As the national agency for economic development, Enterprise Ireland offers a wide range of supports and funding to businesses of all sizes. Enterprise Ireland supports businesses at every stage, but its remit means it focusses on manufacturing and internationally traded companies. If you have a service company that trades locally and doesn’t have export potential, you are unlikely to qualify for Enterprise Ireland supports.
A note about women founders and leaders
Women are still underrepresented in leadership roles across Ireland. Enterprise Ireland launched the Action Plan For Women In Business earlier this year, which aims to bring more women into business at all levels, but especially senior roles. This will see the development of all kinds of actions to directly and indirectly support women. Enterprise Ireland is working with other agencies, business organisations, government, and third-level institutions, which is going to lead to a wide range of funding and supports that aren’t just for EI client companies. The plan is an evolving one, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for any new opportunities it offers.
Enterprise Ireland and Irish businesses
Funding and supports for startups
The New Frontiers programme is for the early-start stage of development and is designed to take you from business idea to successful startup. There are two main phases: Phase 1 is part-time and will help you reach a go/no go decision about your idea; Phase 2 is full-time (six months) and will help you develop the idea while learning essential business skills. Included in Phase 2 are access to training and mentoring, incubation space, and a €15,000 tax-free stipend. It’s an Enterprise Ireland programme delivered at a local level by 16 Institutes of Technology/universities around Ireland.
High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) funding
Startups with the potential to develop an innovative product or service for sale on international markets, and the potential to create 10+ jobs and generate €1 million in export sales within three years, are classed by Enterprise Ireland as High Potential Start-Ups (HPSUs). These companies are eligible for different funding supports depending on what stage they are at.
At feasibility stage
Feasibility Grants get you to the investor-ready stage. Typical results of this grant will be market research, business plan development, technical research, and prototyping. Matched funding (50%) of a maximum of €15,000 is available. There are eligible expenditures and limits in place that you’ll need to look into.
Innovation Vouchers are for R&D activities that allow a company to explore an opportunity or problem. These vouchers worth €5,000 are for any Irish SME, not just Enterprise Ireland client companies. They can be spent with a long list of approved Knowledge Providers – Universities, Institutes of Technology, and state research organisations such as Teagasc – across the island of Ireland. You can apply for up to three of these vouchers, as long as one of them is a 50/50 co-funded Fast Track Voucher of €10,000. So, essentially, if you invest €5,000, you can get up to an additional €15,000 for R&D.
The Competitive Start Fund (CSF) can be a real game-changer for a startup. Worth €50,000, this is an equity investment in innovative companies – a 10% ordinary equity stake which sees Enterprise Ireland become a shareholder in your business. The company needs to be market-ready or recently trading and have excellent potential – it is fundamental to the application that you can create 10 jobs in Ireland and realise sales of €1 million within three years. It’s a competitive process that includes a video pitch, there are calls throughout the year and some of them are open to all while some are for female founders or particular industries or locations.
If your company becomes an Enterprise Ireland HPSU, you may qualify for the Innovative HPSU Fund. It allows Enterprise Ireland to offer equity investment to HPSU clients, on a co-funded basis, to support the implementation of a company’s business plans. The VC-inspired approach of this fund is that it supports the development and commercialisation of new or substantially improved technologies, products, processes, or service offerings. First time and follow-on equity investments in HPSUs are supported under this offer.
Once you have successfully raised investment and are an Enterprise Ireland client, the support continues. You can avail of supports such as the Market Discovery Fund (up to €150,000 as 50% of eligible expenditure). Soft supports such as mentoring and workshops also come with being an EI client company.
Established SME funding
If you’re an established company (over 10 employees), your size, turnover, and market offering warrant a wide range of supports from Enterprise Ireland. They will help you with market research and internationalisation, more extensive research and development or innovation supports, leadership and management supports, business improvement support, and expansion packages. There are dozens of them – too long to list here – offering either grants, funding, or training and development.
Large Company funding
These supports are for large companies employing over 250 employees with an annual turnover of over €50 million or an annual balance sheet of over €43 million. The categories of supports are similar to the ones available for “established SMEs” as above but adapted to the needs of larger businesses. It’s a rounded and comprehensive offer of funding, programmes, workshops, and grants.
Important reminder about funding
Note that there are always qualifying conditions and various minimum/maximum spends and conditions on types of spending for any of the supports mentioned. It’s also possible that by receiving one type of grant or funding you are excluded from claiming another one – often they can’t be cumulated. This can apply even though the funding support comes from a different agency (a Local Enterprise Office, for example).
Other supports available
Enterprise Ireland is one of the agencies supporting businesses, but by no means the only one. To see what public funding, loans, or help your business might qualify for, there’s a great online tool from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation: See the Supporting SMEs website
If you’re worried about the impact of Brexit, you can complete the Brexit Scorecard on the Prepare for Brexit website