Belfast business support
Business support and advice to start-up, expand or locate a business in Belfast
Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland, and a great place to do business. If you are growing or starting a business in Belfast, there are a number of business support organisations ready to help your business succeed.
Belfast is the main hub in Northern Ireland for inward investment. Major companies trading in Belfast benefit from:
- a highly skilled and educated workforce
- modern telecommunications infrastructure
- strong transport links
- a range of local business support organisations
Belfast is close to the UK's only land border with another EU country. Businesses in Belfast can benefit from close access to major international markets and supply chains.
This guide will help you find business support to start up, expand or locate a business in Belfast. It will highlight the advantages of setting up a business in Belfast and provide information on Belfast business networks and support for growing your business.
Free business start-up support
Access free start-up business support from your local council. They will organise one-to-one mentoring sessions with your local business adviser and provide tailored guidance to develop your business plan.
Complete a short enquiry form or call 0800 027 0639 to register for this free advice and guidance.
Set up your business in Belfast
An overview of organisations and support that can help you start your business in Belfast
Belfast is an ideal location for setting up your business. Whether you are facing the challenge of starting up, or locating an existing business in the city, there are a number of Belfast business support organisations which can help you succeed.
Start a business in Belfast
- Belfast City Council sponsor a range of business programmes focused on encouraging business start-ups in Belfast.
- Enterprise Northern Ireland (NI) is a network of local enterprise agencies. They offer pre-start and start-up support through the Exploring Enterprise programme.
- Invest NI have created a Council Area Profile for Belfast (PDF, 960KB) - this includes information and statistics on entrepreneurship, registered businesses and businesses by sector and size.
Locating an existing business in Belfast
- Belfast offers a unique location for existing businesses looking for a new base to set up in. Strong infrastructure, world-class telecommunication links, a highly educated workforce, a strong retail centre, modern flexible office space and support schemes.
- Belfast City Council offer a broad range of support for businesses interested in investing in the city.
- If you are considering locating a business in Northern Ireland for the first time, you can find Invest NI guidance on the main reasons to invest.
Belfast business licences and regulations
- Belfast City Council can provide advice on Belfast business regulations and licensing, including many application forms online.
- You may require a licence to operate your business in Belfast, or it may need to comply with certain regulations. Use our interactive tool to find regulations, licences, standards and trade bodies for your business.
Practical steps for Belfast businesses
- Setting up a Belfast business may require professional advice - see choose a solicitor for your business or choose and work with an accountant.
- You can use our property finder tool to search for commercial property in Belfast or find out about the services offered by the Invest NI Property Solutions Unit.
- You will have to pay business rates, a property tax used to fund both local and regional services in Northern Ireland. You can calculate your business rates with the Land and Property Services.
Belfast networking and support for growing your business
Belfast business growth is supported by local development organisations and networks to help your business grow
Belfast supports a highly competitive business environment, but local business networking and quality supply chains can provide a base for growing your business. Invest Northern Ireland and local business support organisations provide a unique platform for business growth in Belfast.
New markets, exporting and Belfast business growth
- Organisations like Invest Northern Ireland (NI), Belfast City Council and local enterprise agencies can help your business to thrive in Belfast.
- Invest NI can help businesses in Belfast to compete in local and international markets. Support can be found for growing your business, maximising efficiency, product development or selling outside Northern Ireland.
- Belfast City Council runs a number of business development programmes.
- Winning public sector contracts in Belfast can help business growth. Belfast City Council purchases goods and services each year and provides tendering opportunities for local businesses.
- The Northern Ireland business support finder is a searchable database that can help you find publicly-funded and not-for-profit sources of business growth assistance you may be eligible to apply for. Support may be available in a number of forms, including financial assistance and free or subsidised advice services
Belfast business networking
- Enterprise Northern Ireland has a network of five local enterprise agencies in Belfast. They provide business improvement programmes, Belfast networking events and support Belfast business growth.
- For further information on networking opportunities in Belfast see Northern Ireland business networks.
- The events finder can help you to find a range of networking events and workshops in Belfast - search the events finder
Belfast business life and workforce
As the largest city in Northern Ireland, Belfast is an attractive place for any type of business to trade. Modern housing, retail and office developments are encouraging people and businesses to locate in Belfast.
Belfast businesses and supply chains
Belfast has seen a surge in inward investment projects in recent years. Belfast has been named as the second most attractive UK city after London for foreign direct investment. The advantages of the skilled local workforce attracted many leading international businesses, bringing with them the opportunities of new supply chains for Belfast businesses.
International companies which have invested in Belfast include Bombardier, Bloomberg, CEM Systems, Citi, Cybersource, Firstsource, Fujitsu, GE Healthcare, GEM, Halifax Bank of Scotland, IKEA, Liberty Mutual NYSE and Openwave.
Over the last decade Belfast has been transformed by massive redevelopment, with signature projects such as the Waterfront Hall, SSE Arena and Victoria Square.
Belfast business sectors
There are over 10,200 registered businesses in Belfast, which accounts for 14 per cent of all businesses in Northern Ireland. The key sectors in Belfast are software, contact centres, financial services, aerospace, engineering, health technology, creative industries and environmental industries.
For further statistics see Invest NI's Council Area Profile for Belfast (PDF, 960KB).
Belfast workforce and population
The Belfast City Council area is home to over 340,220 people. Almost 655,000 people live in the wider Belfast metropolitan area, making Belfast the largest retail market in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is recognised for world class education outcomes, leading to a highly educated and skilled workforce. Belfast is the base for Queen's University, the University of Ulster and Belfast Metropolitan College.
Advantages of setting up a business in Belfast
Belfast business support schemes, the benefits of locating in Belfast and the business infrastructure in the city
Businesses in Belfast benefit from a number of geographical advantages, along with fantastic infrastructure and government support mechanisms. Northern Ireland has a unique position as the only region in the United Kingdom with a land border to the EU, placing Belfast businesses within easy reach of major cross-border markets and supply chains. The advantages of setting up a business in Belfast are outlined below.
1. Belfast business support from Invest Northern Ireland
Invest NI is the main economic development agency in Northern Ireland. Invest NI provides business support across all sectors and business sizes in Belfast through a number of programmes and advice points.
2. Belfast's infrastructure
The strong transport links offered by Belfast are a major advantage for new or growing businesses. A programme of urban development is taking place in the Belfast area, to boost the city's position as a major European centre.
Belfast has a well-developed road network and is at the centre of the motorway backbone of Northern Ireland. The M1/A1 links Belfast and Dublin with a typical journey time of approximately two hours between the capital cities.
Belfast is the hub of the recently modernised rail service in Northern Ireland. The Metro network is a modern and frequent urban bus service in the Greater Belfast area. Translink provides more information on Metro, Ulsterbus and rail services.
3. Air routes from Belfast
Belfast has two modern airports with around 30 direct flights to London departing each weekday. George Best Belfast City Airport is only two miles from the city centre. Belfast International Airport, which is just 25 minutes away by car, serves 21 European and transatlantic services including daily direct flights to New York.
4. Belfast sea routes
The Port of Belfast is the second largest on the island of Ireland, handling almost 60 per cent of Northern Ireland's seaborne trade and 20 per cent of the entire island's sea traffic. Belfast Harbour provides more information.