LEO Network Supporting SMEs Through Covid-19

16 Sep 2020 | 09.00 am

LEO Network Supporting SMEs Through Covid-19

Local Enterprise Offices have a wide range of supports on offer

16 Sep 2020 | 09.00 am

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Local Enterprise Offices can help your business respond to the COVID-19 pandemic

The network of Local Enterprise Offices has been helping businesses respond to the critical challenges presented by the Covid-19 virus pandemic. According to Richard Murphy, Manager of the LEO Support, Policy and Co-ordination Unit in Enterprise Ireland: “Local Enterprise Offices in local authorities have been helping thousands of small businesses respond to the crisis.

“The measures announced by Government as part of the July Jobs Stimulus will help LEOs support many more small businesses around the country as part of Ireland’s economic recovery.

“Supports are also available to help small businesses get ready for Brexit and to prepare for customs on the 1 January 2021. Our advice is to talk to your Local Enterprise Office to work together on a tailored solution for your business.”

Oisin Geoghegan, Chair of the Network of Local Enterprise Offices and Head of LEO Fingal, says the LEOs welcome the additional funding provided in the July Jobs Stimulus package, which is targeted specifically at micro-enterprises: “It is really needed to enable us to support small businesses through this crisis and maximise their chances of recovery in the months ahead,” says Geoghegan. Detailed below are the range of complementary supports available to people who want to start or grow a business.

Trading Online Voucher Scheme

Under the Government’s National Digital Strategy, the expanded Trading Online Voucher Scheme helps small businesses with up to 10 employees to trade more online, boost sales and reach new markets. There is up to €2,500 available through the Local Enterprise Offices, with co-funding of 10% from the business. The competitive scheme is open to businesses that have been trading for at least six months. Businesses that have already received a Trading Online Voucher can now apply for a second voucher, where upgrades are required.

Funding can be used towards adding payment facilities or booking systems to your website or developing new apps for your customers. The voucher can also be used towards subscriptions to low cost online retail platform solutions, to help companies quickly establish a retailing presence online.

“Additional funding provided in the July Jobs Stimulus package means that LEOs are well funded to continue to offer Trading Online Vouchers,” Geoghegan explains. “If you have received a voucher before you can reapply, perhaps to increase the appeal of your website or for marketing investment.

COVID-19 Business Loans

The COVID-19 Business Loan from Microfinance Ireland (MFI), in partnership with Local Enterprise Offices, is designed for micro-enterprises that are having difficulty accessing bank finance, and impacted negatively by COVID-19 resulting in a reduction in turnover or profit.

Business Loans of up to €50,000 are available for eligible micro-enterprises with less than 10 employees and up to €2m annual turnover that are currently trading. Loans may be used for working capital and required business changes as a result of COVID-19. There’s a lower interest rate, if submitted through your Local Enterprise Office, and loan terms are typically up to three years. There is also an interest free and repayment free period at the start of the loan.

According to Oisin Geoghegan: “The Local Enterprise Office will appoint somebody to provide guidance on MFI loan applications. You want to make sure that you are applying for the right package and the right type of funding for your business. Businesses that are re-opening need to restock and rehire people. If the business is in a position to restart and grow, it may need a cash injection to do that.”

LEO Financial Supports

For existing companies and potential start-ups that meet eligibility criteria, LEOs also offer Business Priming Grants, Business Expansion Grants, Feasibility Study Grants, and Technical Assistance for Micro-Exporters Grant. “A lot of priming grant approvals are coming about recently so hopefully that is a positive sign,” says Geoghegan. “Feasibility applications have been quite consistent too, indicating that the entrepreneurial spirit is formidable.”

LEAN for Micro

LEAN for Micro is available to LEO clients to help build resilience. Clients can avail of consultancy support with a qualified LEAN practitioner who will work with the company to undertake a specific cost savings project and assist the company in benchmarking its performance. LEAN for Micro can also be used to help implement new remote working and physical distancing guidelines.

Training and Webinars

Local Enterprise Offices have moved training programmes, workshops and networking meet-ups online. According to Geoghegan: “When the pandemic started we refashioned the training with more of a crisis management focus. More recently there has been strong uptake again in start your own business and management programmes.

“It’s all delivered online now and over 30,000 people have taken part in training programmes through their Local Enterprise Office since the start of the pandemic. Lots of firms that we never dealt with before are engaging with our programmes now. Online delivery has worked very successfully when you look at the value of it for the clients.”

Mentoring

Under the LEO Mentor programme, clients work with an experienced mentor to identify solutions to areas of exposure within their business. Clients develop strategies that are more robust, and they explore potential opportunities. Mentoring services are now free of charge until the end of 2020.

Geoghegan explains: “When clients approach their Local Enterprise Office they will often be assigned a mentor in the first instance. The mentor will examine their specific requirements in detail. That first port of call is extremely important because it can be challenging to navigate the various programmes and supports. The mentor will advise on how the client can address problems on issues such as business strategy, marketing, finance and HR. Due to the pandemic, LEOs are waiving mentoring fees until the end of 2020.”

Small businesses responding  to Covid-19 challenges

A topsy-turvy year for Derek Walker in 2020 has been steadied by the support received from Local Enterprise Office Donegal. Derek and his wife Anna run NatNoot, which sells a range of natural, cold-pressed juices. The business received a Business Expansion Grant in 2019 to help fund equipment upgrade.

Sales were impacted in early 2020 when offices and gyms were closed. Problems were compounded with NatNoot’s distributor went into liquidation. Derek responded by securing a Trading Online Voucher to establish a website. He also started doing is own distribution, putting a van on the road and hiring a driver from the previous distributor.

“The site will provide a platform for small companies like NatNoot to tell their story and talk about their products,” says Derek. “We will also provide distribution service for their products along with our own, using a delivery box idea, where people can pick and mix between different Irish brands and get the box of goods delivered.”

Walker adds: “I am legally blind and I got help from LEO staff to fill in the grant forms. They are also mentoring me about the distribution part of my business. I don’t know how any small businesses can get going without LEO supports.

Mailo Power has been a client of Local Enterprise Office Waterford since she founded Monkey Cups in 2018. The Dunmore East venture sells barista standard reusable coffee cups with a range of colourful lids and bands.

The Covid-19 crisis caused corporate sales to fall sharply. Monkey Cups’ online sales held up, but Mailo wanted to do better. Working with Peter Grogan in Imagine Media, she devised a plan to introduce bespoke design to her website’s coffee cup shop.

A Trading Online Voucher financed the creation of a function that enables online shoppers to pick their own colour combinations to design novel coffee cups. “The first weekend that it went live we had more sales than the entire previous month.

“I have also completed a lot of courses through LEO Waterford. They have been with us on our journey from the start, and the mentorship and training programmes gives you access to expertise that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.”

There are 31 Local Enterprise Offices in local authorities across the country, supported by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation through Enterprise Ireland. You’ll find contact details for your nearest LEO at LocalEnterprise.ie/Response

Pictured: Oisin Geoghegan, Chair of the Network of Local Enterprise Offices and Head of LEO Fingal

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