Sunday Business Post 29.12.13

As the ripples of the economic downturn spread, they gained particular force while racing down the M6 motorway and into the towns and villages of the West of Ireland.

Entire areas, where the construction boom had delivered both employment and increased personal aspirations, were hit by the wave, which left wide-scale destruction in its wake.

By the second half of the last decade, the ghost estates and boarded-up businesses became the norm rather than the exception, in towns across Mayo, Galway and Roscommon. Emigration soared.

Against such a bleak backdrop, and a dwindling local market where disposable income had been severely limited, any new business start-up seemed destined for failure.

For many, with loans to pay, the options were stark: emigrate or take a chance on a new enterprise.

Initially, new start-ups were faced with a mountain of challenges - not least financing issues.

''If you look at our core client base these are usually people who are starting from scratch, so getting access to finance is very difficult. They have no cash-flow generated and wouldn't have credit history saying they'd paid back a loan before, so in many cases the door to finance is closed to them,'' said Breda Fox of the Galway Enterprise Board.

Despite these difficulties, Breda believes the tide is turning somewhat in the West. The standard of new applications for funding and support which land on her desk every week has improved steadily.

''The quality of projects, both from Galway city and county in 2013, has been fantastic. Our enterprise board will end up giving out approximately €650,000 in grant aid this year alone. We have start-ups in a wide range of sectors, from manufacturing to gaming, food producers and medi-tech businesses.''

She is also witnessing a change in the ratio of female entrepreneurs to men in the county.

"It looks like we're punching above the national average in Galway. Out of the 23 promoters we've funded this year, seven of those would be women.''

Where once Galway's position on the west coast might have deterred entreprene urs from basing their start-ups here, especially if they were exporting products, that reasoning has now been reversed.

Fox said that many Irish people based overseas are looking at Galway as a base for their new business, rather than locations in places such as Britain.