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Posted on November 30, 2018

Serial entrepreneur Eleanor McEvoy leads the Dragons in first

Inspire Business Angels Investment

Three East Belfast seedcorn businesses received a total of £12.5k in the first round of funding from Inspire Business Angels Investment as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Eleanor McEvoy, the new Entrepreneurship Ambassador for Northern Ireland, announced the investments at the end of a Dragons’ Den type event at the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn.

The serial entrepreneur said she and her fellow Dragons, business development expert John McGrann and David Drysdale, Chair of Inspire Business Centre, were impressed by the high standard of pitches.

“It is not easy for inexperienced start-ups to face interrogation by three highly skilled business Dragons, so huge credit must go to all our finalists for their gutsiness in being prepared to put themselves and their businesses out there,” said Ms McEvoy.

“As entrepreneurs, we know the secret of creating a successful business lies in identifying a need and responding with the perfect solution. Three very different starter businesses demonstrated to us that they understood this deceptively simple proposition.”

Mercury Fitness NI, a unique weight loss and fitness boot camp with an international flavour run by Jason Gillard, received £5k of investment to fund marketing, training equipment and sports kit.

Jason ‘Jay’ Gillard said: “I took a huge leap of faith when I left a steady but unfulfilling career to start my own business.  I just thought to myself, ‘I can do better than this’.  I have a long way to go, but this investment will help me achieve my dream.”

Emma Dougherty, owner of Emma’s Cleaning Services, received £5k to enable her rapidly growing commercial and domestic cleaning service to purchase a liveried van and digital marketing support.

“I am absolutely thrilled, especially as I had to ask a proxy to do my pitch as both my young children were very ill on the night,” said Emma. “This investment will help my business, yes, but it will also help me to achieve my ambition of enabling other women to work, to be financially independent and to see how far they can go!”

Sweet Sounds Café, a social enterprise which provides training for young people with special needs, received £2.5k to go towards a second minibus to help transport isolated and vulnerable customers to their premises at Inspire Business Centre.

Steven Thompson, who pitched on their behalf, said: “I got a bit of a grilling, but it was a useful experience because the Dragons raised some good points, and in the end we got about half the money we need to invest in our first minibus, which will bring new customers to the café as well as be available for hire.”   

A total of six budding businesses drawn from applicants across the LCCC area were invited to deliver a 10-minute pitch in front of a live audience in the Studio Theatre following a social networking session in the Island Centre Art Gallery.

Mark Brotherston, CEO of Inspire Business Centre, explained: “Inspire is much more than a Local Enterprise Agency – we are making a significant contribution to the NI economy and changing people’s lives thanks to the development of an ‘Eco-system’ for entrepreneurship and enterprise.

“Inspire Academy is a social enterprise which gives people the opportunity to develop bespoke skills underpinned by accredited qualifications ranging from GCSEs to Degrees. We also deliver innovative programmes, community development initiatives and business mentoring.

“This year, we decided to invest some of our surplus in young businesses – to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. These are not grants or loans, but genuine investments in start-ups which will grow, employ people and enrich the local economy.”

Alderman Allan Ewart, Vice Chair of LCCC’s Development Committee, said the Council was delighted to sponsor such a unique event.