Microfinance Ireland approved €5.4m worth of loans to a total of 357 businesses last year.

This is almost doubles the amount of lending approved by the state-backed not-for-profit body since it was established in late 2012.

Around two thirds of applications received to date by Microfinance Ireland have been start-ups, with the remainder coming from existing small businesses.

Microfinance Ireland was established to provide unsecured loans of between €2,000 to €25,000 to companies with fewer than ten employees and a turnover below €2m.

The body noted that the companies it has given loans to during the past three years employ more than 1,800 people.

To date, MFI has approved €11.6m in loans to 770 business. 

A total of 752 businesses applied for loans last year, compared with 508 applications in 2014, up 48%. The average loan size approved last year was €15,190.

The chairman of Microfinance Ireland, Cyril Forbes, credits an "effective partnership" with the Local Enterprise Offices and banking sector for the record number of loan applications last year.

"We shall continue to 'put air in the tyres' of all viable, genuine and creditworthy projects or individuals by giving access to affordable funds through MFI, equally striving to ensure than no borrower takes on unsustainable debt," Mr Forbes added.

Michael Johnston, CEO of Microfinance Ireland, said that small business customers are reporting high levels of satisfaction with the loan support MFI offers. 

A recent survey shows that "85% would apply to MFI again for future funding, 95% were happy with the term and flexibility of payments on their loan, while 96% would recommend MFI to a friend or family," he stated.