The Start-up Entrepreneur Programme (STEP) Explained
The Start-up Entrepreneur Programme (STEP) gives non-EEA nationals the chance to start a company in Ireland and reside in the State on a full-time basis. You must apply to get a STEP grant, and your application will only be successful if you meet certain criteria.
Here, we explain everything you need to know about the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme in Ireland. If you have any further questions, or you want an immigration specialist to help you with the application process, please contact us at Gibson & Associates.
What is STEP?
STEP stands for the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme. It is an Irish immigration option that has been available since 2012. It allows people who have an innovative business idea to establish a business in Ireland and, should they wish, to live in Ireland on a full-time basis. This could be an entirely new business, or an existing business that you wish to relocate to Ireland (although the business itself must be less than five years old).
STEP grants are specifically aimed at non-EEA nationals. Passport holders from the EU, EEA and Switzerland are allowed to live, work and set up a business in Ireland, without the need for any kind of special permission. Therefore, the STEP is most useful to those from North America, South America, Asia, Africa and Australasia.
Can I apply for STEP?
A STEP grant is something that you must apply for. Applications are rigorously assessed to ensure the necessary requirements are met. These requirements apply to you, your co-founders and your business.
As the person applying for a STEP grant, you must show the assessors that you:
• Are of good character
• Have a clean criminal record in every country that you’ve lived in for six months or more over the past 10 years
• Have €50,000 funding
This €50,000 funding must have come from one of the following sources:
1. Your own resources
2. Business loan
3. Business Angel/Venture Capital funding
4. Grant from an Irish State Agency
You’ll need to provide evidence of these funds, including where they have come from. You’ll also need to show that you are able to transfer the money to Ireland.
Requirements of your co-founders
If you have any business partners, they must meet the same criteria laid out above, but must have access to €30,000 funding (rather than €50,000).
Finally, your business must be considered a High Potential Start-Up (HSPU). This means that it:
• Introduces a new or innovative product or service to international markets
• Is involved in manufacturing or internationally traded services
• Is capable of creating 10 jobs in Ireland and realising €1 million in sales within three to four years of starting up
• Is led by an experienced management team
• Is headquartered and controlled in Ireland
• Is less than 5 years old
The idea that you need to create 10 jobs within three or four years might be cause for concern. After all, very few businesses start making money overnight, and you don’t know when you’ll be ready to expand your team. The Irish system recognises this, which is why no initial job creation targets will be set. Nevertheless, the potential for job creation must be there – and that it what the assessors will want to see, when they come to review your application.
The STEP guidelines state that the business proposal must be ‘genuinely innovative’ and have ‘significant export potential’. Because of this, small to medium sized businesses in domestically orientated industries will not be considered under the programme. As such, STEP grants are not given to those in retail, personal services and catering.
STEP grants are particularly well-suited to tech start-ups, as well as manufacturing and design ventures. Also, this must be your own business proposal; STEP grants are not aimed at those wishing to purchase an active business.
Are there any restricted nationalities?
No, there are no restricted nationalities. Anyone from a non-EEA country can apply for a STEP grant in Ireland.
What does a STEP grant give you?
If you are accepted under the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme, then you will be allowed to set up a business in Ireland. You and your family will also be allowed to live in Ireland on a full-time basis for up to two years, should you want to. This is not a pre-requisite, but if you live elsewhere, you must visit Ireland at least once a year.
If your family members want to accompany you to Ireland, then you must include them on the application form. Only certain family members are eligible, including your husband/wife, your partner (if you have been living together for two years) and your children under the age of 18. Children up to the ages of 24 years old may accompany you in certain situations.
Once the two years is up, you have the option of renewing your status in Ireland for another three years. Thereafter, permissions can be renewed in five-year instalments. We explain this more in detail below.
The Start-up Entrepreneur Programme does not make you eligible to receive State-funded medical services. This means that you and your family members must arrange private medical insurance during your stay in Ireland.
How to get a STEP grant
So, do you have an innovative business idea? And do you want to establish a business in Ireland, and have the option of living on the Emerald Isle? If the answers to these questions are yes, then you could be the perfect candidate for the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme.
