AS the impact of Covid-19 continue to hit young people’s economic prospects, the Belfast Enterprise Academy (BEA) is giving third level students invaluable support to become successful entrepreneurs.
Operated by Belfast City Council, the academy (details at www.belfastcity.gov.uk/bea) provides free support to degree level students who want to develop and launch their own business.
“The programme gives students real world guidance, advice and support as they generate, test and refine their business ideas,” according to Councillor David Brooks from the council’s city growth and regeneration committee.
“As well as learning from peers who have already successfully started their own business, with our help they meet experts and established entrepreneurs who can help turn their visions into a reality.
“We also help them to access the financial support they need to become their own boss. In these incredibly challenging times for young people and for business, it’s heartening to know that our support is making a real difference.”
One of the BEA’s most recent graduates, Naomi McGregor, clinched the top award in the Catalyst Invest Enterprise Software Category for her company Movetru, which provides specialist sports software that pairs with an athlete’s device to provide personalised information to enhance performance, prevent injury and aid rehabilitation.
She said: “Belfast Enterprise Academy has given me the confidence, the connections and the resources to take Movetru forward, straight out of university, and the incredible mentoring helped me to deal with stressful decision making. BEA inspired me, pushed me forward, gave me the tools I needed to make my business a success, and acted as my personal business cheerleader.
“With BEA’s help, I’ve secured a Techstart proof of concept £10,000 grant, participated in the Invest NI 'From Student to First Sale' and I’ve already won the Catalyst Invest Enterprise Software category. It’s like a dream come true.”
Anastasia Perysinakis, a third year engineering student at Queen’s University, added: “Without the Belfast Enterprise Academy, my business simply wouldn't exist. I’d had some ideas around the lack of digitisation within social care, but had no idea if my vision for addressing these concerns was viable. I had no team, no plan and no clue what I was doing - or what I could do. And as an Engineering student, I didn't have any business knowledge or contacts.
“Luckily, Queen's University SU Enterprise team recommended that I apply for the Belfast Enterprise Academy, and in just four months I’ve established a fully incorporated limited company, a strong visual brand, a board of directors and volunteers, received £10,000 in pre-seed venture capital grants from Techstart NI, and I’m already developing social care partnerships with UK government departments.
“Every single one of those accomplishments are as a direct result of input, support and financial backing from BEA.
“The networking opportunities are incredibly powerful, and the structure to progress from idea to proof of concept is very clear.
“More importantly, the depth of emotional support I received as an emerging leader who doesn't have all the answers at such an early stage was invaluable in keeping me on track and pressing forward when the odds seemed stacked against me.”