Coleraine business competition may do the job

Belfast Briefing: Businessman Norman Lynas felt he had to take action after he received more than 300 applications for just one vacancy at his company

Lynas Food Service, which was founded by Norman Lynas, is the largest independent food service company in the North, supplying everyone from the local chip shop to schools, hospitals and leading restaurants. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

When a well-known company with an established reputation advertises a job vacancy it naturally expects to get a good response, particularly in these employment-hungry days in the North.

But Norman Lynas, chairman and founder of Coleraine-based Lynas Food Service, says he was unprepared for the overwhelming response his company received when it recently advertised for just one position.

In the space of 24 hours Lynas Food Service received more than 300 applications for the job. Lynas said he “really was quite shocked that there were so many good people looking for jobs”, and the experience pushed him on the road to what he describes as “a journey of what can we do”.

The privately owned business employs more than 200 people and has more than 3,000 customers North and South. With the help of his family, Lynas has over the past 50 years grown his business idea into the largest independent food service company in the North, supplying everyone from the local chip shop to schools, hospitals and leading restaurants.


But the response to that job advertisement troubled him and made him think deeply about what was happening in his local community and to businesses, and the impact this was having not just on the local economy but on the hundreds of families living in the Coleraine area.

Lynas believes that “those of us who have been fortunate and blessed in business have a responsibility to the community”, so he discussed with his family the possibility of setting up another business to create employment.

As chance would have it, the Lynas family were not the only ones thinking about how they could help make a difference in the Coleraine area.

The Causeway Enterprise Agency – a non-profit business support group – was working behind the scenes on an initiative to help people start their own business and access the necessary finance to do so.

The agency got talking to Lynas Food Service and got nine other interested parties from the Coleraine area on board to support and finance the initiative.

Tomorrow at the Ulster Business Festival, the Causeway Enterprise Agency and its 10 local business "champions" will launch a £100,000 (€119,000) Venture Causeway competition.

The competition is open to existing businesses and to anyone with a feasible business idea; the only condition is that the business or start-up must be based in the Coleraine area.

To take part in the competition, which is also sponsored by the University of Ulster, budding entrepreneurs will have to submit an application form before May 29th and if successful pitch their ideas to the 10 business champions.

The business champions say they are looking for ideas that require financial support and mentoring, and that can demonstrate potential to create jobs and help grow the local economy.

Helping hand
Lynas and the nine others hope to be able to help people with "big ideas and big dreams" get a chance to do something about them. He is a firm believer that everyone requires a helping hand to succeed at a certain stage in life and business.

“I suppose there are people out there who are not employed and who are dreaming of getting into business, who have ideas. The team here, we just want to give them a chance, to give them that first step and encourage and mentor and be involved.”

The 10 Coleraine business champions include: Lynas; Karen Yates; Dr Mark McKinney; John Armstrong; Darren Gardiner; Jack Cassidy; Evan Reid; Kenny Bradley; Colin Mairs; and Dr Norry McBride.

They are investing their own personal money in Venture Causeway, although they are not hoping to make a big financial return on it.

“It is not really to make money,” says Lynas, “but hopefully in two, five, 10 years’ time there will be a number of successful small to medium-sized businesses giving employment not only to people but to families.”