But how exactly do you go about it?
1. Check that you’re eligible
The first step is to check that you’re actually eligible. As laid out above, STEP grants are subject to very strict criteria. It is your responsibility to check that you actually meet the requirements before you apply. There is an application fee and this is non-refundable. So, if your application is refused because you do not meet the qualifying criteria, it will be a waste of your time and money.
If you’re not sure whether you are a candidate for a STEP grant, please contact us at Gibson & Associates for expert advice. We are immigration specialists and can advise whether you would be suitable for the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme in Ireland.
2. Prepare your application
Then, you need to prepare your application. There is a STEP application form to complete. This must be accompanied by:
• A comprehensive business plan
• The most recent audited accounts for the business, if the business is relocating to Ireland
• Evidence of your €50,000 funding
• Evidence as to the providence of those funds
• Evidence that the money can be transferred
• Police reports from all countries that you have lived in for more than six months over the past 10 years
• Screening reports from reputable international risk management companies (if applicable)
• Certified copies of your passport, birth certificate and marriage certificate (if applicable)
• Two passport sized photos
The precise documentation and evidence needed depends on the source of your funds.
3. Submit your application
When the paperwork is ready, you can go ahead and submit the application. This is done online on the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) website. You can submit the application at any time. However, applications are only reviewed on a quarterly basis, so there may be a delay before you hear anything.
4. Pay the application fee
There is an application fee of €350 per application. This is non-refundable. The money will not be returned if your application is ultimately unsuccessful.
What happens next?
An Evaluation Committee considers STEP applications on a quarterly basis. If there are any gaps in your proposal, the Committee may contact you and ask for further information. Otherwise, they will either approve or reject your business proposal.
Your application is successful
If you are approved under the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme, then you must transfer the required funding to a financial institution regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.
You also need to submit an affidavit. This is a sworn declaration that you are of good character and have a clean criminal record. Affidavits must also be submitted by accompanying family members over the age of 16. These must be produced by a legal practitioner who is registered to practice law in Ireland. INIS can issue a short-term visa if you need to enter Ireland to complete this stage.
Once these steps have been fulfilled, you and your family members will be issued with a two-year visa. Your visa remains valid for 24 months, so long as you:
• Establish the business as outlined in your application
• Work on the business on a full-time basis
• Are not employed in any other capacity
• Do not become a financial burden on the Irish State
• Are not convicted of a criminal offence.
Your visa could be withdrawn if you breach any of these conditions.
Your application is not successful
The Evaluation Committee will explain why your application is not successful. You cannot appeal their decision or get a refund. However, there is nothing stopping you from applying again. You can amend your proposal based on the feedback provided, increasing your chances the success the next time round.
Before you apply – 12-month immigration permission
Before your make your STEP application, you may be interested to know that you can get a 12-month immigration permission. This is available for foreign national entrepreneurs who want to attend incubators or innovation bootcamps in Ireland, in order to better prepare for their STEP application.
Renewing your status in Ireland
Two years is very little time to get a business up and running. However, the good news is that you can renew your status in Ireland, once your two years is up. The Evaluation Committe will carry out an assessment to ensure that your venture remains viable. You will also need to show that you:
• Continue to be of good character – i.e., you haven’t been convicted of a criminal offence
• Continue to have private medical insurance
• Plan to keep your start-up in place for another three years
If you meet the criteria, your Irish visa will be renewed for another three years. Your family members are also allowed to stay in the country with you. When the three-year visa expires, you can continue to renew your status in five-year instalments.
Once you have lived in Ireland for eight years, you may be eligible for Irish citizenship by naturalisation.
Can I get help with my STEP application?
Yes, you are allowed to ask an immigration specialist to help you with your STEP application. In fact, most people get legal representation. STEP applications are complex. You might have a truly innovative business plan – but if you fail to prove this to the Evaluation Committee, your application will inevitably fail.
If you would like to come to Ireland through the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme, please contact us at Gibson & Associates. Our immigration consultants can ensure that your application is approved, handling all the legal and administrative work on your behalf.
Complete our online enquiry form, or phone us on 01 872 3143 today.
For more information visit our immigration page
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