‘Innovate to Succeed’ event highlights innovation support available to local SMEs

Thursday 6 June 2024

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Northern Regional College (NRC) recently co-hosted an engaging ‘Innovate to Succeed’ event for local businesses at Ballymena’s Farm Lodge campus.

L-R: Helen Hampsey (Northern Regional College), Diane Keenan (Terumo BCT), Denis O’Hara (DOH Consultancy), Sam Paul (Solve Engineering), Frank Healy (Terumo BCT), George Mimnagh (Dowds Group), and Ursula O’Loughlin (Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

The event - part of the national Further Education NI (FENI) Big Business Breakfast initiative - showcased the range of innovation support available to small to medium-sized businesses in the area.

Some 40 participants explored the current gaps in innovation support provision and gained an insight into future ground-breaking plans for the new NRC campus and neighbouring i4C Innovation and Cleantech Centre - scheduled to open in Ballymena in 2025 and 2027 respectively. Participants also heard about the plans for an iLAB makerspace, part of a cross-border collaboration providing ‘hands on’ innovation support to SMEs.

Helen Hampsey, Assistant Vice Principal of Teaching and Learning at NRC, was delighted with both the interest shown in the event and engagement on the day saying: “I was delighted to welcome such a broad range of local businesses and stakeholders to the ‘Innovate to Succeed’ event and was encouraged by the interest shown in both the current support available and in our future plans to drive innovation further.

“The college is entering an exciting new era with new campuses soon to open in Ballymena and Coleraine. NRC’s primary focus is on higher level education and skills training and we are proud of our long tradition of meeting the needs of local business and industry ranging from apprenticeships to bespoke tailored solutions for individual firms.

“We are increasingly collaborating with partners such as Council, Invest NI, and Enterprise agencies in developing and delivering new enterprise and innovation support for the business community.”

Ursula O’Loughlin, Head of Economic Development at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council welcomed the opportunity to join forces with NRC for the event noting that rates of SME innovation have been consistently lower than average in the area in recent years and that both parties have previously signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop and deliver skills and innovation supports to help address this issue.  

She said: “We are now beginning to reap the benefits of this collaboration with initiatives such as the award-winning Hydrogen Training Academy, which was developed and piloted by Council and its delivery partners during 2022 and 2023 - and which NRC are now integrating into their teaching curriculum.

“Council is focused on strengthening the innovation potential of our businesses with the new i4C Innovation and CleanTech Centre in Ballymena - a £24m investment under the Belfast Region City Deal. i4C will be located adjacent to the new NRC Farm Lodge campus and together these assets will create a unique innovation hub for the Borough and surrounding area to meet the innovation needs of all businesses.”

To read more about i4C please visit our Belfast Region City Deal page.