In its first year Invest Northern Ireland has exceeded its target for the number of new businesses established under its Growth Start programme.

The Growth Start programme supports new businesses that have the potential to export a product or service outside Northern Ireland and is delivered primarily via Invest NI’s Local Office Network. Through the programme Invest NI helped over 100 new export focused businesses to set up in Northern Ireland between April 2002 and March 2003, including 14 in the north east.

Among the new ventures supported by the Agency is Supplement Stores, a business that has formulated a range of vitamins and minerals for the supplements market. The Larne business has already negotiated a contract with Harvey Nichols in London and has plans to go global via an e-commerce website within two years.

Supplement Stores Director, Paul McCullough, who owns three chemist shops in Larne, set up the business after identifying a niche in the high quality, mid-price supplements market. He has developed a full range of supplement products in tablet, capsule and tincture form, and is targeting pharmacy chains and health food stores throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Working closely with a client executive from Invest NI’s North Eastern Local Office in Ballymena, Mr McCullough received support and guidance during the business planning and test-marketing stages that enabled him to make a decision on the long-term viability of the new business. Following on from this Invest NI has supported the set-up of Supplement Stores and in particular activities that will allow business development in export markets.

“Our objective is to establish Supplement Stores as the leading supplier of vitamins, minerals and supplements in the mid-range market,” says Paul McCullough.

“With the help of the Growth Start Programme and working with Invest NI I’ve been able to turn my idea into a commercial reality. I’ve been supported particularly in developing a sound marketing strategy for the product. During year one 60% of sales will be from export markets but I anticipate that this will rise to 80% by next year.”

Graham Davis, Director of Local Economic Development in Invest NI, explains that supporting the establishment of export focused businesses like Supplement Stores, is a key objective for the agency.

“Increasing the level of export sales by Northern Ireland companies is vital if we are to achieve long term economic growth and wealth creation. Supporting new companies which are focused on overseas markets is therefore a priority for Invest NI.

“In our first year we invested some £3 million in supporting new businesses like Supplement Stores, which has significant external sales potential and is keen to explore global opportunities. Invest NI will continue to work closely with the company to support its further development.”