Galway, 15 March 2017
I'm delighted to open the Trading Online Regional Event in Ballinasloe this morning. Thank you to Local Enterprise Office Galway for hosting this event, in partnership with my Department.
It promises to be an excellent exchange of information and insights, with an unique opportunity to learn directly from experts in the digital field, connect with peers and receive advice and support from LEO staff.
Digital technology and content is changing the way we live and work. Almost 9 out of 10 Irish consumers research online before buying. Much of what we do and what we consume is influenced by the information we find and the reviews we read on the internet.
Any business that is not actively connecting with consumers online is missing out. Irish consumers spend €14,000 per minute online. Most of that spending goes off shore. You have an opportunity to change that.
Every business has a story to tell. The internet gives you the opportunity to tell that story. With social media you can have a conversation with your customers anywhere in the world.
Every business, regardless of size or location, can benefit from trading online. Trading online opens businesses to wider markets and offers 24-hours-a-day sales opportunities for products and services.
More and more Irish businesses are recognising the opportunity and are taking the first step to bring their business online. As you will learn today, an investment of time and effort and some funds in ecommerce capability reaps significant dividends in terms of increased growth, jobs and exports.
Ireland ranks very highly when it comes to the integration of digital technologies by businesses, mostly because many of our SMEs have embraced e-commerce. 30% are now trading online, which is significantly ahead of the EU average of 17%.
This is in part due to the success of key enterprise support measures such as my Department's Trading Online Voucher Scheme. The scheme, which is delivered by the 31 Local Enterprise Offices nationwide, has supported thousands of small Irish businesses with training and funds to transform their traditional business models and attract online customers both in Ireland and in export markets.
While we are ahead of many of our European partners, Ireland, as a small open economy, needs to be ahead in order to stay relevant.
I want to see the number of Irish businesses that are trading online increasing significantly, with a view to firmly putting Ireland further ahead of our European counterparts in realising the benefits of selling goods and services online.
Today's regional event is one of a series of events which will take place in 2017 aimed at creating momentum and activating businesses to trade online, as well as highlighting the opportunity of the Trading Online Voucher Scheme. I should mention that direct engagement with businesses and training and mentoring support under the scheme is delivered by the LEOs at a local level throughout the year.
You will learn a lot here today. Your job is to pick out what will work best for your business – and put it into action tomorrow. The right people are in this room from expert presenters, industry leaders and local businesses who have already availed of the Trading Online Voucher Scheme.
Trading online works. Business who have been through our Scheme grow on average by 21%, employ 35% more people and 3 in 5 export for the first time.
Size matters less online. The average size of a business participating in the Scheme has 4 employees, while the Scheme has also attracted many sole traders.
Digital levels the playing field for small business. Trading online means that businesses which traditionally serve local markets are in a position to serve customers anywhere. English-speaking and culturally similar markets tend to be the first place small business look for export potential. 60% of the participants in the scheme are now getting enquiries from new markets. This is increasingly important in the context of a post-Brexit economy.
Over 300 million Europeans use the internet each day - this is a massive potential market to be taped into with the right tools and support. Opportunities for digitally-savvy Irish businesses to capture their share of the fastest-growing sector in the economy continue to grow at a rapid rate. A recent Virgin Media report found that with online spending by Irish consumers is set to almost double in value in the next five years. Trading online works no matter where you are physically located. Around 60% of the businesses which have benefited from a Trading Online Voucher Scheme are non-urban based.
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 Government aims to deliver a "connected" economy and society where every consumer, company and community can realise the full social and economic potential of the digital world.
Greater connectivity will bring about greater social inclusion and economic growth, at local and national level. I look forward to continued improvement in all these areas as we work towards embracing the gigabit society.
We are working to ensure that no business is disadvantaged in a digital Ireland. All our citizens will have the same access to information, culture, ideas, choice and all the other opportunities that quality broadband offers. This will include greater employment opportunities, enabled by the right set of digital skills entering the workforce.
The Programme for Government aims to create an extra 200,000 jobs by 2020, of which 135,000 will be outside of Dublin. Transforming Irish small business to adopt trading online has the potential to revitalise sustainable growth to all regions. Furthermore, growth in online trade will drive the development of sophisticated demand for reliable and quality internet connectivity, as provided for in the National Broadband Plan.
I would encourage all small business at this event to follow up directly with your Local Enterprise Office. Many of you will be eligible to benefit from the Trading Online Voucher Scheme.
Financial assistance of up to €2,500 is available. But as you will see in the sessions today the Scheme does not just provide financial help. The training and support provided gives you the tools, inspiration and confidence to know what you need to do leverage digital to reduce costs, drive innovation, grow sales and expand markets.
No matter what sector, region, or market you are engaged in, trading online is an imperative.
As you leave here today, hopefully inspired to take action to transform your business by trading online, I would encourage you to spread the word and inspire others to empower their business by trading online. Let's make sure that as many small Irish business as possible tap into the massive online market as possible.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge the Local Enterprise Office Galway and Galway County Council for their central role in making today's event happen and to Emma Killian our presenter for today's proceedings. Thanks to all our speakers, the industry experts [Facebook, RTÉ, Fathom, Shopify Plus] for sharing their expertise and knowledge, and the local businesses who act as ambassadors by telling us about their positive experience and in turn help to motivate and inspire others to take action and move online.