The Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence recently announced significant changes to the Start Up Entrepreneur Programme (STEP) that is operated by the Department of Justice.
The most significant changes to the scheme include a reduction in the minimum investment required from €75,000 to €50,000. Where more than one principal is involved in establishing the business, the minimal investment for second and subsequent entrepreneurs will be €30,000 per principal. A further change is that there will now be provision of a new 12 month immigration permission available for foreign national entrepreneurs attending incubators or innovation boot camps in Ireland. The purpose of the 12 months permission period is to allow entrepreneurs time to prepare their STEP application and to ensure there is a clear route for migrant entrepreneurs to move from the start up to realisation phase of their projects. It is noteworthy that the 12 month period will also be made available to non-EEA students, who graduate with advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees in Ireland and who intend to work on preparing an application for STEP.
It is clear that these changes make the programme more accessible to foreign national entrepreneurs. The basic requirements will remain the same and is open only to high potential start ups that are introducing a new or innovative product or service to international markets. The start up must show that it has the capacity to create 10 jobs in Ireland and realise €1 million in sales within three to four years of start up. It is a further condition that the start up be headed by an experienced management team, that it be headquartered and controlled in Ireland and that the venture is less than six years old.
It is interesting to note from the Minister’s recent announcements that there have been 35 applications since the scheme came into operation in April 2012, with 26 of these applications approved and 10 refused, two applications withdrawn and three pending.
These amendments to this administrative scheme are essentially designed to make it more accessible and attractive, and to provide a clear entry route to the scheme. It certainly makes it a more realistic prospect for perspective entrepreneurs and we expect that the government is hoping that there will be an increase in applications over coming months.
It should be noted that the Minister also announced that unsuccessful applications for the STEP will be referred to the Business Permission Scheme that is currently operated by the Irish Naturalisation & Immigration Service. Significantly, the Minister has stated that terms of the business permission scheme are currently being reviewed to better facilitate entrepreneurship at the more traditional end of the scale.