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A quick reality check, the job situation is crap out there.  Regardless of the all the headlines stating the recession is over, it’s crap out there.  West of the Bann, it’s really bad with Derry, Limavady and Strabane chalking up the higher end of the unemployment figures.  Also, reality check number two is that Project Kelvin will not create the jobs that people will expect.

So while the unemployment figures just keep climbing it doesn’t give much heart to try something.  On the other hand it’s a good time to have an entrepreneurial heart and give something a bash.  The number of micro sized (five employees or less) is certainly on the rise.

Right, first of all the bad news.  If you are signing on there’s a good chance that money is tight and you’re watching every penny.  So startup funds are well short, given the other fact that the Start A Business Programme now doesn’t give money on completion of the programme (which has whittled down from £1500, to £750, to £400, to £250 to nothing) it’s now more difficult to startup from scratch.  While InvestNI go hunting for export opportunities in Northern Ireland companies (and anything else that makes good press releases) the rest of us are entitled to very little.

Yes the SABP does run but they are just seminars, that’s it.  No money now.  They are handy, don’t get me wrong, though the main reason for doing this route was for the cash at the end to give a helping hand to setup, though the amount was piddly by any stretch of the imagination.  If you really need money then it’s friends, family and savings (if such a thing still exists).

So, what for the unemployed with a dream…. well don’t let any of that stop you.  In Branson terms, screw it, let’s do it.  The reason that software startups are a good one is that the cost to market is low.  If you are stuck for ideas there are plenty around (you can go have a look at http://www.oneforten.info if you are really stuck and desperate).

From there it’s networking and tons of it.  Open Coffee’s are a good place to start and they are all over the place… Derry, Limavady, Coleraine and Mid Ulster if you are west of that river and then Belfast, Newry and Lisburn if you are east of it.  Attend Refresh and all the other uber cool nights that go on in the province.  There’s a sacrifice of your time but you’ll meet you who need to meet at those events.  Plus they are the nicest bunch you’ll come across.

For the totally adventurous among you, you can have a look at the Propel Programme run by XCel Partners for InvestNI.  Applications are online and will give the final 30 an eight week seminar programme from which the final 15 are 50% salary paid for the next 10 months.  I did talk to Diane at XCel about the salary band for the unemployed but still haven’t heard anything back at the time I’m writing this.  Propel is interesting in terms of it’s goals of developing networking and being able to stand in front of VC’s.  The bit that did stick in me is that the initial seminars are in Belfast and I’ve not seen mention of any travelling expenses being paid to the unemployed if they are accepted on to the last 30.  All routes may lead to Belfast but there are a number of companies that reside outside of Belfast.

These are the times that Twitter is useful to put you in contact with people who know the funding routes.  There’s a load of groups on Facebook as well.  Incubators in the North West are few and far between, there is Noribic in Derry but I never have any idea what they are doing as their website doesn’t really work properly.  The blog’s great but you have to find it and it doesn’t link from the front page (in other words useless).  It’s currently under construction which means all my whinging may have paid off.  

The North West is desperate for a digital content high point, something that I’m hoping Barcamp Derry will do.  So if you are in the area and are doing something startup (even if it’s on the paper planning stages) then it would be good to see you, talk to you and offer some encouragement along the way.  I know from bitter experience of the last five years living in the North West it can be a lonely existence in startup world.  From doing more talking through networking I’m doing more talking…. watch out for DevDays in 2010. 
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