Gannon Eco: If not for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund we would have been in dire straits

Circular economy pioneer Gannon Eco availed of the Sustaining Enterprise Fund to rebuild working capital and work its way through the worst of the Covid-19 slowdown. The company has invested heavily in R&D and increased capacity, but the pandemic-induced downturn put a brake on the return from that outlay.

“We spend an awful lot on R&D,” says company founder and managing director Niall Gannon. “We had new products ready for market and others in development when Covid-19 hit. We had also built a new plant here in Kilbeggan and we had the people in place to run it. The drop in demand was very substantial. If not for the support from the Sustaining Enterprise Fund we would have been in dire straits. It gave us the backing to continue to seek new markets and helped keep people in jobs. The funding received was quite significant and very helpful.”

The company traces its history back to the last downturn when the near-collapse of the construction industry in 2007 led John Gannon Concrete to seek an alternative line of business. “We had a family business supplying concrete blocks, readymix concrete, gravel and aggregates to the building industry,” Gannon recalls. “When the recession impacted that market died, and we had to diversify. We inadvertently stumbled on a problem with end-of-life car windscreens. They were being landfilled or exported and there was no sustainable solution for their end-of-use  disposal.”

That led to the creation of an entirely new business. “After quite a lot of research, we set up under the new trading name of Gannon Eco,” he adds. “We started taking in car windscreens, cleaning them off, grinding them down and repurposing them to sell on for uses such as filtration media for wastewater treatment plants and sandblasting materials. We were reducing the need for virgin material for these purposes and diverting waste from landfill, generating two environmental gains.”

Today, Gannon Eco is an award-winning company and one of Ireland’s leading environmental solution providers offering total reuse for industrial waste stream products.

“We moved on from windscreens to other glass types – window glass, pharma glass, light bulbs, TVs and so on,” Gannon continues. “After several years, companies started coming to us asking us to look at other waste streams and we developed into specialist repurposers over time. We now take a variety of waste from many industries which include, surgical implants, microchips, construction, pharma and a variety of other sources. We use construction and other waste to make low-carbon concrete and we take waste from the semiconductor manufacturing process to produce an additive for the steel smelting process which enables the process to run at lower temperatures, thereby reducing emissions.”

At its most basic, the company takes in waste from one set of customers, reprocesses it and sells it on as end products to another set of customers. “The whole business is based on the circular economy,” Gannon explains. “We won’t take anything that can’t be reused. Everything that comes in must be sold back out as a product. We will not send anything to landfill or incineration.”

“The drop in demand was very substantial. If not for the support from the Sustaining Enterprise Fund we would have been in dire straits”

The concrete products side of the business hasn’t completely disappeared. “We manufacture a small number of concrete blocks and precast concrete products. We are able to produce some of those products using 85% recycled materials.”

Innovation is at the heart of the business. “It’s not that simple,” he notes. “There was no plant for the process that we could buy off the shelf back in 2007, so we had to develop all our processes in-house. The process starts with a customer who wants to stop waste from going to landfill. We will do intensive testing in our lab and figure out what we can do with it. We design processes to produce an end product. After that, we must find a customer who will buy it from us. It takes a minimum of two years to test, build a process for the waste and market for the new product. Our longest project took seven years. Once you send out a product you are not finished. You must be 100 per cent sure it’s not harmful and won’t damage the environment in any way. There is an unbelievable amount of R&D and testing involved. We have about five projects in the works at any one time.”

The company was gaining a foothold in export markets when Covid-19 hit. “We had started exporting to Germany and the Netherlands and we are looking at the US, France and Spain now. We had been looking at the UK, but the uncertainty caused by Brexit made us look at other markets. We are looking at the possibility of setting up operations in the US at the moment. It’s a balancing act. You can’t import waste materials if the carbon emissions of the transport would be greater than the gain you are making. We are looking at establishing facilities in Europe as well.”

The impact of Covid-19 was severe.

“March was our worst month in nine years but it’s slowly picking up again. We have an agreement with a distributor for Germany, the Netherlands and northern France. The first shipment to them was due to go out in August but that was delayed, and we are now expecting shipments to commence in the first week in January.”

That’s where the Sustaining Enterprise Fund support came into play. “It helped us deal with that interruption to our business,” says Gannon.

Looking ahead, he says the biggest barrier to growth for the company now is delays to the End of Waste certification process. The company needs a certificate for each new process before it can sell the product to an end-user. “The EPA doesn’t have sufficient resources to deal with the demand for certification. It can take anything up to five years to get it at the moment.” And to quote the EPA

“There is no statutory timeframe for the assessment of end-of-waste applications and decisions to be made. The time taken to process an end-of-waste application to reach an end-of-waste decision is variable. It depends on the quality of the application, the availability of inspector resources, the complexity of the application, the efficiency of response to requests for further information and the workload of the inspector assigned”

That said, new product and process development will continue at the company. “Westmeath County Council and Enterprise Ireland have been unbelievably supportive of what we do,” he notes. “Enterprise Ireland has supported us with our R&D projects over the years. We will be the first company in the world to reuse the material we are working on in our latest project. The way things are looking, next year should be relatively positive. We are going to keep doing what we are doing.”

Enterprise Ireland has a comprehensive suite of supports available for companies at all stages of development, under Sustaining Enterprise Fund and Innovative Start-Up funding, as well as other funding offers.

Find out more about the SEF supports here

How the Sustaining Enterprise Fund enabled Wisetek to innovate for future success

“Enterprise Ireland offers advice to businesses, as well as hard data. They help build roadmaps that allow you to plan ahead. They are a very valuable partner to have.”

 

Tom Delahunty, Global Operations Director, Wisetek

Key Takeouts

    • Wisetek, a global leader in IT asset disposition, reuse, and manufacturing services was deemed an essential business during the global pandemic of 2020. In some ways, this was positive, but it also made it hard to cut costs in a time of financial insecurity. Like many businesses, they were facing new challenges.
    • As long-term Enterprise Ireland partners, Wisetek reached out to express interest in the Sustaining Enterprise Fund. They worked together with Enterprise Ireland to organise documentation and successfully applied for funding.
    • Wisetek was able to use this additional capital to maintain important R&D programmes, enabling them to innovate for future success. Rather than falling behind or simply treading water, Wisetek is adapting and evolving.

    Case Study: Wisetek

    Tom Delahunty is the Global Operations Director for Wisetek, a global leader in IT asset disposition, reuse, and manufacturing services. They offer a circular economy approach to IT by managing the supply, distribution, destruction, and recycling of data and equipment. With customers and facilities dotted around the globe, Delahunty says news of business disruptions due to Covid-19 started to reach their team in February.

    “Every day, you would make a plan for what was next,” says Delahunty. “And then the next day, everything would change.

    He says the team scrambled in those early weeks of the pandemic to figure out where they stood and plan for an uncertain future. Wisetek was deemed an essential business. Delahunty says this was both a blessing and a curse. To keep things running, the business maintained some physical presence in all of their facilities, which meant it was hard to keep costs down. Much of their focus shifted from business operations to keeping customers and staff safe. Following health guidelines of local governments also meant a large portion of their staff began to work from home.

    “As an IT company, our culture suited the shift,” Delahunty says. “The transfer was seamless from a technological perspective, but we had to overcome the same communication challenges as every other business.

