Will Smith is NI’s 2021 start up ambassador for British Business Bank

County Down firm, Woodwork by Will is among 12 small businesses to be selected as champions of UK start-ups

Woodwork by Will in Comber, a bespoke furniture company, is among 12 small businesses to be selected as champions of UK start-ups by Start Up Loans, part of the British Business Bank.

Start Up Loans Ambassador for Northern Ireland, Will Smith, received support from the British Business Bank which has enabled him to increase his capacity and take on larger projects earlier than expected.

The annual Start Up Loans Ambassadors programme, now in its sixth consecutive year, celebrates exceptional business owners who have followed the ambition of becoming their own boss after receiving support from the Government-backed Start Up Loans programme. Woodwork by Will is just one of 1,367 Northern Ireland-based businesses that have received a loan since 2012, representing a total value of over £11m.

County Down man, Will Smith, Woodwork by Will, has been announced as Northern Ireland Ambassador for British Business Bank

Through a network of Delivery Partner organisations, the Start Up Loans programme provides pre-and-post loan support to help applicants develop a business plan, a fixed-interest loan of up to £25,000 to start or develop their business and mentoring and other support to help loan recipients with everything from cash flow to marketing.

Drawn from communities throughout the UK, the 2021 Start Up Loans ambassadors reflect the broad diversity and ambition of the nation’s small business sector at a grass roots level.

The 2021/22 Start Up Loans Ambassadors will be honoured at a virtual event today hosted by Start Up Loans and attended by Paul Scully, Minister for small business; Lord Smith, chair of the British Business Bank, Catherine Lewis Le Torre, CEO of British Business Bank; Richard Bearman, managing director, Start Up Loans and delivery partners from across each of the UK’s 12 regions and Nations. They will also receive a keynote address from leading UK entrepreneur Jo Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black’s Chocolate.

Since 2012, the programme has delivered more than 88,000 loans to business owners across the UK, amounting to more than £790 million. Of those who received a loan, 35,156 (40%) were women; more than 17,700 (20%) were people from Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority communities (excluding White minorities); and more than 4,500 (35% of 18-24 age group) were previously unemployed.

Paul Scully, small business Minister, said: “Start Up Loans are a vital pillar in our efforts to level up every part of the country and offer opportunities to hard-working, dynamic people regardless of their background.

“From canned wine to woodwork, bridalwear to camel milk, this year’s Start Up Loans Ambassadors reflect the incredible diversity and creativity of entrepreneurship across the UK and will spearhead our mission to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business.”

Richard Bearman, managing director, Start Up Loans, explained: “The small business community has been through a disrupted and challenging year, making it all the more important that we celebrate and champion the sector. The breadth and diversity of this year’s Start Up Loans ambassadors demonstrates that, with the right support and mentoring, aspiring business owners from all walks of life can thrive in the most challenging circumstances.

“I want to congratulate our 2021 ambassadors on the tenacity and determination they have shown over the past year, which has resulted in hugely impressive achievements. I look forward to working with them and sharing their stories to inspire others in their communities.”

Jo Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black’s, added: “When you’re starting a business, it really helps to have “champions” – in the forms of mentors and skill support – who can not only help keep your passion blazing, but bring their wisdom and financial insights into helping you power your business forward. It’s so great to see the British Business Bank formalise this in a positive way, via the team of 2021/2022 Ambassadors who can use the lessons from their success to empower and inspire the next round of great British start-ups.”

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