Understanding Enterprise

Entrepreneurship and Small Business, fourth edition

by Simon Bridge and Ken O'Neill

Case study: chapter 3

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Pathfinder initiatives

In Northern Ireland the former Department of Economic Development (now the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment) launched its 'Pathfinder' initiative in 1986. Its aim was 'to find new and better ways of building a stronger economy in Northern Ireland ... to find new ways to build on our strengths and to correct our weaknesses.' Among those weaknesses were the 'lack of an enterprising tradition: Northern Ireland is proud of its "work ethic", but this is essentially an employee ethic. As a result there are few role models or mentors for those who wish to enter business and the option of self-employment is novel in many areas.'
One of the taskforces in the Pathfinder initiative was the Enterprise Taskforce and the following is a summary of its initial findings:


To examine the level of enterprise in Northern Ireland, attitudes to enterprise and how these might be changed, whether current arrangements for stimulating business start-up are adequate and how the community can be involved more fully in economic development.


  • 'Enterprise' was defined as the propensity of people to create jobs, for themselves and others, by engaging in and developing a legitimate activity which will earn them a living or by developing their existing jobs.


  • There is a general attitude in Northern Ireland that working for oneself rather than an established company is somehow second-best.
  • Self-employment is often seen as an impractical or excessively risky: not so legitimate or socially desirable as other employment.

Support currently available

A wide range of support is currently available to those wishing to establish or develop a business:
  • Finance in the form of enterprise grants (from the Local Enterprise Development Unit) and enterprise allowances (from the Department), supplements commercial and voluntary sources of business finance.
  • Training, ranging from brief seminars for enterprise allowance participants to courses such as the graduate enterprise programmes, providing information and skills which are important to small business growth and development.
  • Advice, ranging from informal counselling to the inputs of professional advisors such as accountants, is also an important part of a small business and enterprise support system.


  • There is a need to generate a more positive attitude to enterprise throughout the community.
  • Northern Ireland needs to generate greater self-confidence and skills among those who may wish to start a business so that they can identify and respond to challenging business opportunities.
  • A restructuring of assistance is required to ensure that all types of assistance are made available in a coordinated way, both in terms of those eligible for assistance, and in terms of measures which should be complementary.
  • Particular attention should be paid to the development of supportive networks of contacts and advisers.
    Source: Department of Economic Development, Building a Stronger Economy: The Pathfinder Process (Belfast, Department of Economic Development, 1987). This material should not be taken to reflect the current policy of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment or of Invest Northern Ireland.
  1. How might the brief for a 'Pathfinder Enterprise, initiative be written today?