Invest Northern Ireland aims to develop further partnership with community groups that will encourage new business start-ups and promote an entrepreneurial culture in areas of social need, Prof Fabian Monds, Invest NI Chairman, said today.

Prof Monds was speaking at the launch of the Community Business Start Up Programme, which is funded by the EU Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation under the ‘Promoting Entrepreneurship’ measure and the Department of Employment and Learning.

Said Prof Monds: “This is an important strategic initiative that will promote community entrepreneurs and enterprise throughout Northern Ireland.

“It will make a significant contribution to a key Invest NI objective of increasing the rate of community business start-ups by providing a package of practical advice, funding and other support to groups that will turn ideas into small businesses.

“By working in partnership with local enterprise agencies we aim to help launch around 50 new community businesses - a new generation of local business leaders - in viable small businesses that will provide in the region of 150 additional employment opportunities.

“Through an integrated partnership approach we can help create a new common purpose of faster growth focused on innovation and entrepreneurship,” he added.

Increasing the level of entrepreneurship, he said, was now a priority in the Executive’s Programme for Government and a Business Birth Rate Strategy to achieve this goal had been developed with Invest NI in a leading role and would be launched during June by Sir Reg Empey, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

Prof Monds said another objective of the programme would be to ensure greater recognition of value of community enterprises as real businesses making positive contribution to local economic growth.

A community business is one which develops a viable business generating profit that is then reinvested back into the community.

“Raising awareness of this important role of community businesses through this programme will encourage many more people to think seriously about starting a business or becoming self-employed. This process empowers individuals and groups to help drive local community development.

“The impact of this programme on local communities across Northern Ireland could be far reaching. By exposing people to enterprise and helping them gain new skills or improve existing expertise it will help to create wealth that can be used to start or support other projects to improve the quality of life,” added Prof Monds.

The new Community Business Start Up Programme has a £2.6 million budget and is based on successful previous EU Peace 1 programmes (1996-2000) which helped establish 80 new community businesses.

The programme, which was launched at Parliament Buildings, will be delivered at community level through local enterprise agencies led by a consortium in which Larne Enterprise Development Company (LEDCOM) is the lead agent. The other agents are Newry and Mourne Enterprise Agency, Omagh Enterprise Company, Workspace, Draperstown and Work West, Belfast.