     

    Looking for Solutions

    Once Wisetek reconfigured operations to suit lockdowns and Covid safety guidelines, management began to work on a financial review. At the beginning of the crisis, the company’s new business pipeline was essentially put on hold. They did not lose many existing customers, but projects were delayed. Still, some customers remained active and Delahunty says the team felt fortunate to have even a reduced level of business coming in. Despite Wisetek’s “glass half full” perspective, it became clear that revenue was down and, in order to future-proof their operation, they would need to start looking for alternative sources of capital.

    “Initially,” says Delahunty, “asking for help wasn’t our first port of call. Before anything else, we had to stabilize our business and make tough decisions about reducing costs.

    Around this time, Enterprise Ireland announced the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, which Delahunty says drew attention immediately. Wisetek has a longstanding relationship with Enterprise Ireland, starting with their days as a High-Potential Start-Up. The two entities have maintained open lines of communication and Wisetek did not hesitate to reach out to their DA for information and advice during a difficult time. They began to work closely with Enterprise Ireland to make the SEF application. They had their cash projections ready to go, so Delahunty says it was merely a case of collating existing information into the correct format.

    “Delahunty says, “I’ll admit, there’s a bit of work in the process, but we couldn’t have spent our time more productively. SEF has awarded us significant and important funding.”

     

    A Positive Relationship Pays Off

    Being granted the SEF gave Wisetek the working capital to not only maintain operations, but also to invest in the company’s future. Delahunty says that without this assistance from Enterprise Ireland, the business might have faced further reductions, including the halt of internal development programmes. Thanks to this funding, they were able to keep their Research & Development arm up and running.

    “Enterprise Ireland gave us confidence in our existing balances to support the business and, as a result, we have continued to develop and grow,” says Delahunty.

    The  funding from Enterprise Ireland enabled Wisetek to launch new programmes that would otherwise have been considered discretionary. Now, these initiatives are paying dividends. Delahunty says that, over the years, the relationship between Wisetek and Enterprise Ireland has afforded their company not just capital, but also education, confidence, and networking capabilities.

    “Enterprise Ireland offers advice to businesses, as well as hard data,” says Delahunty. “They help build roadmaps that allow you to plan ahead. They are a very valuable partner to have.

     

    Focusing on the Future

    Delahunty says he believes the events of 2020 will ultimately afford Wisetek with new business. His team has learned a lot about the importance of adaptability. He says the most important take-aways have been to keep strategies agile, reach out for help when you need it, and do your best to find opportunity amidst crisis. In business, he says, it’s important to innovate and provide solutions, even in a challenging climate.

    “What happened in 2020 is unfortunate, but Ireland has weathered worse storms. We will make the best of it and keep evolving. If you’re not growing, you’re going backwards.

    Click here to learn more about applying for the SEF. Contact your Development Advisor or our Business Response Unit to find out more.

     

    P3 hotels: Utilising Sustaining Enterprise Fund to deepen financial fund and improve cashflow

     

    With all eyes focused on Brexit, businesses around the country were caught unawares with the onset of Covid-19 earlier this year. But while industries across every sector, both in this country and around the globe, were negatively impacted, some found that their product or service was suddenly very much in demand.

    This is true of the software produced by the team at P3 Hotels, headed up by Phelim Pekaar. Established in 2000 as a web design company, in 2009, it focused its attention on hotels and then in 2015, began devoting all its energies to integrating with the Opera reservation system. And last year, had begun rolling out an online check-in system, which, once the pandemic hit, was exactly what every hotel in the industry was looking for.

    “After going through many guises and developments, about five years ago, we started working with the Oracle Opera reservation system, which is used by all the largest hotels around the world,” says the company founder. “We built a booking engine on top of that software so guests can book, cancel, modify and manage online. It also facilitates corporate bookings and has a loyalty tool – all of which we brought to the web.

    “Thinking about how to further develop our product, I realised that I hate queueing and could never understand why hotels still have this system of standing in line to check-in and check out – guests should be able to just grab a key and go.

    “So we developed an online check-in system, trialled it and had it up and running for most of last year, when Covid hit. Then all of a sudden, online check-ins became a buzz word and everyone wanted to be able to check-in and out of their hotel online and wanted to have the hotel experience without touching anything outside of their room.”

    Since April of this year, the entrepreneur has been run off his feet, setting up new customers with the system which has made life easier for guests both in this country and in the UK.

    “Before the pandemic, we had 14 customers and since then, we have gained 14 more – which is fantastic,” he says. “We hadn’t developed the online checkout last year, but we were about to start it, so we rushed it through very quickly and thanks to an Enterprise Ireland Agile Innovation Fund, we were able to develop it and get it out there. Now we are trying to move forward from a sales and marketing perspective and get more people on board to help us with our new customers.

    “We realised a few months ago that things were not going to get back to normal until some time next year so decided to apply for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund (SEF) to give us a deeper financial fund which would help carry us through to April or May of next year. This will be a fantastic help and applying for it is very straightforward, once you get your head around it.”

    “Over the years, we have had a lot of support from Enterprise Ireland, all which have been hugely beneficial, but the SEF is really brilliant because we can forward plan as it allows access to the funds now rather than reclaiming it at the end as is the case with some of the other grants. So when we get the funding we can cashflow better, take on more people to help with onboarding new customers and put a buffer fund aside which we can draw on over the next couple of years and I can get back to creating new sales.”

    Along with financial aid, Pekaar has also taken part in several programmes which have also been very beneficial.

    “I have done a number of programmes with Enterprise Ireland over the years and found them to be very helpful,” he says. “In fact, I was on holiday when I received an email asking if I wanted to take part in the Eurozone For Growth programme and instantly I said ‘I’m in’ as I knew how good it would be.”

    The company CEO believes that some of the strategies learned during these courses will be beneficial over the coming months as the effects of Brexit begin to unfold.

    “Apart from the negative impact the pandemic has had on my customers, many of whom were looking for a reduction in fees, P3 Hotels has managed well over the past year,” he says. “However, when Covid hit, we put Brexit out of our minds, even though we had spent the past two years worrying about it.

    “I hadn’t been focusing on it in recent months and have won a lot of business in the UK recently and nothing ever arose about Brexit as our product is too important to customers because there as no-one over there is doing it. But I do worry as many of our customers have a lot of properties in the UK, so it is something we need to think about.

    “I don’t believe our customers in the UK will stop working with us, but they could begin to suffer financially due to Brexit, which will impact us, so we need to take steps towards the Eurozone market – and we will start with Germany as this is something we had been working on before Covid hit.”

    So while the future still remains somewhat uncertain, Pekaar believes there is still light on the horizon.

    “Before Covid, our plan was to keep developing alongside Oracle Opera who are rolling out a new solution vision, on the back of which would get more work,” he says. “We are continuing to work closely with them – they are recommending us too and that’s starting to take momentum now.

    “So for now, our five-year plan is to keep the head down and keep going with that process. Covid is not likely to throw us off track as it’s more like a bump in the road, but once we come out the other side, I worry that everyone will be like dogs out of a trap and sometimes my fear is that I will look back and say that I haven’t done enough to stay ahead.

    “I am trying to figure out what I should be doing when the trap door opens – it’s hard to tell but I hope I am prepared enough for the future – and feel that I’m as ready as I can be.”

