New Invest NI support programme will support SMEs in all regions to achieve 'Ambition to Grow'

Launching Invest NI’s new 'Ambition to Grow' programme are (from left) the agency's interim chief executive Mel Chittock and chief transformation officer Alan McKeown with economy minister Gordon Lyons. Picture: Andrew Towe
Gary McDonald Business Editor

INVEST NI has launched a new regionally-focussed aid programme which will go some way towards addressing the often perceived “inequality” around support across different parts of the north.

Called 'Ambition to Grow', the £1.8 million programme has been developed to support innovative export-driven SMEs to create jobs and grow external sales.

And the programme, which opens for applications on October 24, is being specifically managed by Invest NI's Regional Team to ensure businesses in every region will benefit.

Following the initial application process, each successful business will receive up to £45,000 in support towards the creation of a minimum of three jobs and business development activities.

And ahead of its launch, a series of information sessions is being held in each of the 11 council areas from October 12 to 20 to help businesses understand if the programme is a good fit for them.

Invest NI says the support will be "split evenly across our regional office network", with the top 10 applications from each region receiving support.

The agency has always denied their is a bias in where its funding goes, with critics often claiming there is a huge disparity in where the cash ends up.

In the last five years, for instance, Invest NI has offered financial assistance of more than £400 million, of which the four Belfast parliamentary constituencies bagged a third of that total.

“As a competitive programme, Ambition to Grow will offer valuable financial support, alongside Invest NI's expertise, to local SMEs and is being specifically managed to ensure businesses in every region will benefit,” economy minister Gordon Lyons told a launch event.

“It will help them to create skilled jobs, grow their business through exports, and work towards reaching a turnover of over £1million.”

Applications will run from Monday October 24 to noon on Friday November 25, and all details and an eligibility checker will be available at

Support will be awarded to applicants on a competitive basis. Applications will be assessed and scored, with the highest scoring companies awarded funding, following a successful validation interview.

The minister added: “We are a small competitive economy, and this programme will enable successful SMEs to avail of support that will help increase their capacity, business knowledge, and to upskill existing and new employees, to take their growth to the next level.

“The ultimate goal is to increase the number of SMEs across all areas of Northern Ireland successfully growing and competing globally.”

Invest NI's interim chief executive Mel Chittock said: “As the business landscape has continually evolved we're exploring new ways in which we can effectively provide best-fit support to businesses.

“Ambition to Grow has been designed to offer a new competitive approach, with a focus on supporting ambitious, innovative SMEs that are in the earliest stages of their development and who have had no support from us in the past five years.”