• Meet Some of Our Start-Up Clients


“I really don’t think I would ever have got my business off the ground if it hadn’t been for the advice and support of Joan”.

That’s how highly Barry Toner, owner of Downpatrick Mobile Tyres, views the role his ‘Go For It’ Business Advisor, Down Business Centre’s Joan O’Hara, played in helping take his business idea from a dream to a reality

Barry had spent most of his career – nearly 30 years – working in the tyre business.  He’d always hoped that one day he would set up his own business but as he puts it ‘Life kept getting in the way’ and while the ambition was strong, his confidence levels, in terms of knowing where to start and how to make it work, were low.

In January 2019 Barry determined that this was the year he was going to move on his ambition – to establish a mobile tyre repair and replacement service, operating within a 15 mile radius of Downpatrick and serving the private driver and trade sectors.

In April he applied to join the ‘Go For It Business Start Up Programme’ and a couple of weeks later he was introduced to Joan as his Business Adviser.

“From the outset Joan was enthusiastic about my business idea and she made me feel that it was achievable.  Together we set about putting together a Business Plan.  Joan knew exactly what I needed to consider and define and she knew the questions to ask to get me thinking.  We looked at all aspects of setting up the business from accounting and finance, to sales and marketing and, very importantly, at my legal and compliance responsibilities”. says Barry.

By Autumn 2019, Barry was ready to take the plunge and to launch Downpatrick Mobile Tyres.  Initially he continued to work part time as a lorry driver but gradually as awareness of the new business grew so did his sales and by March 2020 he was working pretty much full time in the new venture.   Then the Covid 19 crisis and lockdown hit.

“My business came in to its own during lockdown.  While the traditional tyre and garage businesses had to close down, I was still able to operate a mobile service.  I lost count of the number of essential workers whom I was able to help with their tyre and battery problems during those months.  Being able to play my small part in keeping NHS staff and other key workers on the road gave me a great deal of satisfaction.  Since lockdown my business has continued to grow steadily with my customers liking the fact that I come to them instead of them having to a garage. ” says Barry

And what of the future for the business?

“I hope eventually to have a second van on the road and to be able to service a wider geographical area.  I have three children aged 24yrs, 19yrs and 14 yrs.  Who knows, maybe one of them will eventually want to join me in the business and we can make it a family affair”.

Follow Barry on Facebook: Downpatrick Mobile Tyres


When Peter Surgenor first came into contact with Down Business Centre he wasn’t just hoping to set up a new business, he was planning an entirely new lifestyle.

Peter was a Lecturer in Art and Design at the South Eastern Regional College in Downpatrick.  It had been a long held ambition to one day have his own pottery studio but it wasn’t until he and his partner bought the former Preaching House in Killough Co. Down in 2018 that he decided to turn his dream into a reality.

“I knew from the moment I stepped over the door of the Preaching House” says Peter “that it had the potential to offer me a change of lifestyle and a change of career.    The problem, however, was that I knew next to nothing about actually setting up a business and making it work.

I decided that the best place to start was to apply for Business Start-Up support through the Go For It Programme and was referred to Down Business Centre.  I knew a couple of people who had been through Go For It with DBC and I was really pleased when I was allocated Joan O’Hara as my Business Adviser as her reputation went before her.

From our first meeting Joan understood what I was seeking to achieve and knew that I really needed her help!  She was great; very down to earth and practical in her approach and she took me step-by-step through the whole business planning process.  It was Joan who suggested that I explore the potential for setting up a Community Interest Company, a business that would be a vehicle for my creativity but at the same time have real community value.  It was great advice and in April 2019 Preaching House Pottery CIC was established.

As well as being the home of my ceramics studio, where I produce my ceramics and textiles range, I deliver a range of arts and crafts workshops from the Preaching House.  As a not-for-profit CIC we re-invest any profits in the local community and collaborate with a wide range of organisations to deliver all sorts of local social initiatives.  Preaching House has become a hub of creativity and social engagement in Killough and I am very proud of what we have achieved so far.  Thank you Joan – I couldn’t have done it without you” says Peter Surgenor.

Website: www.preachinghousepottery.com


Jamie O’Brien began his teaching career in 2006.   For the next 13 years he taught Mathematics in the Belfast Boys’ Model, Glastry College and Belfast Model for Girls schools, being promoted and taking on more management responsibilities with each appointment.  By any standards he was a successful teacher but as the years progressed he became increasingly dissatisfied with the way teaching was going.

“Every year the job was became less about teaching and inspiring the pupils and more about red tape and ticking an ever ending list of boxes devised by civil servants.  I came into teaching to teach but that part of my role was becoming secondary to the administrative pressures” says Jamie.

In 2018 Jamie found himself at a turning point.  His parents became unwell and his sister was diagnosed with cancer.  He knew he had to give more time to his family and it was clear that that would not be possible if had to continue to travel from his home in Newcastle to teach in Belfast every day.   At this difficult time the idea for Elevate Tutoring was born.

“I had tutored some Maths GCSE and A Level students privately as well as some children preparing for the AQE tests.  I really enjoyed working with the pupils on a one-to-one basis focussing exclusively on their grasp and understanding of the subject at hand.  I knew there was a market for private tutoring I just needed to work out how I could establish a full time business that would deliver the income I needed and give me the flexibility my personal circumstances required.”

In April 2019 he gave his Headmistress notice of his intent to leave at the end of the academic year and by September when his teaching contract came to an end he had already developed a website for his new business.

