Funding and grant opportunities currently open to SMEs

There are many funding programmes for entrepreneurs opening throughout the year, and as the country re-opens there are more grants being offered to help support SMEs during the Covid period.

Below are a selection of some the current funds and supports open for applications.

Acorns:

The accelerator focused on supporting early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland is now open for applications. 50 new participants will be selected this year.

Enter here ahead of the September 21 deadline.

Apprenticeships: 

A new apprenticeship incentivisation scheme is now open for employers who will receive a €3000 incentive payment for each new apprentice.

Check out www.apprenticeship.ie for more information.

The Equality Fund:

RethinkIreland is inviting applications for its Equality Fund – which has 3 million euro in monies – from now until September 14.  The fund wants to support projects that empower women, communities and equality.

Check out RethinkIreland here

Fáilte Ireland Covid – 19 Adaption Fund:

Supporting tourism and hospitality businesses who have incurred adaptation costs in order to re-open safely. Available grants up to €15,000 open for applications until 8 October 2020.

Find details here

Covid-91 Online Retail Scheme:

Competitive fund through Enterprise Ireland for Irish-owned retailers to develop their online offering. Awards are 80% of their project costs – maximum grants of €40,000. The call for applications opens Monday, August 31, 2020 and closes Monday, September 28 at 3pm.

For all the information click here

Enterprise Ireland Funds: 

For more on funding opportunities from EI click here

Enterprise Support Grant: 

Covid-19 support for micro-enterprises. Restart grant of up to €1000 for those not liable for commercial rates.

See here for more information.

Restart Grant Plus: 

Extra support is being provided for enterprises that could not access the original grant scheme, including rateable sports businesses and trading charity shops. Non-rated B&Bs will be eligible for a grant payment of €4,000.

For more information on the newly revised scheme click here

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10% of property sales renegotiated with small reduction – SCSI

About one in ten property sales was renegotiated due to Covid-19 with an average price reduction of 3%, a survey of over 260 estate agents carried out by the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland shows.

About two thirds of practitioners said property values had remained unchanged compared to the situation before the pandemic and the subsequent economic shutdown.

28% said prices had declined with 6% saying they had increased.

Figures from the Central Statistics Office last week suggested that annual property price inflation nationally practically came to a standstill in June at 0.1%. Dublin prices were down 0.7%.

The volume of transactions in June dropped by a third compared with the same month last year, the CSO figures indicated.

A separate set of figures from the Banking and Payments Federation showed that mortgage drawdowns amounted to €1.5 billion between April and the end of June, down 35% on the year.

About three quarters of estate agents surveyed by the SCSI said they had experienced at least one failed transaction as a result of the pandemic.

It is estimated from the survey findings that about 12% of sales fell through as a result of Covid-19 and the associated economic shock.

SCSI Vice President, TJ Cronin – a Cork based estate agent – said the findings underlined the resilience and the adaptability of the property sector, but he warned that the outlook remained challenging.

“Activity levels have been brisk due to pent-up demand. Confidence within the house purchasing market remains strong, especially among those who have been unaffected financially by Covid-19 or those that had finances in place.” 

“However new mortgage approvals and drawdowns are down, and the salaries of home purchasers are likely to be impacted as a result of Covid-19,” he added.

On the rental side, the survey found that on average 8% of tenants had not met their monthly rent obligations due to Covid-19. 

Just over a third of these had provided satisfactory evidence of inability to pay to their landlord.

The SCSI warned of a sharp rise in rent arrears with the removal or reduction of the pandemic support payments.

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Retailers can get €40k grants to boost online sales

Enterprise Ireland has re-opened a grant scheme that pays up to €40,000 to Irish-owned retail businesses to develop their online sales channels, especially for export markets.

Yesterday the agency launched a €5.5m programme that is expected to attract bids from hundreds of firms. Grants can cover 80pc of an investment in improved online sales channels.

An earlier version of the same programme in May paid out €6.5m, or €35,500 on average, to 183 retailers selected from 373 applicants. The selection process is competitive even for firms that meet the criteria but, unlike much of the State’s Covid-19 business supports, the grant doesn’t have to be paid back.

