Invest Northern Ireland is gearing up to launch a series of strategies within its Operating Plan for the current year to achieve ambitious targets to promote innovation and entrepreneurial activity across Northern Ireland, Prof Fabian Monds, Invest NI’s Chairman, and Leslie Morrison, Chief Executive, said today.

The action plan, outlined at a media briefing on Invest NI’s Corporate and Operating Plans, provides a framework to encourage fresh thinking and innovative ideas. It will help increase new business start-ups and encourage self-employment. Invest NI client-facing teams will seek to assist established companies to grow faster through adding value to their operations.

The Operating Plan sets targets for Invest NI’s activities in the current year. Over the next four months Invest NI will deliver:

· Client-serving and Sector Management teams which will work with designated companies in Business International and Entrepreneurship and Enterprise to achieve faster growth through agreed business plans;

· Strengthening local delivery of Invest NI services through an enhanced role for the existing five local offices, the formation of extension offices in Craigavon, Coleraine and Enniskillen and the engagement of the offices in a wider range of business growth activities with the client-serving and sector teams and in supporting inward investment;

· Local offices will help to develop ‘investment propositions’ for potential inward investors in conjunction with councils, local enterprise agencies and other community-based economic groupings;

· Creation of local liaisons with Invest NI’s Property Services Unit to exploit opportunities to develop property with local councils and private developers for inward investment and for local enterprise and incubator units;

· A Venture Capital Strategy with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to encourage more companies to consider venture capital and equity as funding options;

· A Business Birth Rate Strategy to accelerate business start-ups across Northern Ireland;

· A new fund to promote R&D

· A range of innovation measures (the Northern Ireland Economic Research Centre has been appointed to assist in the development these measures).

The Operating Plan summary is included in Invest NI’s Corporate Plan, which has been revised following an extensive public consultation and covers the organisation’s activities for the next three years. It was recently approved by Sir Reg Empey MLA, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

Briefing journalists about Invest NI’s plans, Prof Monds said: “Since the launch of the single agency in April, the Board’s attention has been focused on developing solid foundations for the new organisation through the integration of the predecessor agencies and the detailed operational planning which will enable us to achieve the very challenging targets that we have set in our three year Corporate Plan.

The widespread support for our Corporate Plan indicates that our analysis of what needs to be done to shape a more enterprising, innovative and successful economy is in tune with the views and aspirations of all the key stakeholders.

“Achieving such a consensus with a multitude of stakeholders in Government, both central and local, Business, Education, and Local Enterprise Bodies, was an essential requirement for Invest NI, because we need strong partners to help in shaping a more dynamic and fast growing economy that will be firmly based on innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Essential groundwork has now been completed to enable us to provide new client services that will strengthen the economy through helping local companies become more innovative and competitive. We’re also developing a fresh approach to entrepreneurship and enterprise.”

Prof Monds said Invest NI had carried forward the work of the predecessor agencies in promoting enterprise through support for initiatives such as Belfast Entrepreneurship Week and the Community Business Start Up Programme, in assisting companies add value through their participation in business growth activities and in seeking further inward investment.

Mr Morrison said: “Our Operating Plan sets a new agenda for action and presents the strategic investments we shall be making this year to achieve the overall objective of increased wealth for Northern Ireland through greater private-sector innovation and a renewed culture of enterprise.

“The measures that are being planned are designed to tackle the structural weaknesses in the economy which were identified in our Corporate Plan.

“These weaknesses include an inadequate business birth rate, low levels of innovation and R&D, a small number of knowledge-led businesses and a weak export culture.

“We aim to counter these through a genuine partnership with stakeholders and strong client-serving focus. A co-ordinated and integrated approach in the delivery of our services is essential if we are to be successful in promoting the ideas, ingenuity and adaptability of our people that are needed to strengthen the knowledge base and the global competitiveness of the economy,” he added.

Mr Morrison said the existing network of local offices would have an enhanced role in the delivery of Invest NI services.

Said Mr Morrison: “The local offices will deliver the full range of Invest NI services on an integrated basis to locally-based clients for the first time.

“We will strengthen the client-serving function, enhance the range and integration of services through the offices, increase local headcount, develop computer-based knowledge-management techniques to link our clients electronically to our significant base of information and analytical tools, and adopt a more strategic approach to developing economic initiatives with local stakeholders on a regional basis.”