At this stage he decided to apply for support through the Go For It Business Start-Up Programme and this is when he met Joan O’Hara of Down Business Centre who was appointed as his Business Adviser.

“Joan was very helpful indeed.  While I had a good head for figures I quickly realised while working with her on my Business Plan that there was much more to running a business than keeping the bookkeeping right.  I had it in my head that I would need to take on premises to deliver my tutoring skills; from the outset Joan quoted me the mantra ‘Keep your overheads to the minimum, only spend money when you absolutely have to’.  It is one that I quote to myself every day”.

Jamie taught his first pupil as Elevate Tutoring from his home at the end of September 2019 and things were going very well indeed until the middle of March 2020 when the Covid 19 Lockdown was enforced.

“I would be lying if I said it hadn’t been a difficult time.  The business was really taking off and then suddenly everything ‘face-to-face’ had to stop.  Thankfully many of my pupils and their parents were keen for me to continue with their tutoring via Zoom.  While it takes a bit of time to get used to, it works very well and the technology has enabled me to consider well beyond the Newcastle and Mid Down area as my marketplace.

If I had not followed the wise advice of Joan O’Hara I may well have gone down the path of leasing premises when I started up in Autumn 2019.  Hindsight is always a wonderful thing and no one could have forseen what March 2020 would bring.  That said Joan’s advice about keeping my overheads low was right and will always be right for every fledgling business.

The academic year 2020-21 is now well underway and with it have come new pupils for both face-to-face tutoring (adhering to safe social distancing) and remote learning.  These are unusual times but the importance of a child’s education must remain paramount.  As a private tutor it is my job to give children the one-to-one attention that is just not possible to deliver in a busy class room.   I am passionate about teaching and at Elevate Tutoring teaching will always be the priority” says Jamie.

Website: www.elevateturtoring.co.uk


A Crossgar based entrepreneur is helping local couples say ‘I DO’ after launching a unique new wedding venue business with the support of the Go For It Programme, in association with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and Down Business Centre.

Ann Pinkerton is the proud owner of Runaway Irish Weddings, a small and intimate wedding venue situated at ‘The Rocks’ just outside Crossgar and close to the shores of Strangford Lough.

The dream romantic venue is approved for weddings up to 18 people and is set in 2 acres of beautiful garden grounds surrounded by woodland with tranquil paths, waterfalls and ponds. The weddings are conducted in the lovely pondside Summer House.

Speaking about the business, Ann Pinkerton, Owner of Runaway Irish Weddings said: “After attending college and university studying hospitality and events management, and also working on and off within the industry, I decided to follow my passion and ran my own holiday cottage business in Dumfries and Galloway. It was here I first gained a small wedding venue licence and saw the real potential in small weddings.

“When I moved to Northern Ireland, I discovered there was no small wedding or elopement venues and knew I had found a gap in the market. When I found ‘The Rocks’ I instantly knew this magical place would be perfect for intimate and romantic weddings.

Ann is a Humanist Celebrant with Humanists UK and is assisted by close friend and fellow Celebrant Trevor Molloy. Humanist Celebrants are experts in creating unique, personal and bespoke ceremonies with the focus on the couple and their wishes.

Runaway Irish Weddings also provide weddings for couples who are facing end of life circumstances, delivering a quiet and peaceful ceremony that carefully meets the couple’s wishes.

Ann continued: “The words, the music and whole feel of the wedding are so important. It is the couple’s love story woven into a narrative that will be a lifetime memory. I work with an amazing team all handpicked to provide the very best of services. Award winning chefs, incredibly talented photographers, musicians and florists. We aim to provide a happy and relaxed wedding carefully curated to meet the couple’s dreams and wishes.

Ann turned her idea into a reality after taking part in the Go For It Programme, which is delivered free of charge by a team of experienced business mentors through Northern Ireland’s wide network of enterprise agencies. It provides expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn ideas into a commercial enterprise.

Ann said: “Whilst I had run a similar business previously, I lacked the expert knowledge and deep understanding of the marketplace in Northern Ireland.  I saw a social media post about the Go For It Programme and got in touch. I was put in contact with a business advisor at the local Down Business Centre and it all went from there.

“My business advisor, Joan, provided tailored business support and insights that I just wouldn’t have been able to access on my own. I felt totally supported and having such a good sounding board in the early stages of the business was so helpful.  The business plan really helped me understand the niche audience I wanted to target and the best methods of communication to reach them.

Councillor Laura Devlin, Chairperson, Newry, Mourne & Down District Council said: “The Go For It Programme provides accessible, free and tailored business support – giving new entrepreneurs the confidence, contacts and the knowledge they need to start trading. I wish Ann every continued success with Runaway Irish Weddings and encourage anyone thinking about starting their own business to go for it and get in touch!”

Joan O’Hara, Business Advisor, Down Business Centre said “We were delighted to be able to support Ann in the start-up stage of her business. Ann was in a position of vast knowledge and expertise for her field but lacked the knowledge of the local market to launch her business.  That’s where we were able to step in and help.

“Through the completion of her business plan, we were able to finalise Ann’s business proposition, and complete and two years of financial projections.  Ann has created an intimate wedding venue perfect for the couple who value intimacy and privacy. I look forward to hearing the many love stories of happy marriages from Runaway Irish Weddings in the future.

Website: https://www.runawayirishweddings.com/