Strong, balanced regional development and thriving entrepreneurship in all parts of Ireland are fundamental to the country's economic growth, and thus a key Enterprise Ireland strategic objective. We are committed to creating and growing internationally competitive businesses in all Irish regions.
Our approach focuses on three key elements: driving the creation of innovation based start-ups, pro-actively developing existing clients in all regions, and facilitating entrepreneurship and the enterprise environment in local and rural communities.
Our commitment to balanced regional development was underscored in 2006 by the investments we made to client companies. A total of 70.9 per cent of all Enterprise Ireland company-related funding was approved to regionally located clients. Also this year some 81 per cent of the investment channelled through our Productivity Improvement Fund was assigned to companies based throughout the regions of Ireland.
In addition, of the 76 high potential start-ups we supported in 2006, 41 were located in regional areas, and for the first time in a number of years this figure exceeded the figure created within the Dublin area.
We also assisted economic development within the regions through the structure of our financial supports, which, as with venture capital funds, have specific regional mandates.
Working closely with local industry and research institutions, Enterprise Ireland continued to stimulate and support start-up businesses across all regions in 2006.
Our series of First Step seminars, delivered at venues throughout the country, provided over 400 potential entrepreneurs with enterprise support, training, an explanation of funding options, and also introduced them to the follow-on EnterpriseSTART programme.
EnterpriseSTART is aimed at Irish entrepreneurs who wish to start a technology or knowledge-intensive business with export potential. The programme is delivered by people with specific experience of starting a successful business. Participants are exposed to the full range of expertise, knowledge and connections that Enterprise Ireland will make available if they go on to start-up phase. The programme is based on real market place perspectives, and gives Irish entrepreneurs an excellent foundation on which to create sustainable and competitive enterprises. Over 170 potential entrepreneurs took part in 14 EnterpriseSTART programmes organised during the year. The participation rate underlines the demand for this entrepreneur prospecting programme, which is supported by FÁS. As a result of the programme six high potential start-up companies were identified and seven were referred on to county enterprise boards.
Other support for start-up, early-stage and developing entrepreneurs included the Business Angels Partnership, formed in conjunction with the Irish Business Innovation Centres and InterTradeIreland. This programme matches private investors with pre-screened investment opportunities and since its launch has become an important element of the enterprise support network.
This year 84 participants on the regional Enterprise Platform Programmes were financially supported by Enterprise Ireland in developing their innovative technologies into commercially viable businesses.