Tradelinks was a business programme to assist micro-enterprises across Northern Ireland and the Border counties of Ireland start cross-border trade.
Following a Scoping Study in 2002 a strategic approach to supporting cross-border trade and business development for the micro business sector was developed. The net result was the design of the TRADELINKS programme. The programme assisted businesses in the micro-enterprises across Northern Ireland and the Border counties of Ireland to start cross-border trade and exporting. The programme was initially funded from a number of sources - primarily through the INTERREG programme as well as Invest Northern Ireland, the Department of Enterprise Business and Innovation and the International Fund for Ireland.
This programme assisted micro-businesses by providing a wide-ranging suite of programmes specifically designed to address the issues unique to the microenterprise sector. It provided businesses with the opportunity to avail of onsite expert mentoring on a broad range of topics and the formation of cross-border linkages with similar micro-enterprises. It is focused on developing the capacity of the businesses and owner/manager to consider trading on a cross-border basis.
The programme was managed by a management committee made up of representatives of the 6 border Local Enterprise Offices in ROI and 6 Local Enterprise Agencies in NI, supported by an advisory committee which consisted of the main stakeholders at national and regional level.
At all times the programme was a 4 stage programme – Entrée, Gearing Up, Trading and Innovation and supported via one-to-one mentoring.

Resources needed

Budget over the 12 years was €8.765M, from:
- INTERREG IVA programme
- Invest Northern Ireland,
- Department of Enterprise Business and Innovation
- International Fund for Ireland.
Staffing: 2 full-time, 6 part-time sub-regional co-ordinators, some 38 staff within Enterprise Agencies

Evidence of success

The overall outputs/outcomes from the programme:
• 682 businesses on the programme.
• + 767 new jobs ( surveyed 12 and 24 months after the programme).
• + €22M in home sales achieved
• + €10.5M in export sales achieved
• 76% of participants reported increase in business management confidence.
• 63% had increased their networking capability.

Difficulties encountered

Initial obstacle of convincing main stream agencies that the needs of micro businesses were different to those of SMEs. This is why the initial scoping study was carried out and paid for by the LEOs and Local Enterprise Agencies.

Potential for learning or transfer

We believe that this practice has significant learning for other regions and practitioners for the following reasons:
 The programme was based on actual needs assessment across the regions.
 Had buy-in form local delivery agents.
 It had a unique delivery structure on a cross border basis with unique a management approach.
 There was high levels of trust built up which enabled the delivery of an integrated programme.
 The programme was an additional support to standard offerings which made it attractive for both the businesses and the agencies.
 Strong focus was on business development as part of the process to facilitate businesses engage in exporting.
 Strong focus on networking as part of the support ecosystem.
 While there were different local delivery methods used over the period all were locally based.

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Main institution
Donegal County Council
Border, Midland and Western, Ireland (Éire)
Start Date
April 2002
End Date
April 2014


Patrick Devine Please login to contact the author.