Let's set about reversing this 'brain drain'

We need to keep our best people here by encouraging them to be entrepreneurial and enterprising, and by showing them support
Roseann Kelly

I WAS delighted last week to learn that Invest NI is supporting the creation of 300 new jobs through the expansion of Pearson Plc, and I'll be happy to walk the few stairs to the floor below my office at Millennium House to personally give a very warm Northern Ireland welcome.

Yes, Women in Business are located in the same building, a happy guest of Alexander Mann Solutions, who were also supported by Invest NI and currently employ nearly 200 people in their offices in Belfast.

Our experience and interaction with Alexander Mann has been hugely positive (apart from me being the oldest of over 200 on the floor). Their founder Rosaleen Blair is an amazingly inspirational Irish woman, who is very supportive of WIB and who sponsored and spoke at our hugely successful Awards last year.

They have supported our Connect programme for economically inactive women back into employment, with their talented staff assisting with mentoring and training on CV writing and interview skills.

WIB also have a very good relationship with Herbert Smith Freehills, whom we have partnered and continue to work together on gender diversity. They are another company who were supported by Invest NI to locate here and create jobs, so without doubt WIB have first-hand experience of the benefits of foreign direct investment.

All of these companies are attracted by our talent. But let's not forget that we too can utilise that talent. By our people we actually mean “our children” - and we need to keep them here by encouraging them to be entrepreneurial, enterprising and by clearly showing them there is a lot of support for creative, innovative, talented people.

And let's also show support to all of our people, not just students, who are prepared to take that very courageous step into self-employment. At WIB we have our Power of 4 programme to specifically support women who would like to set up a business here.

Unfortunately Northern Ireland is the only UK region without a dedicated female-specific entrepreneurship programme. This programme offers intensive training, expert 1-2-1 mentoring, peer learning, online resources and networking to turn their enterprise idea into an income, a business and a career.

Female entrepreneurship in Northern Ireland is low compared to other UK regions. Our councils deliver the Regional Start Programme, but statistics show lower levels of women move forward to set up on this mainstream programme.

This suggests it is unable to reach many women or that there are additional obstacles for women that need to be addressed, before they will seek business planning or mainstream support.

I believe there is a real need for more start up and growth support in Northern Ireland, for more indigenous growth and for more local business support. We need to enjoy, learn from and embrace the FDI companies while we nurture and grow our own entrepreneurial talent. As with everything, it's all about balance.

:: Roseann Kelly (roseann@ is chief executive of Women in Business (, the largest and fastest growing business network for female entrepreneurs and senior women in management in Northern Ireland, with 2,500 members spread throughout all industry sectors. Follow Women in Business NI on Facebook at or on Twitter @wibni.

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