    Enterprise Ireland has a comprehensive suite of supports available for companies at all stages of development, under Sustaining Enterprise Fund and Innovative Start-Up funding, as well as other funding offers.

    Find out more about the SEF supports here

    How Rennicks are looking to the future with support from the Sustaining Enterprise Fund

    Covid-19 was an obstacle, but, thanks to Enterprise Ireland, it hasn’t thrown us completely off our desired path. The Sustaining Enterprise Fund has given us peace of mind and the stability to pursue the future we had planned for our business.”

    Dolores Cantwell, Director of Finance & Operations, Rennicks Group Ltd.

    Key Takeouts

    • Established more than 40 years ago, Rennicks Group Ltd. is an Irish company specialising in retro reflective products for the licence plate and traffic sign markets. The global pandemic halted factory operations, drastically impacting the company’s revenue stream.
    • Director of Finance & Operations, Dolores Cantwell, contacted Enterprise Ireland about applying for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, who partnered with them to prepare documents for the financial assessment.
    • Funding from Enterprise Ireland has allowed Rennicks to meet its existing financial commitments and continue administrative operations, supporting the business as it plans for recovery and beyond.

    Case Study: Rennicks

    Rennicks is a Dublin-based company servicing the vehicle licence plate and road infrastructure markets in the United Kingdom and South Africa. The business has existed since 1976, but was the subject of a management buy-out in 2017. Director of Finance & Operations, Dolores Cantwell, says they were on an upward trajectory at the start of 2020, with solid numbers reported for the first quarter of the year, before the global lockdown landed.

    “When Covid-19 hit we were worried,” says Cantwell. “Initially, it looked like there would be a complete shutdown with no revenue stream for at least four months. It was an extremely concerning prospect.”

    Rennicks’ primary business involves a light manufacturing process, which means the business relies on its factory operations. The lockdown in Ireland prevented employees from working. The factory closed and all staff were sent home. Cantwell says their administrative team was forced to quickly adapt to a remote work style. The company was also forced to immediately assess its cost outlays, resulting in a combination of lay-offs and pay reductions across the organisation.

     

    Searching for solutions

    Thankfully, Rennicks has always maintained good relationships with its supply chain partners, which gave them some time, but they still had commitments to fulfill. After the initial shock of a global pandemic and a total halt in production, the team took stock and realized they would need to look outside of their existing resources for financial support if they were going to successfully ride out the storm.

    “We saw the information about the Sustaining Enterprise Fund and contacted Enterprise Ireland,” says Cantwell. “The two team members they sent us were superb.”

    She says Enterprise Ireland worked with Rennicks to gather and reformat its financial information for the SEF assessment. The team calmly worked through the numbers, showing an enthusiasm for the business that bolstered Rennicks and gave the team the confidence to move forward. Admittedly, Cantwell says, she expected red tape and political hurdles when applying for funding, but this wasn’t the case at all. Instead, she says they found a group of engaged, forward-thinking people at Enterprise Ireland, eager to support their business.

    “The team at Enterprise Ireland couldn’t have been more responsive, open, and encouraging,” Cantwell says. “It was a breath of fresh air.”

     

    Looking toward the future

    Despite the global pandemic, Rennicks was able to continue a small portion of its distribution business. The supply chain was disrupted by lockdown and the company’s revenues still dropped 60%, but funding allowed them to meet their commitments and work toward recovery. Thanks to the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, Rennicks had the working capital to continue administrative operations during lockdown, allowing it to focus on its future. Currently, the business is working on a push into new markets, and is developing value-added propositions for its existing market in the UK. Cantwell says they did everything they could to support their customers during a difficult time.

     

    “Our business has been built on providing quality products and excellent customer service,” she says. “During lockdown, it was our key priority to maintain contact with our customers.”

    Cantwell’s advice for other companies impacted by Covid-19; Focus on the fundamentals, but be prepared to be flexible and to adapt to the changing situation. She believes if you continue to give excellent customer service, keep your eye on your goal, and are adaptable in your approach, you’ll eventually make it through.

    “Business will come back,” Cantwell says. “In the interim, it’s important to stay customer-focused. Try not to get side-tracked. And do make use of the supports that are available.

     

    Click here to learn more about applying for the SEF. Contact your Development Advisor or our Business Response Unit to find out more.

    National Women’s Enterprise Day 2020 a virtual, and real, success

     

    Covid couldn’t stop Ireland’s most successful female entrepreneurs from stepping up to inspire more

    National Women’s Enterprise Day 2020, organised by the Local Enterprise Offices, was like no other in that, because of Covid, for the first time in its 14-year history, it took place entirely online.

    In all other ways, it was exactly the same – providing women with the inspiration, support and confidence to start and grow a business.

    Sheelagh Daly, Entrepreneurship Manager at Enterprise Ireland, has been involved in this flagship event for women in business right from the start.

    National Women’s Enterprise Day was an initiative set up by the Local Enterprise Offices in 2007, supported by Enterprise Ireland.

    “Back then the landscape was quite different in that there was a dearth of female entrepreneurial role models. If you went back and looked at the newspapers, for example, there weren’t many women being profiled in a business or entrepreneurial setting,” says Daly.

    Providing role models 

    “Research shows that role models are an important way to inspire women and give them the confidence to start a business.  So we knew we needed to profile women who had done it successfully already. It was that whole concept of ‘to be it you have to see it’,” she says.

    But a lack of role models wasn’t the only challenge.

    “At the time there was also a real lack of access to business networks for women. While the Chambers of Commerce were, of course, important, they tended to be for more established businesses. More informal networks, such as rugby clubs and golf clubs, didn’t provide the same level of access to women.”

    There was a need for “a mechanism to provide women with access to networks in order to inspire, demonstrate and build confidence in female entrepreneurship,” she says.

    National Women’s Enterprise Day was just the mechanism.

    Showcasing success – and support

    “It was also a means to disseminate the huge range of supports available from lots of different government agencies, not just from Local Enterprise Offices and Enterprise Ireland, but from Intreo, Failte Ireland and the Credit Review Office,” she explains.

    “The idea was to bring all these things under one roof, on one day, with one big bang that would put female entrepreneurship on the map.”

    It did just that.  “The first event was held in Mullingar and was fantastic, and overbooked, so we carried on.”

    Indeed, the event grew so much that in recent years the Local Enterprise Offices have run regional versions too, to enable even more women to attend.

    All followed the same proven format of enabling participants to listen to successful women at different stages of their business journey, to gain an understanding of the supports available to them, and to have an opportunity for networking.

    “Then, in 2020, we had Covid,” she says.

    Covid can’t stop it

    Having supported so many businesses to ‘pivot’ to online to cope with the pandemic, the network of Local Enterprise Offices were quick to do the same with National Women’s Enterprise Day. It took place on Wednesday 14th October, entirely remotely, and was a huge success.

    “We saw an enormous attendance of 1641 people which was amazing and well reflected this year’s theme of ‘Stronger Together’,” says Daly.

    Speakers included Olympian turned businesswoman Derval O’Rourke, who talked about the strength, discipline and resilience required to deliver peak performance in one sector before pivoting to another.

