Inter-government cross-border agency InterTradeIreland has launched the next phase of its sales development programme, Elevate, which aims to help small businesses in the manufacturing or tradeable services space develop cross-border sales opportunities on the island of Ireland. Elevate will provide access to an approved marketing expert, with this advice deemed to be worth up to €5,000.
Fifty companies were supported through the initial Elevate phase, according to InterTradeIreland. A recent evaluation of these small businesses over a six-month period showed it provided them with a total net benefit of more than €550,000.
InterTradeIreland anticipates that these companies will now go on to further develop their export capability over the next few years.
With small and micro businesses having been hardest hit by the recession, the agency foresees that the cross-border market will provide small businesses with their first natural export prospect.
The Elevate initiative, which is fully funded by InterTradeIreland, will provide access to and assistance from an approved marketing expert up to the value of €5,000 for small businesses that qualify for the funding.
Such a marketing expert will then work with each company on a one-to-one basis to develop a sales plan tailored to their sector.
One such company is Midleton, Cork-based family business Green Saffron, which specialises in farm-fresh whole spices and blends for use in the home and in professional kitchens.
Arun Kapil, founder and managing director of Green Saffron, took part in the InterTradeIreland Elevate programme.
He said that while he was working as a chef at Ballymaloe House in Cork, he started and grew the business organically in Ireland, attending farmers markets and selling to food specialists, with news of the company’s offering spreading by word of mouth.
"But we soon felt that we were ready to expand our products into new markets and the Northern Irish market was ideal due to the ease of access and geographical closeness," said Kapil.
The Elevate programme helped Green Saffron to increase its turnover by 5pc last year, according to Kapil. He said that the start-up is now in the process of securing contracts with two UK companies as a direct result of working with a Northern Ireland company.
Ireland’s micro-business sector
Thomas Hunter McGowan, chief executive of InterTradeIreland, said that because 96pc of businesses on the island are micro-enterprises, they need such support to sustain and grow.
"We developed this programme directly as a response to feedback from these small businesses," he said.
According to McGowan, the cross-border market is an often an underused but "logical" first step to wider export markets, giving experience of varied legislation and working with a different currency and more accessible for Irish firms.
"Once mastered this makes looking at European markets a more realistic prospect."
To be eligible, companies must be a manufacturing or tradeable service company with an annual turnover below €1.2m (stg£1m). They must also be trading for at least 18 months in their home market
Sole traders and partnerships that satisfy the eligibility criteria will also be able to apply, InterTradeIreland confirmed today.