“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to make it an urgent priority for businesses to accelerate the growth of their online offering,” said Minister of State for Employment Affairs and Retail Businesses Damien English.

Firms to benefit from the earlier scheme included Great Outdoors on South Great George’s Street in Dublin, Ireland’s oldest camping and adventure shop. It was among the first recipients when Enterprise Ireland piloted the programme last year offering smaller grants. Managing director Derek Moody says €20,000 and guidance from the Online Retail Scheme changed the course of his company just in time for the pandemic.

“Enterprise Ireland put us years ahead on our time-line for online development. The grant arrived almost instantly,” Mr Moody said.

Before Covid-19, Great Outdoors generated about €5m annually from in-store sales. Since April it has generated a fifth of its sales by value on the web and added two staff to its five-member online team.

“We’re busy. Our footfall is down almost 50pc – but our business isn’t down,” he said.

Great Outdoors ultimately aims to boost online sales to a third of revenue, in part, by launching a pan-European sales platform next month with web domains from Norway to Austria. It’s testing the new platform – and has sold goods to customers as far away as the Czech Republic.

“We wouldn’t have had the confidence or the finance to do this on our own,” he said. “Now we understand that, if we’re not seen online, we’re never considered.”

He said the firm’s previous web platform catered to sales only in Ireland and the UK. The new system, designed by Donnybrook-based Marketing Network, allows customers to place orders throughout Europe using his preferred Irish courier firm, DPD.

“Order fulfilment is much quicker and slicker. The integration of carriage charges means it’s straightforward for customers outside Ireland to order. From the middle of September we can target and market in specific markets.

“We wouldn’t have known how to do this before,” he said. “We would have been a bit blinkered and stuck to developing sales in Ireland. It’s really eye-opening when you go through the grant process.”

The latest iteration of the scheme is administered by Enterprise Ireland. Applicant businesses must be Irish-owned and have employed at least 10 staff full time before the pandemic. They must have some online sales presence and a plan to build “significant functionality”, particularly for exports. However, wholesalers, agrifoods and financial firms, car dealers, restaurants and bars, and most franchisees are ineligible.

Firms that received grants in the 2019 pilot included Carrolls Irish Gifts, Golden Discs, Kilkenny Group, Aran Sweater Market in Kerry, Meaghers Pharmacy, Lifestyle Sports, Ted Johnson workwear in Kildare, Greenes Shoes in Donegal, and Yarn Vibes Cork.

May’s much larger class of Covid-era recipients included the Equine Warehouse in Tipperary, Ballygarvan Nurseries and Blarney Woollen Mills in Cork, World of Tiles in Westmeath, Fallon & Byrne, Waltons Music and Petmania.

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Oracle’s Irish arm returns to profit, acquires $11.4bn in IP rights

Enterprise technology giant Oracle’s main Irish arm bounced back from a near €500 million loss last year as it acquired $11.4 billion in intellectual property rights from another group company by way of a promissory note.

Oracle EMEA Limited, which employs more than 1,400 people in Ireland, recorded a €504 million pretax profits for the year ending May 2019, reversing a €493.4 million loss a year earlier that arose on the back of a near €500 million impairment charge.

The company, whose parent is rumoured to be one of a number of tech companies seeking to acquire TikTok, recorded turnover of €7.4 billion, down 2 per cent on the €7.6 billion recorded in 2018.

The Irish subsidiary paid a tax charge of €81.6 million leaving a profit after tax of €422.4 million. Th shareholder’s deficit at the end of the reporting period was €293.5 million, as against €752 million in the prior year.

Distribution costs more than halved last year to €770 million while administration expenses were down 19.5 per cent to €756.6 million.

The Irish unit employed an average of 1,439 people last year with staff costs, including wages and salaries, totalling €127.9 million. More than 1,000 of Oracle’s EMEA Limited’s employees work in sales and marketing. with a further 200 in finance and admin, and 164 in manufacturing and software development.

The group said it invested €33.2 million in research and development (R&D) activities during the year, down slightly on the €36.5 million spend recorded in 2018.

Post the reporting period, Oracle EMEA Limited sold some IP rights to another group company for €198.3 million.

