Last week we took our first formal steps towards our new business by attending Donegal County Enterprise Board’s ‘The Big Step’ workshop.
This monthly workshop is for those budding entrepreneurs with an idea for a new business to find out what support and advice is available from the local enterprise board.
Originally we’d both booked to attend but, due to last minute childcare hiccups, we had to take the cherubs with us which meant that I went in on my own whilst the husband took the kids for a quick breakfast instead at Charlie’s Cafe in Letterkenny.
Not really knowing what to expect of the session I was surprised, nevertheless, to see about 8 or so others in the room when I arrived and then 6 stragglers joining later on. Not a bad turn out and, as we were informed by our host, Ursula, the sessions have not yet had to be delivered to an empty room. In fact, DCEB have advised thousands of would-be start ups since their inception in 1993.
Ireland has 35 County and City Enterprise boards whose job it is to provide support for micro businesses of 10 employees or less. Bigger outfits, employing more than 10 and who are export orientated, are looked after by Enterprise Ireland.
“Now is a great time to set up a new business because you’ll do it right – you’ll have no choice,” said Ursula. “And then, when the economy picks up, it will be plain sailing for you.”
Ursula pulled no punches in her session and made it clear that there was to be no willy-nilly handing out of state funds here. However, grant money and financial support aside, I was impressed with the range of business support available.
There are training programmes and workshops, as you’d expect, including one on the rudiments of setting up a business (although not sure about the €75 charge), as well as accounting and marketing.
But it was the networking support that caught my eye. Now I’m not a natural networker (that’s what the husband’s good at) so Ursula did a good job to make the programmes sound interesting and useful rather than just plain scary to me.
I particularly like the sound of the ProfitNet programme made up of closed groups of entrepreneurs at similar stages who meet monthly to support, challenge, critique and generally advise each other. DCEB provides the venue, tea and support to get going. It sounded great although a few testimonials (video or otherwise) from existing ProfitNetters would have been interesting. Trust, I imagine, is critical to the success of each of these groups.
During the session Ursula went round the table and asked us all to introduce ourselves and, if we wanted, to tell each other what our business idea was. The ideas shared ranged from a media platform, sports supplements, a candy cart and training for tourism providers.
I was a bit taken aback when, during the Q&A session, I got a public critique of our business idea from Ursula in answer to a question I asked about the relationship between IDA, Enterprise Ireland and DCEB. I suppose it’s a good thing to get asked robust questions about our idea – I just wasn’t expecting them in that environment and so early on!
I got the feeling from the session that most people approach DCEB for funding or grants initially. This wasn’t our thinking although we’re not averse to a bit of financial support if it’s being offered. We wanted to go along to see what advice we’d get to help get set up.
Our next steps now are to do more market research, including visiting successful companies who are already doing what we’re planning but in other markets. We’ve then got a 1:1 session lined up with Ursula in mid August to talk through our business plan and see where she advises we go from there. We have our own ideas so it will be good to have the conversation.