    Sonia Deasy, founder of international beauty brand Mortar & Pestle, spoke about her journey taking a brand from “local to global”.

    A series of ‘leading lights’ included successful female entrepreneurs across a range of sectors, from Clare Hughes of CF Pharma in Kilkenny to Mary Walsh of Ire-Wel Pallets in Wexford and Odilon Hunt of AVA Audio Visual in Sligo.

    Exploring overseas markets

    Sheelagh Daly hosted a panel discussion entitled “Exploring Overseas Markets”, featuring expert commentary from Anne Lanigan, Enterprise Ireland’s Regional Director Eurozone, and Marina Donohoe, Enterprise Ireland’s Director for UK and Northern Europe.

    As well as exhorting female entrepreneurs to explore Eurozone markets, they pointed out that the UK will always be hugely important to Irish businesses too.

    Marcella Rudden, Head of Enterprise with Local Enterprise Office Cavan explained the questions to address when starting your export journey.

    “She spoke about how to choose a market to target and how the Local Enterprise Office should be your first port of call because it has the supports to help you, both financial and otherwise,” says Daly.

    One of the main threads running through the day was not to be afraid of exporting, she says. “The message was that it isn’t something that should be seen as intimidating and that there is help available.”

    That help is not just from Local Enterprise Offices but from all sorts of sources, including networks for women in business in countries such as France and Spain, delegates heard.

    “Before you commit to a market do the research, make sure that it’s the right market for you and that you can compete in it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” says Daly.

    Information is crucial. Both men and women have similar business ambitions but research indicates that women take a more cautious approach, including in areas such as borrowing for business. They typically “prefer more information before they take a risk”, says Daly.

    “The ambition is very much there but the approach is different.”

    Women’s success is Ireland’s success

    National Women’s Enterprise Day 2020 took place in a year which also saw the launch of Enterprise Ireland 2020 Action Plan for Women in Business. This important six-year strategy to support female entrepreneurship was launched in February, just before Covid.

    “The reason such emphasis is being put on women is because we are still looking at a much higher proportion of men in leadership and entrepreneurship,” explains Daly.

    This needs addressing because, both as an economy and a society, we “need the skills and talents of all our population to be realised,” she says.

    We also need those businesses that are started to be the best they can. “All the research demonstrates that the greater the diversity the stronger, more profitable and faster-growing the business,” says Daly.

    “That leads to wider economic benefits, so it’s a real economic imperative that everybody, regardless of gender or other diversities, does not face barriers when it comes to starting or growing a business.”

     

    Watch the ‘National Women’s Enterprise Day Virtual Event’ sessions on-demand here

     

    Ready for a New World: How Modubuild grew during the Covid-19 crisis 

    Never has there been more need for advice, guidance, reassurance and fresh ideas for Irish companies facing the unprecedented challenges that 2020 has brought, which is why the theme for Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week (IMW) 2020 was“Ready for a New World”.

    One of the keynote speakers at this year’s IMW event was Kevin Brennan, the co-founder and managing director at Modubuild, a company that has enjoyed phenomenal growth thanks to large-scale projects throughout Northern Europe. Understandably, the company has faced project delays and postponements thanks to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic but is still expecting strong growth this year.

    “The way we look at it is that Covid has been a problem but it’s just one of the many problems that you encounter as an international business on a day-to-day or year-to-year basis,” says Kevin. “Our main message would be to remain positive, communicate with your people and continue to service your clients. We don’t see Covid as an excuse not to deliver. It may be more difficult but the world continues on.”

    From small beginnings to big contracts

    Modubuild was set up initially as a small company by Kevin and his business partner John Comerford to take advantage of an opportunity around modular construction, specifically in the area of specialist fire and explosion protection. Clients included Dublin Airport and Limerick Tunnel, as well as some pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly, Pfizer & Amgen. The company quickly became specialists in this area and were well poised to deliver solutions for the burgeoning data centre industry that experienced strong growth in the last decade.

    Our first data centre job in Ireland was around 2012, and in 2015, we won our first big international contract, an €8 million contract for a data centre in the Netherlands for the same client. At the time, it was one of the biggest data centre projects in Europe. From then on, the company has skyrocketed in growth, averaging 60% year on year since then. Current year revenue will be somewhere north of €34 million, so all going well, we’d be expecting to go past the €50 million mark next year.”

    Throughout their growth, Modubuild has been supported by Enterprise Ireland, both in terms of grants and advice as they expanded into new countries. “Enterprise Ireland helped us out a lot since we initially branched out into the Netherlands, leading us through issues like tax compliance and putting us in contact with local suppliers, opportunities etc. We also received two rounds of funding to help recruit people. We’ve found them really beneficial in terms of PR; our first office outside Ireland was in Amsterdam, and Enterprise Ireland arranged for Kevin Kelly, Ireland’s ambassador to the Netherlands, to open the office, which attracted a significant amount of PR. The fact that you have an entity like Enterprise Ireland promoting us as an international company alongside some other very successful companies can only be beneficial in raising our profile.”

    Today, the company is headquartered in Kilkenny City, with a manufacturing plant in Castlecomer and offices in Amsterdam, Brussels, Manchester, Stockholm and Helsinki. “Our business is mostly in North Europe, following our clients as they require our services. Lots of data centre activity is located in Northern Europe – our clients tend to roll out different projects across Europe and ask us to come on the journey with them. We’re in the process of setting up in Spain in the next year because data centre activity is increasing there and we are also looking at opportunities in other countries.”

    The plant in Castlecomer is another side to the business. “In Castlecomer, we design and manufacture high-tech modular buildings and can then ship them throughout the world. For example, we’ve just delivered a large turn-key design and build vaccine laboratory for a Global BioPharma customer. We designed, built and tested the entire facility in our factory, while the client was getting planning and preparing the site. We then shipped it to site in large modules and re-assembled the building on site in 10 days, this means our client can have a lifesaving vaccine ready for market around one year earlier than it would normally take.”

    Tackling 2020’s challenges

    Modubuild was in a strong position coming into 2020, which helped the company navigate the two major challenges of 2020 – Brexit and Covid. Brexit, explains Kevin, was something they had prepared for well in advance. “One of the things we did when Brexit first came on the scene was to set up a separate company that operated within the UK. We also took the foot off the pedal somewhat in the UK as it’s a very competitive market and instead focused our attentions elsewhere in Europe – and it’s been a very successful strategy for us.”

    Covid, on the other hand, was a different story. “Covid was something that nobody saw coming. For us, we had seen huge growth coming into the crisis, and we were extremely busy with almost full order books. The biggest impact probably was the temporary closure of some projects, particularly in Ireland because of lockdowns, and that hit our Q2 turnover probably to the tune of 25%. But overall, we’re still projecting strong growth this year, perhaps not at the same level as before Covid, but possibly somewhere north of 30%.

    “We’re lucky that the sectors we work in are all seen as essential – for instance, many of our clients are looking to develop vaccines for Covid and need rapid delivery of vaccine laboratories, which we can build in Castlecomer. Then the data centre industry is continuing its growth at pace, if anything, Covid has meant there is an even greater need for data centres due to video conferencing, remote working etc.”

