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Government Launches New Online Search Tool for SME Business Supports

New guide helps small businesses know what Government supports are there for them

The Minister for Finance, Mr Michael Noonan T.D. today (Monday 19th May) officially launched Supporting SMEs Online Tool at the opening of the Limerick Local Enterprise Office. This online tool is a cross-governmental initiative to help Irish start-ups and small businesses navigate the range of Government business supports that they could be eligible for.

There are currently over 80 Government business supports - totalling over €2bn available - to SMEs. A specially commissioned survey of nearly 2,000 SMEs has shown a lack of awareness of these supports amongst Irish businesses, with 98% of respondents admitting they had a low awareness of public supports available to them.

This tool aims to address this problem. By answering 8 questions, a small business will, in one location:

· Find out which of the over 80 Government business supports from 27 different Government Departments, Agencies and Initiatives are available to them

· Get information on the range of Government supports for accessing credit

· Be told their nearest Local Enterprise Office to discuss the outcomes of the guide further

· Be able to download all these filtered results into a document for their further use

Speaking at the launch of the Supporting SME Online Tool in Limerick, Minister Noonan stated: “In my Budget 2014 speech I announced an information campaign to increase the level of information available to SMEs. This online search tool is a central element of this campaign and helps SMEs to access information on the over 80 Government supports currently available. Over the past number of months we have collaborated with over 100 small businesses on this project and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive”.

Alongside the national launch of the Supporting SME Online Tool in Limerick, the Tanaiste and Government Ministers are officially opening the following Local Enterprise Offices today and launching the Online Tool in the following areas:

Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore LEO Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown

Minsters Bruton, Hayes & Rabbitte LEO Dublin South

Minister Perry LEO Roscommon

Minister Sherlock LEO Cork North & West

The greatest advantage of the Supporting SMEs Online Tool is its ease of use and the co-ordinated results which cover a broad range of Government departments and agencies. There are currently supports from over 27 Government Departments and agencies housed in the online guide with an ability to host more.

The Supporting SMEs Online Tool is now available at the Local Enterprise Office website and through a range of other Government websites that are linking to the Online Tool. The guide can also be embedded in any website to further increase access. #allaboutjobs

Also launching today is Skills To Work, another initiative which, along with this Supporting SMEs Online Tool, is part of the Government’s priority for tackling unemployment and creating jobs. Using an online guide, Skills to Work brings together key Government skills initiatives introduced since 2011 to help jobseekers access the training and work experience they need and to encourage businesses employ people currently on the Live Register.


Notes for Editors

Background information: SMEs & awareness of Government supports

· There are some 188,600 SMEs in Ireland, making up 99% of the total number of companies in Ireland, according to the 2011 CSO Business Demography Survey.

· There are currently well over 80 different development business supports across Government – totalling over €2bn – available to SMEs, ranging from helping putting together a business plan to growing your team and securing research and development funding.

· That said, a specially commissioned Government survey of nearly 2,000 small businesses has shown a lack of awareness of these supports amongst Irish businesses, with 98% of SME respondents admitting they had a low awareness of public supports available to them.

· In order to improve the levels of awareness, in Budget 2014 the Government announced an information campaign for SME business supports, now called Supporting SMEs campaign.

· A particular focus for the Supporting SMEs campaign is helping small businesses and entrepreneurs navigate Government and understand what supports they could potentially qualify for.

Introducing the Supporting SMEs Online Tool


In the same Government survey of SMEs mentioned above (details are on page 3), small businesses respondents said that online is their preferred way of finding out information for their business, with 70% of replies stating websites are the most used communications tool they use when searching for information.

· In response to this survey and central to the SMEs Information Campaign is a new online search tool which allows SMEs to search the broad range of financial and other government supports which they may be eligible for.

· The greatest advantage of the new online tool is its ease of use and the co-ordinated results which cover a broad range of Government departments and agencies. At the time of launch, there are the supports from 27 Government Departments and Agencies housed in the online guide with capacity to hold more.

