Susan Nightingale: Support for smaller businesses in challenging times

Claudia Mariza Rosado e Costa, founder of Portadown-based business Mama Claudia
Claudia Mariza Rosado e Costa, founder of Portadown-based business Mama Claudia

ALL too frequently we hear about smaller firms having to cease trading and close their doors because of mounting economic pressures and rising costs.

These pressures were brought into sharp focus last week when official and independent forecasts predicted the UK economic growth rate slows to around 4 per cent this year, from more than 7 per cent in 2021. Looking to next year, the Bank of England expects real GDP to fall 1.5 per cent while independent forecasters predict a slight decline.

It is a challenging time for everyone and given the headwinds facing business owners across Northern Ireland, it’s never been more important to provide access to the funding and support they need to build resilience.

We want to ensure that smaller businesses do not get left behind. This week marks the British Business Bank’s first annual Business Finance Week which aims to do just that, helping smaller firms learn more about the different finance options available to them to support their individual requirements.

A range of physical and virtual events will take place across the UK up until Friday November 11, with various sessions designed for business owners at different stages of growth.

One of the Northern Ireland events will be an investor roadshow which will see a number of local and UK-based investors visit Ormeau Baths in Belfast and The AMP Growth Incubator in Derry to meet with innovative companies who are planning to fund raise in the next 12 months.

There remains a strong appetite amongst investors who recognise the potential to invest here. A clear example of that was the 55 high growth Northern Irish companies that matched with investors at the recent Catalyst investor conference. Over 60 venture capital firms were in attendance from across the UK and Ireland.

Yesterday, the programme kicked off with a focus on start ups and early-stage entrepreneurs. It has now been 10 years since the Start Up Loans scheme launched and it continues to be an important support mechanism for aspiring business owners, particularly for those who may otherwise find it difficult to secure loans from traditional lenders.

Since 2012, some 1,495 loans worth more than £12m have been offered to new business owners in Northern Ireland through our network of delivery partners. The programme provides funding of up to £25,000 at a fixed interest rate but also offers valuable support in the form of mentoring and guidance.

One such recipient of these loans is Claudia Mariza Rosado e Costa, founder of Portadown-based business Mama Claudia, who took out her loan of £3,300 in 2018.

Claudia said “I create top quality baby essentials at great value prices because I believe that all parents deserve great products at a price that won’t break the bank.

“I am so proud of how far the business has come and I urge any mums who are interested in entrepreneurship to take the plunge and explore the finance options available to them via Start Up Loans.”

We know that for some newer businesses they might not recognise the need for financial support until further down the line. That is why we have expanded the Start Up Loans programme to now include businesses that have been trading for up to three years. Additionally, smaller businesses less than five years old can now apply for a second tranche of funding.

Throughout Business Finance Week, we hope to show entrepreneurs and business owners that they have a range of options and help is available to secure the financial support that they might need, whatever their circumstances.

For more information and to join this week's events, visit:

:: Susan Nightingale is UK Network Northern Ireland director at the British Business Bank