Belfast business summit to explore reboot of NI self employed sector

L-R: Ulster University's Dr Karen Bonner, Professor Mark Durkin, Steve Pollard and Simon Bridge, with Tina McKenzie, FSB UK deputy chair of policy and advocacy.

THE recovery of the north’s self-employment sector will be explored in a summit in Belfast today.

Official figures suggest the Covid-19 pandemic wiped out around 40,000 self-employed jobs in Northern Ireland.

With the region’s business birth rate already historically lagging behind the rest of the UK, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Ulster University Business School (UUBS) will bring entrepreneurs, policymakers and academics together at The MAC to discuss the way forward.

The #BackToTheStartUp summit follows on from the report of the same name published by the FSB and UUBS in March, which explored the legacy issues.

It found that the 6,625 new enterprises created here in 2019 represented just a 16 per cent improvement from 2004.

By contrast, the business creation rate in England grew by 41 per cent in the same period, while Scotland enjoyed a 51 per cent improvement.

A deeper exploration of the data also revealed a male dominated sector, with women accounting for just one-in-four self-employed jobs pre-pandemic. It also showed the rate of early-stage entrepreneurial activity among females actually declining in recent years.

It comes as a fresh report from academics at Queen's University explored the long-term problems behind the north's historically low rates of productivity.

Professor Mark Durkin from UUBS said promoting a more vibrant entrepreneurial culture is not just important for entrepreneurs, but is key for wider value creation with respect to improving living standards, achieving social outcomes and increasing economic prosperity and possibility.

“Having key stakeholders in the room today is vital for building that coalition, by firstly recognising we have an opportunity to do things differently, and then putting forward ideas as to how to create new value from that opportunity,” he said.

“This requires a mindset rooted in entrepreneurial thinking – one characterised by a relentless focus on what is possible, not what is impossible; a commitment not to be defined by past mistakes, a resolve to think and act around opportunity in new ways.”

The FSB’s Tina McKenzie added: “For too long we have neglected entrepreneurship or failed to address barriers which stop some in our society considering starting a business, or feeling able to come forward with a big idea.

“We need to embed entrepreneurship in our education system, and create a society which celebrates its current entrepreneurs, in order to inspire those who may come after.

“The talent of our people is not in question – but we need to create the right culture and conditions to enable more people to first consider starting a business, and then help them to succeed.”

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