    Like most other companies, remote working and staying in contact with employees during lockdowns have been challenging. “A lot of our people are mobile and working in different locations so we were well used to communicating through video chat etc, but probably our biggest challenge was missing the interaction of working and collaborating in an office environment. We’ve tried to keep people connected by having regular Town Hall meetings online and doing various other activities online to keep people involved, virtual coffee meetings etc. There was huge uncertainty back in March/April, we noticed many people and businesses around us were panicking, so one of the first things we did as a company was to send a clear out a clear message to our people that we were in a strong position, peoples jobs were secure and we weren’t going to put people on reduced hours, furlough, forced holidays etc. In fact, we stated that we were going to keep recruiting – and that’s what we’ve done, we have continued to grow team significantly to ensure we were ready to take on new and larger projects.”

    In addition, having boots on the ground in Europe has proved beneficial. “We had a couple of hundred people located on projects throughout Europe, and most of them made the decision to stay in those countries during the pandemic rather than travelling back to Ireland every week or two weeks as they would have done pre-Covid. This meant that all our projects stayed operational throughout the crisis, in fact, we actually started a couple of new projects in Europe right in the middle of the pandemic.”

     

    Click here to watch the opening of Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week 2020, featuring Kevin Brennan.

    c2GRAN: Using Horizon 2020 support to reduce 5g energy consumption


    “H2020 offers funding opportunities for projects at every scale and an open call can be easily found relevant to your idea.

    Ehsan Elahi, TSSG, Co-ordinator of the C2GRAN Horizon 2020 open call project

    Overview:

    • The European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme has supported almost 150,000 participants in over 30,000 projects.
    • The C2GRAN project received €75,000 in Horizon 2020 supports.
    • The c2GRAN project aims to minimise energy consumption and carbon emissions related to the usage of 5G radio access networks.

    The European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme has a budget of over €80 billion over seven years (2014–2020) and so far has supported almost 150,000 participants in over 30,000 projects with an average project grant of €1.9m.

    Such huge numbers may seem intimidating to individual researchers who are seeking funding for small projects. But the good news is that through Horizon 2020’s system of cascade, or open call, funding there are extensive opportunities to access support for smaller projects.

    Ehsan Elahi, a Senior Software Engineer at TSSG, is one of many researchers who has benefitted from the system. He received €75,000 for his six-month C2GRAN project, which aims to minimise energy consumption and carbon emissions related to the usage of 5G radio access networks.

    “People are using 5G radio access networks for many things like watching HD videos, two-way video streaming, downloading or uploading huge data files. This requires consumption of a huge amount of energy which causes high levels of carbon emissions. C2GRAN aims to minimise the energy consumption and carbon emissions by using machine learning to auto-scale the available resources according to demands and migrating the resources to where renewable energy is being used,” explains Elahi.

    The small project involved just two TSSG researchers and a mentor from the CONNECT centre at Trinity College Dublin, the world-leading Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Future Networks and Communications. CONNECT provided a state-of-the-art testbed for Elahi’s 5G experiments. 

    Refining the proposal

    Elahi’s funding came through an open call under the Horizon 2020 5GinFIRE project, which provided almost 2.5m under four open calls for different areas.

    “I applied to three of the calls for my C2GRAN project. On the third attempt I was successful,” says Elahi.

    It was not a case of third time lucky for Elahi but rather the result of refining his proposal in the light of feedback from the assessors.

    “The application process is really simple. The first step was to submit a summary of the proposal and to select a testbed. In our case that was TCD. Once they confirmed that the testbed was suitable for this project and they had enough resources to allocate to it, I submitted the final application to 5GinFIRE. That took just four weeks and you get very good, detailed feedback,” says Elahi.

    “Using the feedback from my first two submissions I was able to refine the proposal and was awarded funding under the fourth open call.” 

    Benefits beyond funding

    The benefits of being involved in a Horizon 2020 project, says Elahi, go well beyond the funding.

    “The C2GRAN project was a fantastic opportunity to work with excellent researchers. During the six months of the project, I attended progress meetings where I shared and also heard some very good ideas, got new research directions and learned new tools as well.

    “Overall the project was a big success and it led to follow up activities including another proposal, V2GRAN, which is the next step towards commercialisation of the concept.”

    Elahi is currently participating in two further Horizon 2020 projects, E-Corridor and NGIatlantic. As one of the co-ordinators of NGIatlantic, he is in involved in managing five open calls.

    “My experience of the C2GRAN process is now helping me a lot in managing open calls in the NGIatlantic project. I’m applying the lessons learned from the application process and from networking with excellent researchers,” says Elahi.

    Elahi is keen to encourage others to take advantage of open call funding and advises them not to be put off by initial rejections.

    “H2020 offers funding opportunities for projects at each scale and an open call can be easily found relevant to your idea. It is a very competitive process and the competition is increasing but I would say to other researchers, believe in yourself, never give up. Keep reapplying and improving your proposal based on the feedback you get.

    “One of the essential things is to be focused and clear about the scope and implementation of your project. The proposal must include a workable business impact and a clear exploitation plan.

    “Horizon 2020, and going forward Horizon Europe, offer great opportunities but I would advise researchers to start with the smaller open calls to gain experience before you consider coordinating a large project.”

    For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact h2020support@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizon2020.ie

     

    For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact h2020support@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizon2020.ie

    Innovation and ambition take centre stage at International Markets Week 2020

     

    In a major event to mark International Markets Week four Irish companies shared the stories behind their exporting achievements

    The role played by innovation and ambition in helping companies to internationalise was the theme of “Ready for a New World”, a major virtual conference which marked the launch of Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week 2020.

    More than 700 companies logged on for the panel discussion with the founders of some of Ireland’s most successful international exporters.

    They provided insights into not just the scale of their ambition but of the ways in which they innovated, and in some cases pivoted, in order to achieve it.

    Tim Houston, CEO of Clonakilty based Global Shares, expressed his ambition to see the fintech become a ‘unicorn’, or billion dollar company.

    It started out in 2005 as a provider of services in the area of employee share options. By 2015 it had perfected and launched a platform to simplify the share ownership process for both employees and employers, all over the world. “Since then we have never looked back,” Houston told delegates.

    Today it is one of a handful of global providers in its market and competes against major legacy providers such as Merrill Lynch, UBS and Morgan Stanley.

    “We don’t have the big brand but we do have the speed to market and a great team.” – Tim Houston.

    “We don’t have the legacy platforms that some of these big banks suffer from either, so that’s how we compete. And where we can’t compete with them we partner with them,” he explained.

    It’s a strategy that has put the fintech on track to grow employee numbers from 370 currently to 1000 in the coming years.

    Nicola Mitchell, CEO of Life Scientific, an agrichemical company, said her company was set up in 1995 to provide contract research services to a number of sectors but has grown by focusing on designing innovative versions of off-patent crop protection products.

    In the process it has injected competition into an oligarchic market, to the benefit of farmers around the world.

    Making the transition involved giving up the valuable contract work it carried out for multinational agrichemical clients in order to realise its strategy. It’s always a tough decision for any business but it has paid dividends for Life Scientific.

    “We wanted to scale, we wanted to be global,” – Nicola Mitchell.

    It did just that. Life Scientific Germany launched two years ago and went to Euro 10m sales very quickly while, in 2014 she sold half the business to InVivo, a Euro 6 bn French co-op with 5,000 employees, in exchange for market access in France.  “Without this we wouldn’t have jumped from Euro2m to 60m. We’ve a very healthy business in France and a very healthy partnership,” she said.