Staff at Oracle Ireland were told in March that the company was to cut as many as 1,300 jobs across Europe, with Dublin among the locations affected.

The lay-offs come after Oracle fell short of quarterly revenue estimates late last year as growth in its cloud services business failed to cover losses in its traditional licensing business.

Oracle has rapidly expanded its cloud business in recent years, remaking itself from a database supplier into one of the largest cloud-focused technology multinationals.

The company, which was founded by Larry EllisonEd Oates and Bob Milner in 1977, has a market cap of more than $180 billion. It recorded revenues of $39.5 billion last year.

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Number of Irish returning home at highest level since 2007

Nearly 29,000 Irish nationals returned home to live and work in the year to the end of April, the highest number for 13 years.

Figures published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show the overall population rose by 1.1 per cent, or 55,900 people, year-on-year to 4.98 million.

An increase of 1.3 per cent, or 64,500 individuals increase, was recorded in the same period a year earlier.

CSO statician James Hegarty noted that the figures did not record much of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as they only covered the first few weeks.

Net inward migration to the State was down by 14.2 per cent year-on-year, or by 4,800 people, with 85,400 people arriving in the 12 months to the end of April. Of these, 28,900 were estimated to be returning Irish nationals – the highest number coming back since 2007.

Of the 56,500 people who emigrated from Ireland in the year to April, 28,300 (50.1 per cent) were estimated to be Irish nationals – a decrease of 700 (2.4 per cent) on the previous year.

As of April, there were 644,400 non-Irish nationals estimated to be resident in the State, equivalent to 12.9 per cent of the population.

Some 28,200 non-Irish nationals emigrated during the reporting period, meaning that net inward migration among non-Irish nationals fell by 20.9 per cent to 28,300 from 35,800 in the previous year.

A total of 58,300 births were recorded, while the number of deaths was 31,200, resulting in a natural population increase of 27,100, the lowest level recorded since 2001, the CSO said.

Dublin population

The number of people living in Dublin stood at 1.42 million in April, with the area’s population increasing by 1.6 per cent over the year. Some 28.5 per cent of the State’s total population now lives in the capital.

The proportion of the population aged 65 and over increased by 23,900 (3.4 per cent) to 720,100 in the year to April. This age group has grown by 14.3 per cent since 2016 and now accounts for 14.5 per cent of the total population.

KBC Bank economist Austin Hughes said the fall in net inward migration was “somewhat surprising” given there was a “sense that these data might see a continuing uptick” in the figure.

He said that in circumstances where increased Brexit-related concerns might have been expected to prompt a pick-up in migration flows from the UK, a significant decline in inflows was difficult to explain “unless we believe that such flows had already largely happened in earlier years”.

“More generally, as the pace of Irish economic growth has picked up notably in recent years, it has prompted sharp increases in employment and corresponding declines in unemployment that seem at odds with a decline in inward migration overall,” he said.

Ger Brady from employers’ group Ibec, said: “Before Covid-19 we had been seeing a flattening of inward migration for a number of years. This is mostly reflective of an economy which had been running close to capacity and had significant quality of life challenges – in areas such as housing, transport, and childcare.”

“These challenges will still exist in the post-Covid world. The new National Economic Plan in October will give the State an opportunity to set out a long-term strategy to improve Ireland’s attractiveness as a place to live, work, and invest,” he said.

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Lockdown opens up opportunities for online Irish start-ups

While Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the global economy with a long recovery to follow, certain sectors have benefitted from its effects. Not just retail giants such as Amazon but small and scrappy Irish start-ups have experienced growth and even secured funding in these tumultuous times.

Lasting memories of lockdown will be grocery-related: queuing for hand sanitiser, booking a slot for an online delivery and stockpiling pasta. The supermarket was a lifeline and online delivery service Buymie has been at the helm.

“Our app allows users to order from large online retailers – currently Tesco and Lidl – and have their items delivered door-to-door in as little as an hour by their own personal shopper,” explains Devan Hughes, chief executive and co-founder.

Buymie has been in the market since 2016 but, as Hughes describes it, earlier this year it felt as if a large spotlight had been turned on to the industry as a whole.

