Belfast Telegraph

The importance of TEA in the Northern Ireland economy

Christopher Torrens
Christopher Torrens
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It is a well-known fact that everyone loves a cup of tea in Northern Ireland, however, for the purpose of this article the TEA referred to is ‘Total Entrepreneurial Activity’.

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TEA is a measure of all entrepreneurial activity that is taking place in an economy at any given time. It is calculated by taking the sum of all entrepreneurship-related activities, such as starting a new business, expanding an existing business, and innovating within an existing business.

TEA is an important metric for understanding the overall health of an economy, as it provides insight into the level of risk-taking and innovation taking place. High levels of TEA are generally seen as a sign of economic health and prosperity.

As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on levels of entrepreneurial activity across the region, with individuals adopting a more risk-adverse approach to business due to economic uncertainties.

However, recent surveys from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) show that the total early-stage TEA rate in Northern Ireland increased from 5.4% in 2020 to 9.1% in 2021. Figures for 2022 are yet to be released.

Despite being below the UK average of 11.5%, this positive trend emphasises the ambitious attitude of entrepreneurial individuals post-pandemic.

Given this activity in the market, the number of SMEs across the region is expected to increase going forward. SMEs make up 98% of the total number of businesses in Northern Ireland and are crucial for economic prosperity in totality.

With many new businesses, one of the most important barriers to entry is sourcing adequate levels of funding - after all, what good is a business without any cash?

Adequate funding is essential for SMEs to purchase necessary resources, hire personnel, and develop new products and services. Without it, SMEs are unable to keep up with their larger competitors, leading to reduced market share and ultimately, decreased profitability.

In Northern Ireland, there are numerous funding sources available to SMEs, with traditional funding including loans and grants supplemented by a number of alternative funding sources such as private equity.

For SMEs specifically, private equity might offer more flexible terms, which may suit better than traditional funding for a smaller business, albeit that a premium is usually paid. Given the recent rises in interest rates across the UK, products provided by banks have become more expensive for businesses and, as such, private equity funding may become more attractive.

With TEA levels on the rise in Northern Ireland, it is critical for new business owners to fund their businesses appropriately. It is hoped that the availability of finance will help drive the region’s economic recovery and foster an environment of entrepreneurship and innovation.