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The research findings presented in this report represent the first major attempt to map in a systematic fashion ethnic entrepreneurial activity in Ireland. The rapid transformation of the demographic profile of Ireland in this decade through unprecedented levels of immigration has stimulated debate on the economic and social policy implications of the new multi-racial Ireland. One facet to this policy debate is the potential for non-Irish nationals to bolster indigenous business activity. It was the aim of this research to capture the essential nature of ethnic entrepreneurship in Ireland in 2008 with a view to better informing policy formulation as it concerns ethnic business activity. Two research objectives dictated the scope of this study. The first objective was to determine the rate of business ownership among the main foreign national ethnic groups in Ireland. From a nationwide survey of 1,108 foreign nationals resident in Ireland it was found that 12.6% claim ownership or part ownership of a business. This is consistent with the rate of ethnic business ownership of other immigrant countries. The second research objective involved mapping ethnic entrepreneurial activity in Ireland in 2008. This was undertaken by reference to the characteristics of ethnic businesses and their owners, the challenges facing ethnic businesses in Ireland, and their interaction with the Irish business environment. A profile of ethnic businesses that are small in scale, young in age, concentrated in the locally traded services sectors and operating at the margins of the mainstream economic environment emerges from this mapping of ethnic entrepreneurship in Ireland. Ethnic entrepreneurship in Ireland in 2008 in its scale and industry focus is comparable to international experience of ethnic entrepreneurship. Following from the survey results and focus group input, policy implications in the domain of enterprise support for ethnic business are presented. Mainly, the report contends that a policy of targeted intervention for fledgling ethnic enterprises followed by the mainstreaming of enterprise support for established ethnic enterprises will be most effective in an Irish context. The underlying rationale of this position is to offer tailored business assistance to ethnic enterprise to a point that corrects for the disadvantages of ethnic minority status without compromising on the fundamental economic principle that the market should act as the ultimate arbiter of which businesses succeed and which businesses fail. Three recommendations are made that will appreciably impact on the promotion of ethnic businesses in Ireland if pursued. These recommendations involve raising awareness among the ethnic communities of the availability to them of bespoke business training programmes, developing a ‘one-stop-shop’ website aimed at aspiring ethnic entrepreneurs in Ireland, and fostering enhanced linkages between Irish business representative bodies and the ethnic business communities. A consistent finding in academic literature on ethnic businesses is their low propensity to use mainstream business support agencies, often relying instead on self-help and informal sources of assistance. Barriers to the take-up of support include: identifying and reaching marginalized groups, the inappropriateness of product-orientated approaches, doubts over the relevance of what is offered, and a lack of trust and confidence in those delivering support. The extent to which the support needs of ethnic businesses are distinctive in comparison with those of ‘normal’ firms is also a key question. Although many of the support needs of ethnic businesses are shared with their majority counterparts, there are also specific issues that include language, religious, age, and gender aspects, and these have implications for the way business support is delivered if it is to be effective. An important part of this context is the relationship with external agencies crucial to small firm development. In attempting to assist with these and other problems, mainstream business support agencies can appear to be major obstacles themselves, a situation that seems endemic to the growing ‘enterprise industry’. This report addresses these issues and offers solutions to the challenges that all stakeholders face in terms of engendering ethnic entrepreneurship.
Cooney, T. & Flynn, A. (2008) A mapping of ethnic entrepreneurship in Ireland. Institute of Minority Entrepreneurship, Dublin Institute of Technology.