Small Business Loan Fund paid out £2m to 96 applicants

William McCulla, Invest Northern Ireland's Director of Corporate Finance (centre); Harry McDaid, CEO, UCIT (right) and Donal Leahy, Senior Lending Executive, Enterprise Northern Ireland (left) with Caoimhe O'Kane, Founder of Eat Naked NI.
William McCulla, Invest Northern Ireland's Director of Corporate Finance (centre); Harry McDaid, CEO, UCIT (right) and Donal Leahy, Senior Lending Executive, Enterprise Northern Ireland (left) with Caoimhe O'Kane, Founder of Eat Naked NI.

The second Northern Ireland Small Business Loan Fund has provided over £2m of funding to 96 businesses in the past year.

The Fund is managed by Ulster Community Finance (UCF) on behalf of Invest Northern Ireland and delivered in partnership with Enterprise Northern Ireland. UCF is a subsidiary of the social finance organisation Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT).

The Fund provides loans of up to £100,000 to small businesses, sole traders and partnerships keen to develop their business. Start-up businesses can obtain initial loans of up to £15,000.

Harry McDaid, UCIT’s CEO, said: “We reached our £1m milestone in December 2018 with a further £1m drawn down earlier this year. The appetite for funding has never been stronger and we’re delighted to support small and medium sized businesses right across Northern Ireland.

“Funding is available for requirements such as capital investment, working capital needs, new product and market development. As well as creating a large number of new jobs, we’ve also helped safeguard existing roles. A wide variety of ambitious companies from a number of different sectors have benefited from the Fund so far and their growth will continue to have a positive impact on the local economy.

“With loan support now increased to £100,000 per client, the Fund has the potential to lend over £9million to local SMEs over its five-year term.”

One of the firms to benefit from the Fund is Eat Naked NI in Magherafelt which produces meals such as Meals include a fajita chicken super salad, coconut chicken curry and coconut oats.

The company received a £15,000 loan to complete the fit out of a commercial kitchen in its new premises at Ronan Valley Business Park in Magherafelt.

Caoimhe O’Kane, founder of Eat Naked NI, said: “In 2015, I identified a gap in the market to start my own business to provide customers with a convenient healthy meal plan service. I started making the meals from the kitchen in my house and I buy all our ingredients from local suppliers.

“The popularity of food on the go has risen dramatically over the last few years and our menus are designed around a combination of clean, natural ingredients.

“Our products can be found in a number of local shops in the Mid Ulster area as well as several gyms across Belfast, Castlewellan, Dungannon, Portadown, Ballymena and Mid-Ulster.

“Our product range is 100% gluten, dairy and refined sugar free. This funding will allow us to finish installing our commercial kitchen in our new premises and further expand our offerings.

“Our new facility will support our growth moving forward and means our production capabilities will increase significantly. We’re looking to target large catering contracts and we’ll be hiring further staff as the business grows.”

William McCulla, Invest Northern Ireland’s Director of Corporate Finance, said: “This £2m milestone clearly demonstrates that there is a significant demand from businesses for the Small Business Loan Fund.

“The fund is an established part of the local SME funding ecosystem, assisting small businesses right across Northern Ireland and is available to all sectors, with flexible repayment terms.

“It continues to address the funding challenges small businesses here face, including in the start-up phase.

“Eat Naked NI is a great example of how the fund can successfully support a business in its early stages and bolster its growth plans.”

UCIT was set up in 2001 and has assisted over 500 third sector organisations with loan commitments totalling over £90m.

Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT) is a charity which provides loans exclusively to organisations such as enterprises, sports clubs and community associations.