Amongst the key challenges to the economic and social sustainability of the Northwest region is the historically low levels of startup businesses per head of population. There have been few high potential startups in recent years and recent data also suggests closure rates, partly due to the relatively high proportion of enterprises in industries particularly affected by COVID and the Cost of Living crisis. The Western Development Commission helped facilitate the event held in Lough Eske, Donegal on the 17th of January which brought together the key actors in the region who can work together to turn this around.
The ‘Levelling Up: Driving Entrepreneurship & Enterprise Creation in the Northwest’ event is an initiative of the Regional Investment Plan Northwest, supported by the Western Development Commission, Údarás na Gaeltachta, the Local Enterprise Offices in Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo and Enterprise Ireland. The context for discussions was set with contributions from John Daly, economist with the North-West Regional Assembly who shared data on the challenges but also the potential for growth in the region and from Michelle Marshalian of the OECD in Paris. Her observations from many years of research in rural/peripheral regions across the globe were underpinned by a common theme -that supports and initiatives should work with rather than against the unique geographical, demographic features and asset base of a region. For example, she noted that while an older demographic profile may be seen as a negative, it also provides business opportunities, including for social enterprises, to meet the needs of that population.
Economist David McWilliams provided much food for thought in his exhortation to the gathering to embrace diversity and to support people who operate in the ‘theatre of risk’ – the artists, the poets, the disruptors and the dreamers while individual entrepreneurs from companies in Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim offered their reflections and thoughts on what was needed now to meet the challenges facing new and emerging entrepreneurs.
The conversation continued with roundtable discussions where an energetic mix of entrepreneurs, investors, staff from support and government agencies and from third-level institutions brainstormed on actions which can and should be taken to ‘level up’. The focus was firmly on how to increase the number of start-ups, to support and encourage existing businesses to scale up and to build a stronger culture of entrepreneurship amongst all sections of the population. There was a fantastic level of fresh and innovative thinking and the results of these roundtable discussions will be collated and shared in the coming weeks.