Entrepreneurs driving change
I was delighted to have the opportunity today to address the 40th annual Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference in Belfast today. Here’s (an edited version) of what I said:
Tá lúchair orm a bheith libh inniu do 40ú comhdháil bhliantúil ISBE.
Fearaim fáilte is fiche romhaibh go Béal Feirste na Long.
It’s my great pleasure to welcome you to Belfast for the ISBE 40th annual conference. I pay tribute to your President Pauric McGowan as I roll out the red carpet to my home town not only to our friends across Ireland but also to our Celtic cousins from Scotland and Wales. A very warm céad mile fáilte, one hundred thousand welcomes to our English colleagues — we will miss you when you Brexit — and a special Dia Daoibh, and Salaam Alaikum or Your God Be With You to guests from Chile, Tunisa, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Italy, USA, Finland, Denmark and New Zealand.
The Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship has pioneered academic research which has been a boon to entrepreneurs and academics alike.
Your research forms the foundation for progressive, results-based small business development programmes offered by economic agencies and universities.
We who believe that small businesses are the spine which runs through successful communities are grateful for your research and direction.
Indeed, your academic focus on small business confirms the evidence I have gathered during a lifetime as an entrepreneur, city mayor and elected politician in regard to the awesome power of small businesses to build successful communities.
Prof Ken O’Neill who is joining you today has long preached this gospel of putting indigenous entrepreneurs first. And well he might, because as he knows from his efforts in the heartlands of Belfast: when the going gets tough, it’s the local business people who stay the course.
Before the peace process, Belfast people were encouraged to look back and look inwards. Today, we are global leaders in looking forward and looking outwards. But the very vanguard of those building the new Belfast are the small business owners and entrepreneurs. Your work in skilling up the next generation of start-ups is, therefore, invaluable.
As you travel across the city you may come across Mourne Seafood, an award-winning restaurant in Bank Square in the city centre.
Mourne Seafood, now a staple of all the tour guides, was set up in 2005 in Bank Square when it was a foreboding and abandoned part of the city. And yet by setting up shop there, drawing in hungry customers and keeping the lights on late at night, restaurateur Bob McCoubrey did more to transform that corner of Belfast than any government minister or Council mandarin.
The story of Bob McCoubrey is repeated time out of number in this city and in the cities and countries from which you hail. But it’s a story — the link between entrepreneurship and community regeneration — which is under-researched, under-told and under-sold.
I want you to put that right so that your research is, as ISBE Conference Chairman Ciarán Mac an Bhaird of the Irish medium course Fiontar in DCU puts it, about the world rather than the classroom.
Tackling inequality and poverty is the challenge of our age. Entrepreneurship is one of the greatest weapons we have in that war.
I wish you well in taking the lessons of the classroom out into our high streets and village squares, technology parks and city centres as we build a firm foundation of engaged, invested and enterprising small business champions who will be the change we wish to see in the world.