Proverb that extols the virtue of training; “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” What kinds of training courses are offered and how do these courses tie in with having to take time out of the business?
There is a broad range of training available for every stage of business. We seek constant feedback from our clients and give them what they want which is good value, delivered by professional trainers with small business experience in half day workshops. The content is ‘How to’ practical advice that they can implement straight away in their business.
Half day workshops are geared at owner managers of small businesses with topics ranging from ‘Tax for Beginners’ to ‘Sales & Selling’. We also offer a broad range of social media workshops including ‘Maximizing Your Business Profile through Twitter’. For early stage Entrepreneurs we run ‘Ideas Generation Workshops’ and ‘Mompreneurs Workshops’ and briefing sessions for people who are ‘Unemployed and Thinking of Starting a Business’. Start Your Own Business Courses are held over 10 evenings, twice per week for 5 weeks or 4 Saturdays.
Other County & City Enterprise Board programmes includes PLATO, a unique partnership with large “parent” companies and enterprise development agencies. PLATO provides SMEs with a confidential support service, facilitated group learning, specialist expertise and advice, networking opportunities and business development training. The Accelerate Programme is for more established businesses and runs over several months and includes mentoring.
What are the main reasons for a business to be declined for support?
The reason why grant applications are rejected is because of sector, deadweight*, displacement** and lack of commercial viability.
* Deadweight means that the project could proceed in any event without state support and **displacement means that a project could only prosper by diverting sales or employment away from an existing and similar local business.
What do you find SMEs are most concerned about in 2012?
Cash flow is the critical issue for businesses in 2012 and always! I would advise businesses to review their invoicing processes and try to get stage payments based on delivering the product or service to avoid bad debts. If you’re a small business, sole trader who has had difficulty getting credit or loan facilities of up to €500,000 or you have had an unfavorable change to your existing credit terms, get in touch with the Credit Review Office for an independent review. Call them on 1850 211 789 or visit their site for advice on how to approach your bank. The government is proposing a partial loan guarantee scheme but there are no details yet.
Another issue that I think should be addressed is that Irish Entrepreneurs don’t think enough about how to scale their business. We have a small island population with a depressed economy. There are much bigger business opportunities outside of Ireland, I would encourage more Entrepreneurs to think big and start selling as soon as possible, outside of Ireland. Fail fast, learn quick. There is a new Potential Exporters Division within Enterprise Ireland to help businesses investigate, prepare and execute an international strategy. Call them on (01) 7272829 or visit Potential Exporters Division of the website.
Apart from direct financial aid, what would you say is the main benefit to be gained by a business from getting in touch with their local CEB?
County & City Enterprise Boards are a first-stop-shop. We have built up an extensive network of contacts and local knowledge, so no matter what you are looking for if we don’t provide it we will try to put you in touch with someone who can help you.
Many thanks to Eibhlin Curley, Dublin City Enterprise Board for explaining the business supports on offer in this interview. For further information, you can contact Eibhlin at email@example.com or Tel: 01 6351144. Remember, fail fast, learn quick!