The essential guide to starting a business in Belfast

We're travelling over to the Emerald Isle to find out what it's like to launch a business in Northern Ireland's capital, Belfast.

In the past, we’ve explored launching a start-up in Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow and Cardiff. Now it’s on to the final part of the UK, with a guide to starting a business in Belfast.

Let’s look at the vital stats and how small businesses themselves got on when setting up in Northern Ireland’s capital.

The city is number one for ‘business friendliness’ in mid-sized and small global cities. Office space is cheaper too. According to research from both CBRE and Colliers, Grade A office space in Belfast is £21 compared to £30 in Leeds, £34 in Manchester and Edinburgh, £56.17 in Dublin and a whopping £67.50 in London.

‘Grade A office space in Belfast is £21 compared to £30 in Leeds, £34 in Manchester and Edinburgh, £56.17 in Dublin and a whopping £67.50 in London’


As of 2018, there were 340,220 people in the city, with over one million people in the Belfast region.

A substantial 43% of the population is under 30 years old while 44,625 in the region are full-time students. With three universities, two university colleges, six further education colleges and an agri-food and land-based college, you’ll have a pool of skilled graduates to hire from.

Crime rate

There was a slight increase in Northern Ireland, but overall there were fewer crimes recorded in the year ending February 2018 to the year ending February 2019 (32,496, down from 32,609).

House prices

According to Zoopla, the average house price is £159,311 as of May 2019, a rise of 0.90% over the previous 12 months. Flats sold for an average of £133,333 and terraced houses for £131,207.


The number of visitors to Belfast has grown to almost 9.5 million a year. The council has targets to double the value of city’s tourism to £870 million each year by 2020.

An impressive 1.48 million overnight trips were made to Belfast in 2017, contributing £328 million to the local economy.

Transport links

You’ve got two airports within 90 minutes of Belfast city centre – Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport.

As for buses, you can travel with Metro, Ulsterbus and Goldline. You’re also serviced by NI Railway and Enterprise if you’d prefer to travel by train. They’ll take you to Portadown, Bangor, Derry and Dublin.

Belfast has a ferry service which can take you to other parts of the UK like Liverpool, the Isle of Man and Stranraer. The docking points are near George Best Belfast City Airport.

And if you fancy doing the journey off your own steam, Dublin is 90 minutes away by car.

Funding for Belfast-based businesses

Some financial assistance is provided to start-ups. The NI Small Business Loan Fund offers up loans from £10,000 to £100,000.

Northern Ireland has a searchable database that will help you find publicly-funded sources of assistance in Northern Ireland. That could be financial assistance and free or subsidised services.

Invest NI’s Innovation Voucher provides funding to SMEs to work with an expert from a university, college or other public sector research body.

It also has grant support for local start-ups, with six different types of funds for start-ups with export potential.

For more info, have a read of our guide to small business funding in Northern Ireland.

The entrepreneurs’ experiences of starting a business in Belfast

Adam Murphy, founder and CEO of Shnuggle, tells us why he decided to set up the business in Belfast.

Adam and Sinead talk about starting their business in Belfast

Sinead and I started Shnuggle from our front room. As well as addressing a gap in the market (an alternative to the traditional wicker Moses baskets), we both wanted the flexibility of owning our own business and growing that business close to home as our young family grew.

The Shnuggle headquarters are still based close to where we live. We have a talented and growing team employed from the wider Belfast area. We have also recently opened our own warehouse beside our offices, where we now distribute Shnuggle products worldwide from Northern Ireland.

What kind of funding and grants are available to start-ups in Belfast?

Support is widely available for businesses in Northern Ireland. Invest NI are a government agency who offer businesses financial support as well as tailored guidance and general business support.

We work closely with Invest NI who support us in developing our business within the UK as well as our export business around the world. Nibusinessinfo also has a funding checker and the local banks are being more proactive in helping start-ups now.

How’s life in the city?

The quality of life in Belfast has never been as good as it is now.  We are seeing companies from around the world setting up a large presence in Northern Ireland, particularly in finance and software, due to the pool of talented people and the support available from agencies attracting investment.

Is there enough local talent to meet the needs of your business?

A fantastic team of 14 people are working for Shnuggle now. As we continue to grow as a business, we have a continued need to recruit more people.

As well as recruiting experienced team members we also offer student and graduate placements in specialisms such as product design and local apprenticeships. We are also involved in initiatives such as the Young Enterprise Programme supporting local schools and working as mentors to encourage young people to develop business ideas and gain experience in bringing a product to life.

Tell us about the rest of the entrepreneur community

There is a large entrepreneur community here in Northern Ireland and a number of organisations which work to bring business people together to share ideas, experiences and support.

The community is very supportive – we are often approached by start-up entrepreneurs seeking advice and support as they start their journey.

Stuart Jameson is the managing director of health and safety consultancy, Fiontar Group. He tells us about the local talent and community in Belfast.

Stuart talks about starting a business in Belfast

My co-director and I both used to live in Belfast. We’re based here and are very loyal to the community.

Belfast has its struggles like most places. Despite its difficult past I think it’s generally a great place to live. The city is buzzing with new business right now.

Local talent and community

I think there is enough local talent to support the business, but only just. There seems to be many of them that go elsewhere for a variety of reasons. We have such skilled people here – we should do more to keep them.

‘I think there is enough local talent to support the business, but only just’

The orange and green bigotry still runs strong in a lot of people, unfortunately. I think that may be the reason why local talent choose to go elsewhere.

We have a few competitors in our industry; obviously I think we are head and shoulders above them!

We are in the Innovation Factory and the number of young entrepreneurs in here is so inspiring. Young people in Belfast have more confidence in themselves and believe they can create a business that will be successful. They’re also willing to throw their hat over the wall and take the risk.

Belfast not for you?

The essential guide to starting a business in Leeds

The essential guide to starting a business in Newcastle

The essential guide to starting a business in Cardiff

The essential guide to starting a business in Glasgow

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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