“We signed our first flagship enterprise retail partnership with Lidl in 2018. We went from mid five-figure-a-month sales to six-figure sales in 2019, growing our weekly volume by 2,000 per cent in a year so we were coming into 2020 with a steep growth curve,” he explains.

Buymie was in the process of closing out a €2.2 million funding round led by ACT when Covid-19 hit and found itself funding 10 months ahead of their own business plan with a 300 per cent increase in app downloads. For Hughes and his team, lockdown wasn’t so much accelerating growth as managing it.

“You have to manage it carefully because overtrading can be as dangerous as undertrading, especially if you have a working capital requirement.”

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BidX1 veteran Hoban’s Offr accepted as he raises €3m of fresh funding

Offr, a property tech startup co-founded by former Savills and Allsop / BidX1 auctioneer Robert Hoban, has raised €3m in funding from Barclays Bank and a group of angel investors and venture capital firms.

Offr is the first Irish company to receive a follow-on investment from Barclays through its London accelerator programme. The bank and Rob Pierre, co-founder of London-based digital marketing firm Jellyfish are the two largest investors in Offr’s seed round.

A number of British and Irish senior figures in finance, tech and property – as well as VC firms including Frontline Ventures and Enterprise Ireland, – are among the 30 backers of Offr, which also raised €1m last year.

Offr provides secure and transparent bidding and transaction technology for the property industry, with a button that estate agents and sellers can put on their property listings enabling a transaction to be completed digitally, and connecting estate agents to banks and solicitors using integrated messaging and services from DocuSign, Stripe, Onfido, WhatsApp Business, Twilio, Slack, Matterport, EyeSpy360, and Hubspot.

“Ireland sees €15bn of property sales a year, with 60,000 transactions and largely paper-based processes taking on average seven months from listing to completion. We can reduce that to three or four months,” Mr Hoban said.

“The business conducted the world’s first digital property transaction during the lockdown, via Sherry Fitzgerald, selling six apartments in an online auction as one lot.”

Mr Hoban founded the business in late 2018, along with Philip Farrell, a former auctioneer and CEO of the Real Estate Alliance, and Niall Dawson, Offr’s CTO, who honed his tech and software development skills at Worky, Ultimate Rugby and Xsellco.

“We’re inspired by [Irish customer-messaging unicorn] Intercom’s global success. We want to do for property what Amazon or Shopify have done for ecommerce,” said Mr Hoban. “Niall has brought a wealth of tech expertise to our team so we can achieve that. We’ll use the funding to expand the business and we’re talking to several of the largest property websites here and in Britain about integrating our technology.”

Jellyfish – which employs 1,100 people around the world, and merged with a French firm last November valuing the combined entity at €550m – will now boost Offr’s digital marketing as it seeks to expand in Australia and the UK, whose property markets are worth €170bn and €460bn respectively, Mr Hoban said.

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State credit rating stable as Moody’s sees 2021 rebound

The dramatic rise in the Government deficit this year does not make it more likely that Ireland will default on the national debt, according to analysts at Moody’s.

The ratings agency has kept its stable A2 credit grade for Ireland, citing strong growth prospects once the Covid-19 threat is contained.

“Our credit view of Ireland reflects the strong growth and fiscal track record of the past few years and our expectation that the positive trends will resume after the economic shock triggered by the coronavirus outbreak has faded,” the New York-based agency said.

It thinks the deficit will rise this year to 9.1pc of gross domestic product (GDP) because of pandemic supports costing €20.5bn. But it expects that spending gap to fall to 4pc of GDP next year as economic output strongly rebounds.

Sarah Carlson, Moody’s lead sovereign analyst for Ireland, said a 2020 recession is unavoidable.

The latest forecast from the Department of Finance is for a deficit of 7.5pc of GDP, although that predates recent spending measures. Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said the deficit could hit €30bn.

Moody’s expects the economy to grow by 6.3pc in 2021. National debt should peak this year at 68.1pc of GDP and fall next year to 67.1pc, it said.

Moody’s has kept Ireland at A2 since 2017.

That is five notches below its top grade of Aaa, which is held by a dozen countries including the US and Germany. The UK is one notch above Ireland on A1 but is at risk of a downgrade due to Brexit.