    “The single most important thing we can get right as a virtual type company which invests in R&D and sales & marketing alone, is to be able to find the best partners, whom we can work with the best, and go fast. (France) has been a great poster child for our global expansion.”

    Kilkenny’s Modubuild transformed what was a domestically focused construction firm by winning its first contract overseas, to build a high tech data centre in the Netherlands, in 2015.

    Today 70% of its turnover comes from exports. It provides both on-site modular construction and off-site construction at its facility in Castlecomer where it can design, build and ship at speed.

    The company employs 300 people and has been helped in its overseas expansion by Enterprise Ireland’s teams on the ground, CEO Kevin Brennan told delegates.

    “When we entered the Netherlands market in 2015 our turnover was Euro 1.5m. We have grown 60% year on year since we started working internationally and this year we expect it to be around Euro 34m, and Euro 50m next year,” he said.

    Aerosol drug delivery company Aerogen employs 300 people, including 200 in Galway and 100 in commercial offices around the world, founder and CEO John Power told the conference.

    Its products are included in all major manufacturers’ ventilators. “We’re the ‘Intel inside’”, he said. The company ships to 70 countries and, as a result of Covid, in the second two weeks of March alone received the equivalent of half a year’s orders.

    But Power is intent on moving the business further up the value chain from being a drug delivery systems provider to becoming a speciality pharmaceutical provider too, he told delegates.

    Innovation helped many of the companies showcased to power through Covid. Global Shares had already migrated its staff to remote working in 2019. This year has been the company’s “best new business year ever,” he explained.

    “Our strategic plan is to focus on the four largest economies in the world, China, Japan, North America and Europe and we try and stick with just those.

    “That said, during lockdown we won the largest company in the world, in Saudi Arabia, which we ostensibly won over the phone,” he said.

    Covid has seen data usage grow exponentially, fuelling demand for data centres too. Once Modubuild won its first contract overseas in 2015 it continued to grow, both as a result of follow on business, as his clients grew, and by winning new clients.

    “Once you break into it, it’s a good industry to be in. We gained a reputation as a company that could deliver internationally, so we are now working for multiple clients in multiple countries throughout northern Europe and we expect to move more towards southern Europe too as the data centre industry moves more towards African markets,” said Brennan.

    As a design engineer by training, John Power’s primary innovation in Aerogen was to spot the opportunity to create an entirely new product category, aerosolised drug delivery for ventilated patients. As a result of this, the company has no direct competitors.

    But whatever sector you are in, being the best is the only secret of success, he suggested.

    “Multinationals utilise your product or service because you give them a better product or service than anybody else, no other reason,” – John Power.

    Innovation, research and development is the key to delivering that, he said.

    “We have a big team of research scientists in R&D, electronics, software and mechanical engineers. We keep developing new products, and new iterations of existing products, and diversifying across the hospital.”

    In fact, the major innovation Aerogen has made is into funding its own drug trials, including one he predicts will have the biggest impact on neonatal care seen in 50 years.

    “It’s about R&D and keeping moving up the chain. You want to be your own boss, you don’t want to be reliant necessarily on others. The way you do that is you innovate and come up with the best products in the world,” he said.

    It’s a sentiment Kevin Brennan endorsed. Construction is an inefficient industry, which is why Modubuild invested heavily in its off-site manufacturing facility, bringing high tech construction back to a factory environment, with a team dedicated to innovating new ways to construct facilities.

    That is paying dividends for its clients. “We just delivered a vaccine laboratory for a multinational client, designing and building it entirely in our factory and then shipping it out and constructing it on site in 10 days. That allows our client to get to market a year quicker than it would traditionally,” he said.

    “It’s very important for us to be continually innovating, looking for new and quicker ways of delivering projects for our clients. – Kevin Brennan”

    Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon, who hosted the panel, said the common denomination in all of the companies featured was innovation, “not just in product or service but also in business model.”

    But their success was about more than innovation alone, she added.

    “What is also coming across really strongly is the importance of ambition. One of the big challenges we have is not having sufficient Irish companies of scale. Each of these panel members has a very clear view. They want to be in control of their destiny and they really have a very strong strategy to build a company of scale in Ireland. It’s great to see that being done in Dublin and the regions.”

     

    Click here to watch the launch of Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week 2020

    Life Scientific: Partnerships powering success in a highly-regulated sector

    The story of Life Scientific is one of perseverance in a complex industry, ingenious methods to prove a novel concept, and a leader with the utmost respect for the process and the people involved.

    Nicola Mitchell is the founder and CEO of Life Scientific: a company that develops high-quality, off-patent crop protection products, giving farmers a speedier, cost-effective option.

    We spoke with her shortly after she was announced as an EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist to learn about the woman at the helm, the remarkable story of Life Scientific, and how Enterprise Ireland supports helped the company along the way.

    “Samantha Power is actually my first cousin,” Mitchell says as she describes the strong women in her family as her major influences. “Samantha’s mother really influenced me when I was younger. She went to the States, and was the first woman in Ireland to get a high court ruling that she was allowed to bring her children with her.” Vera Delaney, the Irish-American academic, author and Democratic Party member’s mother was a nephrologist who, after tenaciously climbing the ranks in a male-dominated sector during the 1970’s and 1980’s, refused a top job in a Manhattan hospital because it would mean giving up the face time she had with her patients. Mitchell cites this integrity as powerfully influencing decisions she made throughout her career.

    She credits her collegiate and later employment choices to her father, whose footsteps she followed by studying chemistry. He cautioned her not to accept a post in a large multinational corporation, but instead get a job in which she could learn and eventually build her own business. “In Ireland, for chemists, it’s all about multinationals, you’re doing manufacturing but have no sight of warranty or business aspects; you don’t do global stuff.” Her father had been what she describes as ‘a cog in a wheel’ in large multinationals, and Mitchell decided that she didn’t want to miss out on being global. “Why can’t we build a multinational in Ireland where we get to be global, where we get to do the R&D, where we get to build the brands?” With Life Scientific, Mitchell would go on to disrupt the regulatory landscape for off-patent agrochemicals from the unique R&D base she had built in Ireland.

    After spending 10 years working in a generic agrochemical manufacturing company, absorbing everything she could, Mitchell set her sights on starting her business, knowing that it needed to manufacture something of true value. “I started Life Scientific in 1995 and from the get-go knew it couldn’t be a service business. If you really want to be big, you have to have products, that’s how you’ll scale, that’s how you’ll be exponential.”

    Building a company with an expert offering

    Two decades of learning the tricks of the trade from leading multinationals allowed Life Scientific to pinpoint precisely where it was strong, and where it could add the most value. “We knew that if we’d built the capability around regulation — a new field at the time — we could not just understand it, but know more than anyone else about a very complex, strategic area of the industry.”

    Mitchell was always drawn to complexity. It’s what led her to challenge her team to reverse engineer the Coca-Cola recipe; to prove that they could not only take apart and recreate it but that they could take a fresh view with their product offering. In proving the point, they showed that they could offer farmers an identical product at a lower cost, and get it to them sooner being first to market.

