A Bellaghy engineer who spotted a gap in the market for locally manufactured bulkheads has taken the step into self-employment with the help of Invest Northern Ireland’s Growth Start programme.

Seamus Birt, who has over 20 years experience in the coach building sector, set up Birt Engineering to manufacture metal bulkheads and seat frames for coaches and mini-buses, after realising that Northern Ireland companies were buying these products from GB and ROI.

“Companies in Northern Ireland who require these products have to work on a 12 week time lag because of the delivery time from the UK or Republic of Ireland. We can now provide them with the product within three weeks,” explains Seamus.

The Growth Start programme is open to new businesses that have the potential to export a product or service outside Northern Ireland. The programme, supported by the EU Building Sustainable Prosperity programme, provides business counsellors, financial support and access to business information.

Graham Davis, Director of Local Economic Development in Invest NI, explains that supporting the establishment of businesses with strong export potential is a key objective for the agency.

“The Invest NI Accelerating Entrepreneurship Strategy which is currently out for public consultation, is designed to maximise the potential of new, progressive companies like Birt Engineering.

“To create a healthy economy we need more businesses with a focus on export markets. In the last 11 months we’ve committed over £2 million to help almost 70 businesses set up under the Growth Start programme and helped to lever over £7 million from the private sector to support these new businesses.

”Invest NI’s support for this type of project is in line with our Principles for Business Support which seek to offer new companies with growth potential customised support to get started and ongoing advice to help them develop the necessary skills to achieve sustainable growth.”

European Commission legislation requiring bulkheads to be fitted to all commercial vehicles for safety reasons has created an increased demand in the market for the frames and Birt Engineering has already secured a contract with local vehicle manufacturer, PVS Manufacturing Ltd. The company is also in talks with an ROI company and plans to achieve a 25% export rate by next year.