Business Plus

Local Enterprise Offices focus on sustaining and growing Ireland’s small businesses


Since the pandemic hit in March 2020, Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) have been to the fore in supporting small businesses. Helping them to respond to Covid was vital but also helping them to adapt to a new way of doing business has been pivotal during the last 18 months. All of this has been with an eye on the future, as digitalisa­tion and sustainabi­lity become priorities. When businesses were forced to close their doors in 2020, many firms had not looked at the value of what trading online could bring, and as a result, had little or no online presence. As physical doors shut, virtual doors were opened across the country, in their thousands. There was a 950% increase in applicatio­ns for Trading Online Vouchers to Local Enterprise Offices as the pandemic took hold, and almost 13,000 businesses availed of the TOV in 2020.


The TOV programme assigns a specialist to help a business build an online platform to help them trade, or to improve an existing platform, and businesses can avail of up to two vouchers. Pastry chef Grainne

Mullins quickly saw hospitalit­y work dry up last year as the industry shut down. Passionate about her craft, the Galway entreprene­ur set about keeping her skills sharp by creating some bespoke Easter eggs for her friends. Images of the eggs spread on Instagram, and Grá Chocolates was formed to cope with demand for Grainne’s confection­ery.

Having never run a business, a friend recommende­d that Grainne should contact ‘LEO’ for assistance. “Who is Leo, and why do I have to talk to him?” was her initial response. She emailed her Local Enterprise Office in Galway and it started from there. “Because I didn’t have a business background, I undertook loads of training,” says Grainne. “I did all the courses and I still do. I’ve just signed up for a course about TikTok.”

She went on to receive a Priming Grant, which helped the budding entreprene­ur to increase production volume. The next step was selling online, and Grainne availed of a Trading Online Voucher in 2021.

“I have used it to develop a new website, because my previous one was quite basic. I wanted to improve the customer experience and make the website as great as possible,” Grainne explains. “My website has much more functional­ity now, such as Apple Pay

and Google Pay, and it remembers customers. It’s also easier to add items to the cart, to purchase, and to pre-order and select the shipping date, which is perfect for gifting.”


While the Trading Online Voucher helped thousands of micro enterprise­s to commence their e-commerce journey, the Business Continuity Voucher, funded by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and rolled out by the LEOs, helped businesses pivot and adapt to the Covid-impacted trading landscape.

Two days before St Patrick’s Day in 2020, Hope Beer’s warehouse was filled to the roof with kegs of beer ready to supply to bars, festivals and for export. “Suddenly we were left with all that stock, as bars and restaurant­s closed, festivals were cancelled, and exports were halted,” recalls co-founder Wim de Jongh.

The business had a close relationsh­ip with its LEO in Fingal, so that was its first call, and a Business Continuity Voucher was arranged for the company. “It was worth €2,500, and we used that to get profession­al advice, working with our accountant to put together three-year cashflow projection­s, including both worst and best-case scenarios,” says Wim. “This was required to secure a bank loan, which we required in order to help finance the canning line.”

The loan, along with a capital grant from the LEO, enabled Hope Beer to invest in the new canning line. Now the company is on a growth path in Ireland and abroad, as it exports across Europe.


The pandemic brought challenges for all businesses, but also opportunit­ies. Padraic McElwee, chair of the network of Local Enterprise Offices, is constantly seeing small businesses successful­ly adapting to the new world around them.

According to Padraic: “There was that initial shock – what do we do? – which quickly transition­ed into action, whether that was going online or assessing what materials and skills firms had in their business which could be adapted to provide a different product or service. Many firms establishe­d an online presence out of necessity, and this has evolved into a significan­t business opportunit­y to grow market share, develop a new revenue stream, and win customers in internatio­nal markets.

Padraic adds that the LEO network is seeing small businesses forging on, looking at how they can continue to adapt, and build on the changes they have made. “SMEs can be extremely agile, so it makes it a lot easier for them to align themselves with new processes, especially around emerging digitalisa­tion and sustainabi­lity challenges. Proactive business owners are looking at these trends and developing plans to meet the expectatio­ns of their customers into the future,” he says.

“There is increasing awareness that all businesses must have solid green credential­s. They must also operate in a more digitally enabled economic environmen­t, which, if successful­ly implemente­d, opens significan­t opportunit­ies to develop new export markets. The pace of change in business has accelerate­d in recent months, and it is encouragin­g to see LEO clients, and many SMEs, embracing the challenges as they build a pathway to future success.”


As businesses recover and adapt, Local Enterprise Offices are continuing to support their clients in a range of ways. The LEO Look for Local campaign, supported by Enterprise Ireland and the local authoritie­s, ran at Christmas 2020 and through summer 2021, encouragin­g consumers to support local enterprise­s.

Since the beginning of 2020, over 100,000 business owners have availed of training courses with their local LEO. Last year, the LEOs also had over 5,000 entreprene­urs take part in the Start Your Own Business programme, aimed at people who may have had to leave employment or simply want a change of career.

The LEOs continue to roll out new and innovative supports, including Green for Micro, which helps small businesses take the first steps on their green journey. This, coupled with supports such as Lean for Micro and Technical Assistance for Micro Exporters, helps companies to improve themselves, and also explore new markets internatio­nally.

These supports, coupled with financial assistance and the range of training and sector-specific mentoring available nationwide, means that the Local Enterprise Office continues to be the first-stop shop for anyone looking to start or grow a business anywhere in the country.

There are 31 Local Enterprise Offices in local authoritie­s across the country, supported by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment through Enterprise Ireland. You’ll find contact details for your nearest LEO at LocalEnter­

 ?? ?? Pastry chef Grainne Mullins availed of a Trading Online Voucher to improve the e-commerce functional­ity of her Grá Chocolates website
Pastry chef Grainne Mullins availed of a Trading Online Voucher to improve the e-commerce functional­ity of her Grá Chocolates website
 ?? ?? Wim de Jongh and Hope Beer sourced a Business Continuity Voucher from Fingal LEO to develop a new canning line
Wim de Jongh and Hope Beer sourced a Business Continuity Voucher from Fingal LEO to develop a new canning line
 ?? ?? Padraic McElwee, who heads up Clare LEO, is also chair of the network of Local Enterprise Offices
Padraic McElwee, who heads up Clare LEO, is also chair of the network of Local Enterprise Offices
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