    Mitchell is quick to point out that it wasn’t just about capability; it was also about humility. “There’s a phenomenal level of innovation and professionalism in our industry, and it’s a privilege to be in it. So why would we think we could do anything better than the multinationals?”

    Changing the rule book

    Challenging the status quo meant more than having an impressive story to tell, it meant calling for the rules of the game to be changed, rules that to date, had been largely written by and for the big multinationals. The world is new; we have capabilities here we didn’t have before. We have an LC-MS [liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry] system that wouldn’t fit a room when I was growing up, that was almost prohibitive for a multinational or a university to have. Now, they sit on benchtops, and we can’t keep up with the capability. We had to take a fresh view.”

    With a value proposition that was impossible to contest, doors that were to-date slammed shut began to open. The multinationals could no longer deny the science or the methods, and the business side of things started to make sense. “They could see we were much more nimble, flexible, fast, and entrepreneurial. So we’ve got some very good contracts, and that allowed me to pivot the model.”

    Yet even with new contracts in place, Life Scientific felt the squeeze from the regulators. With the weight of a global brand and status behind them, the multinationals would attempt to get Life Scientific’s products withdrawn. “Multinationals are very clever, and they don’t want us really, we’re competitors.”

    With an identical product and a transparent business came a sort of freedom; an ability to operate by different rules. “Regulatory submissions are complex. Knowing how to communicate, giving them a sense of who you are, your integrity, that you want the best, that you believe in your role as being a competitive choice for the farmer. So we thought if we put in the identical product, they don’t have to do any evaluation. If we can get them to accept an identical item molecularly, aren’t we simplifying things?”

    Life Scientific ended its beginnings as a contract research organisation, offering services in product development and regulation, becoming an independent product company. “We got our first product authorised in France in 2012 and have gone from €2 million in revenue to €60 million today.”

    Not the average day-to-day

    Mitchell is proud of her EY Entrepreneur of the Year nomination and hopes that in entering the competition, she can raise the profile of Life Scientific and the innovative science they have developed.

    During these turbulent times, the company is lucky to be mostly unaffected by COVID-19. They are operating in a space with one selling season, and thankfully, that had come and gone by the time the pandemic hit. Mitchell tells us that it has given companies like Life Scientific the opportunity to be appreciated once again. “The link between science and nutritious, sustainable food got lost. But now it’s becoming valued again.” But she feels that culturally, the company is suffering and will continue to suffer until they can operate together again. “Normally, I just look at somebody, and we have 10 ideas. Now I can’t see them, and for the new people coming in, who would normally absorb the energy and mimic what they’re seeing, that’s gone.”

    Partnering for a successful future

    Mitchell continues to look confidently towards the future. Her focus is on nurturing close relationships with company partners: the customers, suppliers and regulators with whom she speaks daily. Keeping these relationships blooming allows her to set and realise big goals, work with the best, move fast and scale.

    “In the next five years, we’ll be at €250 million. We’ll be building capability, relationships and new markets. It’s quite a visible roadmap.”

    Life Scientific will build important relationships in the area of big distribution to open up new markets; specifically, North and South America, though with different strategic approaches.

    “We work with the best which will allow us to realise South America, which is rapidly growing and hugely exciting for us.”

    For distribution companies in the already-established North American region, Life Scientific is offering the technology and putting the choice of operating or failing in the distributor’s hands. “We’re offering mirror images of the multinationals’ latest and greatest products to do with them what they will, working on their side to empower them in the face of big multinational suppliers.”

    Supported by Enterprise Ireland at each step

    Along the road to success, Mitchell says that the support she received from EI has been indispensable. “They gave us our first R&D grant, they’ve helped us and believed in us since 2006.”

    As well as financial grants, Mitchell took part in EI’s Leadership 4 Growth Programme and International Selling Programme, which she says equipped her with the knowledge she needed at the time. “The programmes have been hugely influential, connecting with people who are at the top of their game can set you upright.”

    Currently, as well as working towards adopting Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Lean approach, Mitchell is thinking about what winning the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award would mean. She tells us that it would provide visibility for Life Scientific and for anyone like her who had no expectations at a young age. “I’d be an ambassador for girls like I was: if you see it, you can be it.”

    Click here to watch the opening of Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week 2020, featuring Nicola Mitchell.

    How Connemara Marble continued to innovate with support from the Sustaining Enterprise Fund

    Thanks to the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, we are one step closer to recovery. In the meantime, we’re continuing to innovate. Enterprise Ireland genuinely gave us hope.”

    Stephen Walsh, Managing Director, Connemara Marble

    Key Takeouts

      • JC Walsh & Sons, Ltd. and Connemara Marble have been in business for 75 years and a partner of Enterprise Ireland for nearly as long. They specialise in tourism retail, religious goods, and marble jewelry sales.
      • The Covid-19 pandemic and world-wide lockdowns hit the majority of their sales very hard. As a result, Managing Director Stephen Walsh reached out to Enterprise Ireland and applied for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund.
      • The funding provided by Enterprise Ireland allowed Connemara Marble to reposition their business to focus on television and online sales, worldwide. They are back up to 50% capacity and foresee a steady recovery over the next year.

      Case Study: Connemara Marble

      JC Walsh & Sons, Ltd. has been in the tourism retail, religious goods, and jewellery business for 75 years. This third-generation family business owns and operates the oldest Connemara marble quarry in Ireland. They are also a longtime client of Enterprise Ireland. Managing Director Stephen Walsh remembers when his father joined a trade mission to Washington, D.C. in 1963. He stood in the Rose Garden at the White House with John F. Kennedy just months before he was assassinated. Connemara Marble has been a solid piece of the Irish business landscape for many years—and then Covid-19 happened.

       

      As a business heavily reliant on tourism, their major trading season begins on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, and continues throughout the summer. The Irish lockdown was implemented on March 12th, 2020.

      For us, the timing of lockdown was terrible—every cent we had was tied up in stock,” says Managing Director Stephen Walsh. “We were looking forward to a big year of sales. We were ready to fly and suddenly the wind completely changed direction.”

      Travel bans meant tourists disappeared. Connemara Marble’s religious goods market is aimed at an older crowd, who were all cocooning, as recommended by health officials. Churches were closed, pilgrimages cancelled, and sales came to a halt. Their exports business suffered, too, as presidential museums, cathedrals, and other destinations in the US and UK were closed. All that was left was their online and television sales. This remaining revenue stream was encouraging, but Walsh recognised that their business was going to need outside help if they were to survive this global pandemic.

       

      A partnership with Enterprise Ireland

      “One of the first calls I made was to Enterprise Ireland,” Walsh recalls. “They came back with an immediate response.” He was extremely thankful for the quick, positive response and agreed he first step was for Connemara Marble to work with a finance business growth advisor. Following that report, Enterprise Ireland supported the company to prepare a sustainment plan for the struggling business. A consultant came up with a strategic plan forward, which Walsh says was absolutely crucial. After this phase, they were able to apply for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund.

       

      Walsh says, “Enterprise Ireland gave us support, encouragement, and belief. They were like the cavalry coming over the hill.”

      Since Connemara Marble had tied all of their capital up in stock for the year of sales that never came, receiving the Sustaining Enterprise Fund gave them a vital influx of cash to get the rest of the business up and running. They bought raw materials to facilitate the shift to online sales. They also put money back into web development and promotion of their online business.

