NACEC launches findings of its recent Enterprise Centre / Hubs Covid19 Impact and Recovery Survey



Thousands of empty places in remote working hubs available to assist multinationals, Irish SMEs and start-ups throughout smaller towns and rural Ireland post-pandemic.

Monday 18th May 2020

The most worrying business barometer snapshot to date into the State’s SME sector has emerged with the latest national business survey to emerge which shows the alarmingly troubled state of hundreds of small businesses in every county which have closed permanently or temporarily. The results show that while 84% of enterprise centres and remote working hubs have tenant business who have closed temporarily due to the pandemic, a worrying 33% have tenants who have shut down permanently according to the nationwide survey carried for the National Association of Community Enterprise Centres (NACEC) which promotes, supports and develops the community and regional enterprise sector.

However on a more optimistic note NACEC, which directly supported 1,800 businesses employing 5,500 people before the pandemic, found that their member enterprise centres, along with other hubs operating in the sector, could potentially have in excess of 10,000 vacant places for use in the form of hot desks, remote working spaces, digital labs, maker spaces, fab labs, kitchens and wet labs which can help generate a new generation of lean start-up companies and existing rural SMEs as well as be a significant and attractive resource for multinationals and the civil service to allow increased remote working opportunities for their employees.

NACEC have calculated it would take a dedicated fund of just €5m investment in the sector to help enterprise centres and co-working hubs to adapt their facilities / services to get their tenants / external clients back to work, and find more creative ways to support the communities they serve e.g. remote working for the wider community and deliver relevant services to their viable tenants / clients.

The survey also found that two-thirds of all centres are under pressure to provide tenant financial relief and worryingly one in seven still have inadequate broadband in place to enable remote working. Other key findings of the survey include the following as a result of the pandemic;

  • 1 in 3 centres have tenants that have closed permanently (33%)
  • Over 4 in 5 centres have tenants that have temporarily closed (84%)
  • Nearly 5 in 7 centres have unused co-working facilities (68%)
  • 98% of centres have seen a decline in revenue with a quarter suffering a drop of between 50-80% in revenues
  • 92% have a decrease in occupancy

BUT optimistically;

  • 63% of centres see opportunities to increase parts of their operation, increase co-working capacity due to more people;
    • Experiencing working from home as being less productive and socially isolating
    • Frustrated with broadband at home
  • 83% of respondent centres still managed to go above and beyond their core role during COVID-19 by;
    • Providing free facilities access to community, voluntary and business groups to support the production of PPE and foodbank services
    • Providing free peer support, mentoring and online training for business and community organisations.

Gary O’Meara, Chairman of NACEC (and CEO of Meath Enterprise) said “We are ready to do our bit in assisting the country and its regions to support Irish business and create jobs post-pandemic. The current crisis has shown us that flexible working will rise in popularity and enterprise centres and hubs have already been to the fore in providing innovative and low threshold access to time-share facilities and office space as part of a post-COVID-19 restart and acceleration programme. Through combining access to space and equipment with specialist training and development programmes, they could support start-ups and SMEs with low-cost entrepreneurship business models and work more closely with remote-friendly corporates.”

“The crisis has brought remote working into the mainstream, and it increasingly accepted as a realistic proposition by many employers and employees who previously may not have been open to the workability of remote as a viable alternative. We see our case and offer strengthened in that regard. We envisage co-working will increase as businesses downsize to reduce costs.  With home working establishing itself, we foresee city-based companies providing budgets for remote workers to find a desk close to home. However a small number of hubs are struggling to succeed and need financial support to offset the current drop in incomes,” he said.


Our survey was conducted in the period 12th – 16th May 2020 and was completed by 87 representatives of enterprise centres/hubs all across Ireland.

Survey link:

Our national research study spans new and existing enterprise/technology centres, food/digital hubs, co-working / remote working hubs, college/university incubators in Ireland regardless of whether they are private, public (DACs and university hubs) or community-owned (CLGs), not-for-profits, social enterprises or NACEC members. The research received the active co-operation of key vested parties including:

Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation

Enterprise Ireland + Local Enterprise Offices

Department of Rural & Community Development

Local Development Companies

Department of Housing Planning and Local Government

Local Authority

Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment

Western Development Commission

Teagasc – Agriculture & Food Development Authority

Atlantic Economic Corridor – AEC

Regional Enterprise Plan

Regional Skills Fora

National Standards Authority of Ireland – NSAI

Tech Ireland

Irish Research & Development Group – IRDG

Science Foundation Ireland – SFI

Telecommunications Software & Systems Group – TSSG


Irish Business & Employers Confederation – IBEC

Small Firms Association – SFI

Chambers Ireland

Grow Remote

Irish Rural Link

Scale Ireland


Enterprise centres not only generate a steady flow of new businesses (with above-average job and wealth creation potential in a region), they provide the facilities for future of work initiatives such as remote working and redeployment. Launched in late October 2019, the National Association for Community Enterprise Centres Strategic Plan set a primary benchmark for the impact of community enterprise centres. At that time, NACEC’s 120 members were supporting over 5,500 jobs in over 1,800 tenant businesses throughout the regions, with a wages contribution from these jobs put at €247.5 million per annum. Back then, our outlook was one of resilience in the face of Brexit, and 63% of centres had substantial capital investment or growth plans within the next two years, including the development of digital and co-working hubs.

