As businesses across Ireland prepare to accelerate their recovery from the impact of Covid-19, Enterprise Ireland has seen a significant increase in demand for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund (SEF) Launched in April of this year specifically to help companies negatively impacted by the pandemic, the SEF offers qualifying businesses funding of up to €800,000 consisting of up to €200,000 in non-repayable grants and a further €600,000 in repayable support over five years with a grace period of three years before repayments commence.
“Up to 50pc of the funding can be made up of the non-repayable grant subject to a maximum of €200,000,” says Leo McAdams, Divisional Manager with Enterprise Ireland’s Investment Services Division.
The funding supports the implementation of a Business Sustainment Plan, which must be provided by the company when applying for assistance under the SEF.
“The SEF funding is time-limited, so it is important that businesses apply as soon as possible for the funding they need to stabilise, reset, and accelerate their recovery.”
One business which has already benefited from SEF funding is JC Walsh & Sons, owners of the iconic Connemara Marble brand. The company supplies three key markets – giftware products for the tourism retail sector, jewellery through TV and online retailers such as QVC Channel and The Irish Store, and religious goods including rosary beads to customers in Ireland and the UK.
“Covid-19 came at the worst possible time for us,” says Managing Director Stephen Walsh. “In early March every cent of our working capital was tied up in stock ahead of what everyone expected to be a bumper tourism season. Our customers expect just-in-time delivery, they don’t want to be told their order will be ready in six weeks. It has to be available immediately, so we have to invest in stock at the beginning of each year. The tourism retail business stopped dead, with sales falling by 95pc.”
The collapse in global tourism dealt the business a heavy blow. “Tourism retail here in Ireland is geared towards overseas visitors. There is no real domestic market for it. Fifty per cent of what we produce is exported, with the US being our key market. A lot of our US customers are destination venues and all these places are closed now.”
That saw cashflow drying up as well. “We had no spare money and nothing was coming in. The only game in town really was the TV business, online retailers, and our own retail website. Our religious goods business also held up fairly well in the UK, with customers including Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral.”
The response was swift. “We did a couple of things when Covid hit. We took immediate action and put our staff on the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and we effectively ran the business by candlelight. We also called Enterprise Ireland.”
The relationship with Enterprise Ireland goes back a long way. “We have been clients since 1963 when my father went on a trade mission to the US with them,” says Walsh. “Enterprise Ireland did three things when we contacted them earlier in the year – they supported us, they encouraged us, and they believed in us. We got an immediate response They appointed a business adviser who did a report confirming that we had a viable business and they then hooked us up with a consultant to write the Business Sustainment Plan.”
The company received €200,000 in SEF funding in late August – €100,000 in a cash grant and €100,000 in a repayable advance. “The beauty of the advance is you don’t have to start repayments until after three years. You can also use the strategic financial plan approved by Enterprise Ireland to leverage bank funding as well. The SEF has given us the cash to support the business and invest in new product development as well as develop our online business. It has kept us afloat and in the game until such time as the tourism retail market resumes. I would encourage other companies to talk to Enterprise Ireland. It’s an organisation that says yes before it says no. They really have their clients’ best interests at heart.”
To be eligible for funding under the SEF companies must be in the manufacturing or internationally traded services sectors, employ more than 10 people and have seen a fall in turnover or expect to see a fall of 15pc, or have experienced significantly increased costs as a result of Covid-19.
“Companies of every size and across all sectors of the economy are benefiting from the SEF,” says Leo McAdams. “The Fund helps Irish businesses to reboot after Covid-19 by providing the finance to stabilise cash flow, adapt operations, and innovate to meet new customer needs. Businesses wishing to accelerate their recovery should contact Enterprise Ireland now.”