Urgent moves to halt cross-border brain drain

1 Apr 2009

A cross-border business generation initiative aimed at reversing a perceived ‘brain drain’ from knowledge-based individuals and industries has been launched.

Funded by the NI Department of Employment and Learning, the programme is aimed at persuading expatriate graduates to return to the cross-border region to set up businesses.

Launched yesterday in Newry by the Southern Regional College and Dundalk Institute of Technology, IQ360 Cross-Border Brain Gain also seeks to encourage locally based would-be entrepreneurs in knowledge-based sectors who commute daily to Belfast or Dublin to set up businesses at home in the expanding cross-border ‘corridor’.

The campaign is being kick-started by an intense cross-border marketing and advertising campaign, and a powerful internet site that will showcase the help available online and face-to-face in Newry and Dundalk.

“A programme of this kind has never been offered before,” said Kieran Fegan, manager of Greenshoots Incubation and Innovation Centre in Newry, which is a joint initiative with University of Ulster.

“A key aim of IQ360 is to attract expatriates with new or existing business ideas and new intellectual property to this cross-border region.”

The programme is aimed mainly at the engineering, software, ICT, creative and digital media, as well as renewable energy and assistive living sectors. Operated from the two colleges, it has been funded by the Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland and covers counties South Down, Armagh and Louth.

The two organisations provide high-specification business space where advice and mentoring is available.

Sean MacEntee, manager of the Regional Development Centre at Dundalk Institute of Technology, said: “Business incubation is a process, not just a place. Supports such as mentoring, special advice, access to researchers and networking are far more important than bricks and mortar. These supports will be available online to expatriates from anywhere in the world, as well as face-to-face in Newry or Dundalk.”

The internet portal www.IQ360.eu has a wide range of online business start-up resources in the form of documents, PDFs, images, videos, podcasts and presentations. There is also a brochure listing all the various forms of support available, including financial support, plus a newsfeed updating social, political, economic, cultural and environmental developments, and a database.

“A major EU study has shown that 85pc of all companies supported through incubation centres reach their fifth birthday,” Fegan added, “whereas usually, six out of 10 new start-up businesses fail.

“The forums will be particularly useful, with the setting up of online interest groups and sub-groups. Information, mentoring and networking are key elements.”

Sean MacEntee added: “The internet portal will highlight the unique academic resources and business development supports now on offer in the cross-border region. It will enable people at home and abroad to be part of a community exchanging ideas and information. So, the programme is both internet and face-to-face based.”

A management group has been set up and a project co-ordinator, Joanne Merron, has been appointed to take day-to-day responsibility for the website.

“The project will reach out and deliver a very clear message to graduates living both inside and outside the east cross-border region that the academic institutes on each side of the border want to actively support innovative knowledge-based ideas and help promoters turn those ideas into thriving businesses,” said Fegan.

“Our aim is to turn what was previously brain drain into regional brain gain.”

By John Kennedy

Pictured (l-r): Cllr Colman Burns, Mayor; Brian Doran, chief executive, Southern Regional College; Sean MacEntee, manager, Regional Development Centre at DKIT; Kieran Fegan, manager, Greenshoots Business Incubation Centre at SRC; Conor Murphy MP, MLA, Newry and Armagh