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CEO of Young Enterprise NI shares her thoughts on Belfast, its future and its young people

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by Startacus Admin

Our month long look at Belfast as a startup city is slowly drawing to a close - and what a month it has been. We have had a huge range of opinions from both within the city and much further afield, some positively glowing with praise and others cutting in their criticisms.Young Enterprise Northern Ireland

To begin the winding down of the month we thought it would be interesting to get the opinions of someone who has lots of experience of Belfast’s past but who also has great influence in the shaping of its future.

To this end we have enlisted the help of Carol Fitzsimons, CEO of Young Enterprise Northern Ireland who kindly agreed to share her thoughts about Belfast, its past, its future and the young people who will shape it. Here’s what she had to say...

First off Carol, for those folks who may not be 100% familiar with YENI - what is the organisation for and what do you guys do?

Young Enterprise Northern Ireland develops the entrepreneurial skills of young people, and increases their awareness of self employment and business start up as a potential career choice. We do this through a delivery model of interactive, 'learning by doing' business simulations, which are run with support from volunteer business mentors from the local community. Last year we worked with over 100,000 young people aged 4-25, many of whom had the opportunity to set up and run their own businesses at school, and sell their products to the public at our Trade Fairs. As a result they develop skills for lifelong employability, such as innovation, creativity, financial awareness and communication.

As you know it’s Belfast month on - our community will most likely have preconceived notions of what the city is like. As someone who knows the city well, how would you describe it in a few sentences?

Belfast is a city that has seen massive changes over the last decade - it has become a city of hope and optimism, with lots more global companies locating here because of the quality of people available to them. There is much more life to the city now, with great bars and restaurants, as well as lots for tourists to do, which was absent years ago.

What kind of influence do you think Belfast's checkered past has had on the startup/entrepreneurial spirit which exists there today?

It depends on what age you are. The younger generation face their own challenges and are less interested in the past, they want to look to the future. For those of us that lived through our troubled past, it reminds us that we have come far and inspires an entrepreneurial desire to ensure we create a stronger, entrepreneurial economy, and don't waste the benefits that being a peaceful society should bring us. Northern Ireland was isolated in the past and had to be more creative and innovative as a result. Now that we don't have that level of challenge, we should be well positioned to succeed on the global stage.

Many people will have watched with interest Barack Obama’s visit to the city last year and particularly his speech directed at the young people of Northern Ireland - do you think that this upcoming generation will be a turning point for the City and region as a whole?

I hope so. In Young Enterprise we see literally thousands of young people with entrepreneurial potential, enthusiasm and drive each year. Unfortunately, the global economic downturn came at a particularly bad time for these young people, and the relatively stability and peace that should be a great platform for growth has been dismissed by high levels of youth unemployment. We encourage young people to consider self employment and start up as an opportunity to make their own future, but it is a particularly difficult time to do so. I hope as the economy picks up that they will be able to shine and create a strong, private sector economy for us.

What role do you think that entrepreneurial spirit and a lively startup scene can play in the continued peace, unity and future prosperity of the city/region?

A lively startup scene starts to give you something to lose, so you want to work harder to secure your success. Increased levels of start up in the economy will start to rebalance our economy and create wealth for our economy - both in financial terms and in social terms by increasing local employment opportunities. This can only help to make the region a better place to live.

Are there any upcoming YENI events that you would like to share with us?

June is a busy month in Young Enterprise, celebrating all the student businesses that we have created throughout the year. We'd encourage more people to get involved, and they can find out more on our website

Thanks for sharing your insight with us Carol and best of luck with all the upcoming events.

June is Bristol startup month on so drop us a line to iam@startacus to get involved!

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Published on: 29th May 2014

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