The last in our series of good practice examples from the European Training Foundation (ETF) looks at a programme helping budding entrepreneurs from Belfast’s universities and further education colleges start their own businesses. 

In 2009, Belfast City Council initiated the Belfast Enterprise Academy to counter the low number of new business start-ups and high failure rates of previous enterprises in the area. Eight years later, the programme has led to the creation of 83 student-led start-up businesses, and counting.

The Belfast Enterprise Academy gives students the business expertise, creative thinking, presentation and teamwork skills they need to turn their enterprise ideas into reality. Open to students from universities and further education colleges across Belfast, the programme selects 30 promising entrepreneurs every year through an online application process. 

The selected participants receive hands-on training in entrepreneurship and business skills, as well as business support and networking opportunities. At the centre of the programme is a business community and support network, bringing together participants, tutors, mentors and ex-alumni.

Flexible enough to fit in with the students’ main studies, the programme starts with a two-day intensive business challenge, and continues throughout the year with visits to businesses, workshops, coaching and mentoring, and networking events. 

There is a strong focus on learning from real-life situations and business settings. The marketing course, for example, takes place in a creative design studio, giving students the opportunity to learn directly from designers and marketers.  

Business site visits are another a key part of the programme, where students receive one-to-one support in whatever area of expertise they need, from branding, marketing or financing, to  in-depth advice from experienced entrepreneurs or government support agencies. 

Upon completing the programme, participants qualify for accreditation through the Open College Network. 

Key factors to success:

  • focused: targets students who have a business idea and are serious about starting their own business
  • flexible: scheduled around the students’ availability
  • varied: comprises a mix of different learning opportunities, including intensive courses, visits, workshops, mentoring and networking
  • personalised: uses one-to-one support to address participants’ specific needs 
  • practical: conducts learning in a variety of settings outside of the traditional training environment, including businesses
  • connected: aims to create a business community and support network, including through online means
  • relevant: based on extensive consultation with business support agencies, and education providers and participants of previous start-up programmes.

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