Enterprise Centres are proven engines of entrepreneurship. Emerging in Ireland  from the late 1970s, typically in areas of low employment and economic opportunity, they were founded through two approaches: – • Reactive approach – in response to poor local economic performance or specific incidents, e.g. loss of major employers with a mission and solutions to stimulate job growth • Proactive approach – in response to strengths and opportunities for regeneration and sector specialisation that are specific to their area

Entrepreneurship hubs, co-works, incubators and more, enterprise centres are best known for their provision of physical workspace to new and emerging businesses. Yet, enterprise centres are also prolific providers of formal and informal vocational education and provide community-based space to convene, cocreate and network.  They offer tenants, early-stage entrepreneurs’ and their communities access to structured enterprise and social innovation training courses and enable networking and supportive environments which help individuals establish and develop their businesses. Moreover, they work hard to subsidise all of the above and deliver equitable regional development. They have long been identified as valuable sources of business support, especially in areas of low employment or low economic opportunity. They can best be judged for their ability to build entrepreneurial communities or ecosystems.

Click here to view the full survey report

For more information email [email protected]

NACEC works with UK and European Partners on Smart-Up Project

NACEC works with UK and European Partners on Smart-Up Project.

Smart-up is an EU Erasmus+ Project bringing together partners and experts from the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Ireland.

The project, which is being led by the National Enterprise Network in the UK, aims to facilitate early stage entrepreneurs and established SME owner-managers with the knowledge and skills needed to identify and interpret early warning signals of business crisis, and to take timely, corrective actions, thereby facilitating growth, or survival, in unpredictable or adverse situations.

Project Partners –

Small and medium enterprises have undisputed significance in driving Europe’s economic growth, accounting for 85% of new jobs and 66% of private sector employment. As such, the quality and relevance of the vocational entrepreneurship education provided for new and existing entrepreneurs plays a key role in achieving the 2020 goals of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Business failure is increasingly recognised as an important topic within enterprise education and for good reason: more than half of European businesses will not survive past the 5-year mark. Yet, failure is accepted by many as a normal feature of the macroeconomic and the focus has been put strongly on helping entrepreneurs learn from failure, with a view to starting over from scratch. While important, this approach overlooks the huge economic, societal and personal consequences of business failure: entrepreneurs pay a high cost in lost investment and income, and in self-esteem and career trajectory, not to mention the knock-on effects of unemployment for others.

Although current SME business failure rates are almost back to pre-recession levels, our knowledge of macroeconomic cycles instructs us to use this time to prepare for the next recession. In addition, Brexit presents one of the most significant challenges to small businesses not only in the UK but to main trading partners within the EU: Germany, Netherlands, Ireland and Spain. For these reasons, it is more important than ever to provide emerging and established businesses with the skills needed to weather the turbulence.

To help remedy this situation, Smart up will provide early stage entrepreneurs and established SME owner-managers with the knowledge and skills needed to identify and interpret early warning signals of business crisis, and to take timely, corrective actions, thereby facilitating growth, or survival, in unpredictable or adverse situations.

EARLY STAGE INTERVENTION FRAMEWORK. Developed in collaboration with our HE partner, this comprehensive but accessible digital document will share up-to-date knowledge on financial and nonfinancial Early Warning Signals of business crisis, will present detection and intervention opportunities.

SMART UP CURRICULUM AND OERs. Including a curriculum, learning objectives, lesson plans, assessment guides, and access to a variety of original teaching content in digital format.

SMART UP ONLINE COURSE. Based on the OERs, this training course will be optimized for computers, tablets and smartphones.

Our main Participants are early stage entrepreneurs and established SME owner-managers providing them with the knowledge and skills needed to identify and interpret early warning signals of business crisis, and to take timely, corrective actions, thereby facilitating growth, or survival, in unpredictable or adverse situations.

As tangible results, we expect;

  • Update the professional knowledge and skills of 250+ business advisors in 180 enterprise support organizations, and 30 VET and business policy makers by creating and disseminating the EarlyStage Intervention Framework (IO1) and providing innovative digital tools to teach it (IO2, IO3).
  • Empower 30+ trainers from 20 enterprise support organizations to begin teaching this topic to earlystage entrepreneurs using the Smart up Curriculum and OERS (IO2).
  • Enable 220+ entrepreneurs to develop Early Stage Intervention skills and apply them within their current business ventures by making the training available in an online course (IO3).

On completion the project will have facilitated the increase in the number of advisors incorporating early stage warning signals of business crisis and intervention strategies to mitigate risk into their training programmes and becoming more digitally competent in using digital technologies. By improving the skills and attitudes of business advisors we will impact not only the effectiveness of entrepreneurship training to individual trainees and groups, but be able to create waves of change regarding entrepreneurship teaching in VET as a whole.

At national level the project will impact on the entrepreneurship VET sector by showing how it can and must adjust its provision to reflect that fact that today’s entrepreneurs and SMEs must have improved skills to grow and survive even when the economic context is turbulent or uncertain.

At international level, the project will impact positively on the ongoing work of EU bodies to develop robust yet practical frameworks for competence development especially in the field of entrepreneurship. The EntreComp, DigComp, DigCompOrg and DigCompEdu frameworks will be reference points throughout the project helping us understand how to provide more structure and transparency in the training we provide.

For more information please visit