The number of business start-ups has been on the rise in Northern Ireland over the last decade with the latest findings from the Northern Ireland Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report showing that around 7 per cent of the adult population are now engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity, that is, either starting a business or in the first 3 and a half years of running one.
The GEM report, part of a worldwide project, tracks entrepreneurial activity in Northern Ireland, and has done so since 2002. It also captures the growth aspirations of business owners, as well as attitudes towards entrepreneurship amongst the wider population.
The findings are important as levels of entrepreneurial activity in an economy are linked to innovation, job creation and economic growth, whilst positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship also help to encourage individuals into business creation.
The increase in early-stage entrepreneurial activity in Northern Ireland is therefore encouraging from an economic point of view however the report also shows that the region continues to suffer from an ‘entrepreneurial deficit’ within the UK context.
Just 1 in 20 adults in Northern Ireland intend to start a business within the next 3 years; in the UK the figure is almost double that. This gap can be attributed in part to the perceptions around business start-up.
In Northern Ireland less than one third of adults believe that there are good start-up opportunities in their area in the coming months; this compares to two fifths in the UK. This is accompanied by a lack of self-belief in entrepreneurial know-how; again just under one third of adults in the region believe they have the skills, knowledge and experience to start a business, in the UK the equivalent figure is 41 per cent.
If we are to achieve higher levels of start-up activity and encourage new home grown businesses in Northern Ireland one of the challenges is to address these gaps in attitudes and perceptions.
The GEM report shows that entrepreneurs are held in high regard in Northern Ireland in terms of their role and status, the challenge is therefore to inspire more people into this route. Encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset is key to this and involves the development of skills such as creativity, problem solving, taking the initiative and driving change.
If these skills can be nurtured, particularly amongst young people, we can help deliver a more dynamic economy through increased entrepreneurial behaviour.
By Karen Bonner, Lecturer in Entrepreneurship