Innovation Business Programme Marks Success

A host of new local micro businesses has successfully grown and developed their companies as a result of a programme designed by the Ballymena Business Centre and supported by The Gallaher Trust.

The 4i Innovation Programme, which was designed to provide a common language around innovation so business owners can easily increase their knowledge and skills, and better understand how to apply innovation within their business, has seen nearly two dozen businesses participate with numerous jobs created.

Chairman of The Gallaher Trust, Ian Paisley MP, spoke of the success of the 4i Innovation Programme: “It’s so rewarding to see the direct impact the programme is having on businesses. The programme has equipped local people with the skills and knowledge of how to introduce innovation to their businesses. Seeing these tangible results proves how vital this approach is to economic growth in the Ballymena area. To date £8.5K of innovation grant awards have been given.”

The unique pilot project, which was launched in autumn 2021, has seen over 23 businesses and 33 individuals participate in the scheme, with 18 Innovation Certificates awarded by Innovate NI, as well as £25K in additional grant awards from Invest NI’s the Economic Regeneration Innovation Grant (ERIG).

One programme milestone is the creation of 54 jobs locally by September 2026, and one businessman who participated in the programme has experienced exponential growth since completing the 4i Innovation Programme.

Connor Martin, who runs The JAQ Group, which has a number of subsidiary companies including The Essence Vault (TEV), has put the theory taught in the programme into practice and seen rapid growth in his business, taking on nine additional staff as a result of completing the programme, bringing his total number of staff to well over 100.

Connor Martin spoke about the impact 4i Innovation has had: “The programme has been extremely useful in growing The Essence Vault. Armed with new skills and a new approach it has helped me reimagine what was possible with my business, and the benefits of that has been huge.”

4i Innovation Programme Manager Stephen Scullion continued: “Increasing the number of businesses adopting an innovation led approach is seen as a key growth enabler, and we are delighted that the 4i Innovation programme, as of January this year, has so far contributed up to 20% of total number of ‘innovation certificates’ issued by Innovate NI, within the MEA Council area.”

Research has shown that 70% of all new products and services fail in their first 12 months. With the support of The Gallaher Trust, the Ballymena Business Centre developed the 4i Innovation Programme to help counter that, supporting local entrepreneurs as they develop their businesses or launch them in the marketplace. The programme which launched in September 2021, is scheduled to run until September 2024.