Roscommon, October 10th 2016
I'm delighted to open today's event and welcome you all here to Roscommon. This event, the first of a series of new regional events dedicated to trading online, aims to create momentum and activate businesses to adopt digital, as well as highlighting the opportunity of my Department's Trading Online Voucher Scheme.
I wish to thank Eugene Cummins for the support provided by Roscommon County Council, and to acknowledge the tremendous work by the Local Enterprise Office in Roscommon (Louise Ward and Jeremy Cullen) who collaborated with my own staff in making today's event happen.
We are joined by local Counsellors and public representatives, along with Local Enterprise Office staff from the surrounding Counties [Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Longford, Offaly, Westmeath, Donegal, Tipperary and Clare] who all play such a critical role in supporting businesses to successfully trade online.
We look forward to being enlightened by our industry experts from Facebook, Google and SAP, and by local small businesses who have come along to share their success stories, having made the switch to digital.
Ireland's economy relies heavily on its small businesses which support hundreds and thousands of jobs and livelihoods in towns and villages across the country. In particular, I would like to welcome all the business-owners who have come to learn more about trading online and hopefully will leave here today inspired to take action to tap into the massive market place which is enabled by the internet.
Noel Davidson from the Entrepreneurs Academy will expertly guide us through today's programme.
The Online Opportunity
Digital is critically important to economic growth and prosperity in Ireland. We are working to ensure that no business is disadvantaged in a digital Ireland. As the digital economy grows - predicted to be worth at least €21bn by 2020 - it is essential that the benefits are felt in every city, provincial town and rural area.
In terms of the requisite 21st century infrastructure to underpin a thriving digital economy, the delivery of high speed broadband to every premises in Ireland is a top priority for Government and for me.
The ambition of Government goes far beyond the provision of the National Broadband Plan network, covering 100,000km of road and 96% of the land area of Ireland, akin to rural electrification in the last century.
By delivering ubiquitous high speed broadband we will support greater innovation in the economy, and tap into the potential to drive indigenous entrepreneurial activity. I firmly believe that trading online has the potential to revitalise small businesses and help to spread growth to all regions. Ubiquitous availability of quality broadband is a key enabler and will set Ireland apart.
We know that traditional indigenous Irish businesses are slower in leveraging digital to reduce costs, drive innovation and expand markets. Trading online can appear to be a complex challenge, but help is available.
Despite the temptation to 'kick the can down the road', the reality is that 9 out of 10 Irish consumers use the internet to research and buy products and services. Companies that remain offline are missing out on a huge opportunity to capture some of the €14,000 worth of business transacted online every minute, up to 70% of which goes overseas.
Irish small businesses need to be part of the online conversation, especially traditional businesses. Customers are looking for brands they trust and products and services of quality and value. This is a huge opportunity that must be grabbed.
Over 300 million Europeans use the internet each day, not to mention the total market place of 3.6 billion internet users globally. Digital levels the playing field for small business and opens up a significant opportunity for digitally-savvy Irish companies to capture their share of the ever-growing digital economy, regardless of geographic location.
My Department, working in partnership with the 31 Local Enterprise Offices, is helping businesses to embark on their digital journey. With a strong focus on skills training, mentoring and networking, coupled with financial support, the Scheme is making an impact right across the country.
By the end of 2016, we expect to have helped at least 3,000 businesses to trade online. That represents thousands more sustainable jobs in every part of Ireland. Over 5,000 businesses owners from every County have attended one of the 250 or so information seminars delivered by the Local Enterprise Offices under the Scheme, and have benefited from expert advice and peer-to-peer support.
The key ingredients for business success in trading online is to develop an online trading strategy, seek expert help and invest time in engaging with customers online. With this mix, any small business can expect to see a positive return in terms of increased sales, jobs growth and real export potential.
We have measured the impacts of the Scheme and know that trading online works. According to our surveys, business grow on average by 21%, employ 35% more people and 60% export for the first time.
More than that, urban, provincial and rural based businesses benefit equally from the online opportunity. Indeed, some 60% of the businesses that have benefited from a Trading Online Voucher Scheme are non-urban based.
Call to action
I hope today's event convinces you that digital trade is for you, and provides you with the tools, inspiration and confidence to take the next steps to grow your business through digital. I would also encourage all small business here to talk to your Local Enterprise Office, for expert guidance and advice, and avail of the wider opportunity to network and perhaps think about collaborating with other businesses around you to maximise the impact of online trade.
As you leave here today, inspired to transform your business by trading online, I would also ask you to spread the word and motivate others to consider an investment in trading online. You all have business contacts. Let's make sure that as many small Irish business as possible tap into the massive online market opportunity.
Through strong collaboration, I firmly believe we can position Ireland to be an exemplar in trading online and continue to outpace our European counterparts in realising the benefits of selling goods and services online.