       

      The future of Connemara Marble

      “The Sustaining Enterprise Fund gave us the cash to support our existing business and invest in new products,” says Walsh. “Most importantly, we’ll be able to sustain our business and stay above water until recovery comes.”

      Walsh says he does not see any prospect of recovering the tourism retail business until Summer 2021, at the earliest. Instead, they are concentrating on their partnership with the shopping channel, QVC. Normally, Walsh would appear live from their studios in Pennsylvania. Due to Covid-19, they have transitioned to Skype appearances. This gives the viewer a direct window into the seller’s home, which Walsh says seems to have been a game-changer. The response has been very positive and sales with QVC have doubled since 2019. “If this is what the viewer is responding to, we’ll stick with it,” says Walsh. “It’s been a pleasant surprise to see how the market has responded to this new way of doing things.”

      Today, Connemara Marble are running at about 50% capacity, which is in line with their strategic financial plan. Walsh says with this sort of turnover, they can survive this unexpected year. He acknowledges they still have a journey ahead of them, but says they are better situated than he first thought possible.

      Walsh says, “Thanks to the Sustaining Enterprise Fund we are one step closer to recovery. In the meantime, we’re continuing to innovate. Enterprise Ireland genuinely gave us hope.”

      His advice to other companies suffering due to fallout from the global pandemic? First, call Enterprise Ireland. Then, cut overheads and concentrate on the parts of your business that haven’t been negatively impacted by Covid-19. Look around corners, search for new opportunities, and never give up.

      Click here to learn more about applying for the SEF. Contact your Development Advisor or our Business Response Unit to find out more.

       

      Key questions to ask at your Canadian Market Advisor meeting

      Canada is an affluent, high-tech industrial society with a market-oriented economy, low inflation and high living standards and has recently strengthened its close trading relationship with Ireland.

      If you are considering doing business in Canada, your first step should be a call with our team in Toronto.

        The questions below were designed to help Irish businesses get the best out of their first Market Advisor call

        • What should I be aware of as I start to think about exporting to Canada?
        • Do I need to localise my products or services for Canada in any way?
        • Are there any differences between Canada and the USA market?
        • Is there a trade deal or are there any trading barriers I should be aware of?
        • Do I need a local presence and is it easy to establish one?

        Set up a call with our team in Toronto today and also check out our Going Global Guide.

         

        Enterprise Ireland’s top tips for entering the Canadian market can be viewed by clicking the graphic below.

        Horizon 2020: Supporting transformation in the agri-food sector


        There were multiple challenges, including a substantial amount of EU politics at the start with many partners wanting to take the lead, but we were determined to keep DEMETER rooted in Ireland.

        Kevin Doolin, Co-ordinator of the DEMETER project and Director of Innovation at Telecommunications Software & Systems Group

        Overview:

        • TSSG, part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is leading a project that aims to transform Europe’s agri-food sector through the rapid adoption of advanced Internet of Things technologies, data science and smart farming.
        • The DEMETER project is being significantly funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
        • With 60 partners, 18 countries and 20 pilots, DEMETER is one of the largest Horizon 2020 projects coordinated by an Irish entity and is expected to have significant impact across the agri-tech sector in Europe, and beyond.

        The European Union has identified smart farming as a key component in supporting sustainable agriculture and food production, protecting natural resources and boosting food safety. At the heart of this is the need for new technology and standards to achieve full supply chain interoperability.

        This is the subject of DEMETER, a large-scale, €17.7m Horizon 2020 project involving 60 partners across 18 countries, 6,000 farmers and 38,000 devices.

        At the helm of DEMETER is Kevin Doolin, Director of Innovation at Telecommunications Software & Systems Group (TSSG), an internationally recognised centre of excellence for ICT research and innovation and part of the Waterford Institute of Technology.

        “The situation now is that you have various different elements in the agri supply chain – machinery, warehouses, trucks, sensors and so on – but none of these systems talk to each other so it’s impossible to get a holistic view from farm to fork,” explains Doolin.

        “With DEMETER we’re trying to connect those elements, so we’re developing new industry standards, writing software for platforms and building interfaces.”

        DEMETER’s goal is nothing less than the digital transformation of Europe’s agri-food sector and it includes a series of 20 pilot programmes that aim to demonstrate the impact of the technology.

        A key deliverable is the DEMETER Dashboard. “This will give farmers an instant update on the status of their farm. It’s a precision support system that provides information to assist decision making, and increase productivity and efficiency,” says Doolin.

         

         

        The Horizon 2020 process

        The first step in the Horizon 2020 process is building the consortium, which Doolin did using his extensive network of contacts and the opportunities afforded by networking events run by the Commission.

        “It’s important to identify a core set of partners that you can rely on to help write the proposal. Within DEMETER there are about 10 partners that did most of the heavy lifting on that, and then we drew on expertise from the other partners when required.

        “We also engaged quite heavily with Enterprise Ireland’s National Contact Points who were able to introduce us to additional partners. And the EI financial support we got to write the proposal was really important.”

        As a highly experienced Horizon 2020 co-ordinator, Doolin was aware of the challenges a project of this size, one of the largest ever coordinated by an Irish entity, presents.

        “There were multiple challenges, including a substantial amount of EU politics at the start with many partners wanting to take the lead, but we were determined to keep DEMETER rooted in Ireland,” says Doolin.

        Co-ordinating 60 partners is an ongoing challenge but one that is mitigated, says Doolin, by having good work package leaders.

        “Each Horizon 2020 project is structured into a number of work packages with specific roles. If you have a good team of work package leaders you can leverage them very heavily to co-ordinate the overall effort.”

        Moreover, the challenges are offset by the benefits.

        “Horizon 2020 enables us to engage in large-scale work, with a substantial group of partners from across the agri supply chain. We have access to technology providers, research and academic experts, real works users and policy makers,” says Doolin.

         

        Walk before you run 

        Involvement in a Horizon 2020 project can be as a partner organisation or as co-ordinator. Doolin strongly recommends starting as a partner.

        “I estimate the level of work involved in being a participant versus co-ordinating to be about 1:10, so I think the best place for institutions to start is by partnering on a proposal and maybe taking a work package leader role where you’re involved in writing the proposal. After you’ve done a few projects you can go down the route of co-ordination, starting with a small project.”

        Doolin also advises engaging early with Enterprise Ireland to find out the project topics that are coming up in the next Horizon round of funding, and starting to build the consortium before the Commission launches the call for proposals.

        “After the call you’ve only three months to write the proposal, which isn’t a lot of time,” he says.

        “It’s also important to tell Enterprise Ireland what proposals you’re writing or you can end up in a situation where different entities in Ireland are writing competing proposals when in fact we should be collaborating. Enterprise Ireland is the mechanism for bridging that gap.”

        Within the DEMETER project €1m of funding has been reserved to be given out to new partners who want to join the programme.

        “We’ll be issuing our own mini-calls for proposals starting on September 16, inviting SMEs and farmers and so on to come up with a small project idea that will test elements of DEMETER in different scenarios.

        “These open call projects are something that I think industry in Ireland needs to take advantage of. It’s a really good way for companies to get into Horizon 2020 and get quite a bit of funding to do just one trial of the technology.”

        For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact h2020support@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizon2020.ie