PTOOLS: Developers of the Supporting SMEs Online Tool

The Supporting SMEs Online Tool was developed by pTools, an Irish SME that specialises in web content management software and currently employs 25 people. Established in 1999 by Tom Skinner, pTools works with customers in Ireland, UK and North America, across public and private sectors and counts Enterprise Ireland, The Irish Stock Exchange and Allianz amongst its customers.

How it works: Tried & tested

· Users are asked 8 basic questions based on their location, sector, size, stage in business lifecyle, type of supports required and funding model.

· Based on their answers, users are provided with a “results sheet” of the Government supports which may be suitable for their business and the contact details for each support. The results are filtered depending on the answers given to the questions.

· They are also provided with contact details of their nearest Local Enterprise Office (LEO) to discuss the results of the guide, and some specific information about accessing the Government credit schemes and initiatives ( such as Credit Review Office, Microfinance Ireland and Credit Guarantee Scheme).

· All materials can be downloaded into a document that an SME can then use to find out more information.

· The online tool has been developed and tested over the past number of months with over 100 SMEs taking part in the test phase. The SMEs that participated were drawn from all sectors of the economy and the country. Their feedback and input has been overwhelmingly positive.

· It was also demonstrated to industry and small business representative bodies via the Government’s SME Funding Consultation Committee to get their initial feedback.

· Following the successful testing and consultation phase, the online guide has now gone live on the new centralised website for the network of Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) Website. In order to increase the ease of access to information, the guide has also been built in a way that it can be embedded into a range of websites.

· Content will be updated on a regular basis and there is capacity to include further branches of Government supports where necessary.

Government survey information

As mentioned above, in late December, the group tasked with building the Supporting SMEs Online Tool developed and built an online survey for micro, small and medium businesses to get their views. Availing of in-house resources to organise and analyse the information received, the following results were determined:

Sample Size and Representativeness

· The survey achieved a good level of sectoral coverage, with input received from all sectors of the Irish economy. In all there were 1,798 responses, with the fieldwork taking place during December 2013.

· A mix of public sector and private sector SME orientated databases were selected to ensure a good balance and mix of audience.

· The respondent mix by employment level suggests that the sample achieved was broadly representative of the overall population of enterprises in Ireland.

Awareness Levels

· There is a strong appetite for more information, 98% of respondents felt that they would benefit from knowing more about publicly funded supports for businesses and entrepreneurs.

· Very few respondents, 2%, felt that they know a lot about business supports, with 98% stating that their awareness level is low.

· Almost 80% think that more information should be made available.

Topics of Interest

· At 74% interest, grants seem to be the biggest areas of interest.

· More than half of those who replied were interested in the following:

Ø Access to funds for business development (66%)

Ø Mentoring and overall business development (56%)

Ø Sales/markets skills development (54%)

· One third of respondents expressed interest in the area of financial skills development.

Communication Channel Usage

The communication channels most used by this plan’s target audience, in order of importance, are as follows:

· Websites – 71% usage

· Information packs – 58% usage

· Local events – 36% usage

· Social media – 30% usage

· Radio – 20% usage

· Business and trade publications – 19% usage

· Newspapers – 18% usage

Departments & Agencies currently represented in the Online Tool

Information from the following Departments and Agencies are currently in the Supporting SMEs Guide: 1. Arts Council

2. Bord Bia

3. Bord Iascaigh Mhara

4. Cork Business Innovation Centre

5. Credit Review Office

6. Culture Ireland

7. Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine

8. Department of Finance

9. Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation

10. Department of Social Protection

11. Design & Crafts Council of Ireland

12. Dublin Business Innovation Centre

13. Enterprise Ireland

14. Fáilte Ireland 15. Foodworks

16. Intertrade Ireland

17. Irish Film Board

18. Local Enterprise Office

19. Microfinance Ireland

20. National Pensions Reserve Fund / Ireland Strategic Investment Fund

21. Revenue

22. Skillnets

23. South East Business Innovation Centre

24. Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

25. Údarás na Gaeltachta

26. WestBIC (Business Innovation Centre)

27. Western Development Commission