Moody’s says Ireland’s credit worthiness is unlikely to be upgraded in the short term given pandemic-driven instability. Any upgrade would require, it said, “a material reduction in the public debt ratio” and “a reduction of revenue concentration risk” – a reference to Ireland’s high tax take from a handful of tech multinationals.

Ireland could face a downgrade, it warned, if the Government overspent and put the country into deeper debt than currently envisaged. Any ratings downgrade would increase the cost of State borrowing.

Although not anticipated, a material adverse impact of the coronavirus outbreak, Brexit or global corporate tax reform on Ireland’s growth performance over a multi-year period would also be rating negative,” it said.

The report credited the Government’s wage subsidies and strong exports by multinationals here with cushioning the blow from Covid-19.

“The resilience of key sectors such as pharmaceuticals and information and technology will mitigate the impact of the shock on GDP data,” it said.

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Irish economy to contract by 8.5% in 2020, Moody’s warns

The Irish economy will contract by 8.5 per cent this year as a result of the economic shock triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, ratings agency Moody’s has warned.

The agency, which had previously predicted only a small economic contraction of 1.6 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), said the Government’s prudent management of the economy to date would not be enough to prevent a recession in 2020.

The strict lockdown measures implemented in the second quarter had resulted in severe disruptions on the supply side and weak domestic demand, it said.

The agency also warned of a significant downside risk to the outlook from a more adverse coronavirus impact, Brexit and global corporate tax reform.

Nonetheless, it said the activity of multinationals and the resilience of key sectors such as pharmaceuticals and information and technology would “mitigate” the impact of the shock on GDP data.

In its latest report on the Republic, it said the outlook for the State’s A2 credit rating, which facilitates the Government’s low-cost borrowing, was stable.

“Our credit view of Ireland reflects the strong growth and fiscal track record of the past few years and our expectation that the positive trends will resume after the economic shock triggered by the coronavirus outbreak has faded,” it said.

“ However, challenges will remain in the form of elevated high public debt levels and a relatively high degree of economic volatility.”

Clarity on post-Brexit trading arrangements would potentially remove a source of uncertainty and increase positive credit pressures, it added.

Moody’s said that after two years of small surpluses, it forecast the Government would record a deficit of 9.1 per cent of GDP or €30 billion this year, with strong tax collection in the first half of the year partly mitigating for the introduction of new measures to support pandemic-impacted workers and health services.

t noted that the fiscal cost of the Government’s July stimulus was €3.7 billion, including €2.8 billion in expenditure and €0.9 billion in lost revenue. The package will also extend into 2021, and its estimated cost is €1.8 billion next year.

Altogether, direct supports related to the measures announced since the start of the pandemic amount to €20.5 billion (6.2 per cent of GDP), in addition to the €2 billion credit guarantee scheme and the €2 billion Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund, it said.

“The return to sizeable deficits will halt the debt reduction trend, and we forecast the goverment’s debt burden to reach 68.1 per cent of GDP in 2020,”

“ Given that the Irish authorities have substantial cash buffers, we do not think that all of the increase in the deficit will be debt creating,” it added.

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Gas Networks Ireland reduces carbon footprint by 27pc

Gas Networks Ireland has reduced its carbon footprint by 27pc over the past ten years, according to the company’s 2019 Sustainability Report released today.

The networks operator plans to reduce its carbon emissions further going forward, both within its own operations and from decarbonising the gas transported through the network.

It also has a 99pc recycling rate from its offices.

Gas Networks Ireland connects over 705,000 businesses and homes to Ireland’s gas network.

It is part of semi-State company Ervia.

Gas Networks Ireland’s Sustainability Manager, Anne Moore, said: “We are always mindful of our sustainability responsibilities and aim to contribute to the protection of the environment while supporting the social and economic development of the communities we operate in, as well as the wider economy.”

Overall gas demand climbed 4.1pc in July compared to June,it remains 3.7pc lower than a year ago, according to figures from the group released earlier this week.

Gas demand in the hospitality and leisure sector was just 1pc below where it was 12 months ago in July.

But in the construction sector, gas demand last month was up 26pc compared to June – but was still 40pc lower than it was in July of last year.

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