Irish start-up Hidramed aims to revolutionise wound care with innovative product

“I think Ireland is a great place to be a female entrepreneur. There are so many networking opportunities and great support. It’s just a case of finding it and using it.

Suzanne Moloney, Founder and CEO, Hidramed Solutions

Key Takeouts:

  • Need for a solution to a medical issue led to the development of an innovative wound management system.
  • Mentoring helped progress to happen quickly.
  • The right support is essential to success at every phase of the journey, from prototype to launch and beyond.

Case Study: Hidramed

Finding a solution to a problem leads to the development of innovative and vital products – or to put it another way, necessity is the mother of invention. One Irish entrepreneur who embodies this phrase is Suzanne Moloney, whose very real need for a solution to managing her medical issue led to the development of a new and innovative wound management system, HidraWear.

HidraWear is the first product from Hidramed Solutions, and was developed with the support of Enterprise Ireland, which has announced a new €750k Competitive Start Fund (CSF) for Women Entrepreneurs, opening for applications on 25 June 2019. Suzanne herself was the recipient of a grant from a previous round of the CSF for Women Entrepreneurs, and believes that it is this type of support that helps the growth of women in the business world. “I think Ireland is a great place to be a female entrepreneur – there are so many networking opportunities, great support – it’s just a case of finding it and using it.”


Hidramed Solutions was inspired by patient frustrations

Suzanne was inspired to start Hidramed Solutions and develop HidraWear when she found that her own frustration at managing her medical condition was shared by other patients. “I have a condition called HS, or hidradenitis suppurativa. It’s a debilitating disease of the skin that affects at least 1% of the population globally, and it’s incurable. It causes lesions in the skin in places like the armpit and the groin, quite sensitive areas, which would need to be covered with a bandage. I was a chef and a baker and quite physically active in my work, and to keep a dressing on my thigh or armpit would be virtually impossible – they’d just fall off due to the moisture in the area and the fact that these areas are not flat surfaces and need to move in multiple directions. I’ve come across other HS patients improvising with sanitary towels and kitchen paper – there was literally no solution there for HS patients.

Hidramed documentation“I found myself spending far too much time on trying to manage these dressings. The straw that really broke the camel’s back was when I attended a friend’s hen party and was talking to the groom’s mother. I was shaking her hand and a dressing just fell out of my dress. I always had this idea to develop some sort of solution and that just spurred me on to really find something that worked for HS patients.”

After initial work with a product designer that didn’t progress, Suzanne decided to try again, this time with the help of Enterprise Ireland. “I applied for a co-funded Innovation Voucher to develop a prototype with design experts at NCAD.”

The result was HidraWear. “The product removes the need for using adhesive on the skin, which can damage the skin around the lesion if you’re constantly putting bandages on the area, causing medical adhesive-related skin injuries (MARSI). We’re also giving back control to HS patients by making changing a dressing quick, painless and easy. It’s very discreet and convenient too.”

“It’s a Class one medical device, so the regulatory burden is quite low, which means we can roll it out to other countries relatively quickly.” says Moloney.

The product is scheduled for launch towards the end of 2019, initially in the UK and Irish markets, but the plan is to roll it out quickly into the US and throughout Europe. We are beginning with an armpit solution and then moving onto products for other areas of the body quite quickly. But we also plan to be a support system for HS patients – we want to help, not just be a dressing company.”


Getting support from prototype to launch

Going from prototype to launching a working product is a long journey, but Suzanne did the research and found plenty of support along the way. “We received a grant from the CSF for Women Entrepreneurs in 2018. We also received invaluable advice and guidance along the way. Through the mentoring programme, we were paired with Aileen McGrath, who is a marketing expert and highly skilled in ecommerce – which was really vital, as we are selling directly to the consumer, an unusual approach for a medical product.

“I made some mistakes at the start but once I got the right advice, things began to happen for me very quickly – particularly when I was accepted on the BioExel Medtech Accelerator Programme at NUI Galway, which is backed by Enterprise Ireland. This was a six-month programme that taught me everything I needed to know about developing a medical device and developing a business.”

Once the first product is launched, growing its distribution and developing more products are the next items on Suzanne’s list.  The company plans to sell direct to consumer to begin with but is developing reimbursement strategies for the UK and USA, with plans to sell into healthcare channels too.

“We also have a whole series of products planned for the future, for example, adhesive-free bandaging for elderly patients, venous leg ulcers and pressure sores. Our market entry point, however, is through HS.”

Enterprise Ireland’s €750,000 Competitive Start Fund (CSF) for Women Entrepreneurs is open for applications between 25 June and 16 July 2019. Under this CSF, up to €50,000 in equity funding is available to a maximum of 15 successful women applicants with early stage start-up companies. In addition, up to 15 of the successful applicants will be offered a place on Dublin BIC’s INNOVATE accelerator programme.


Founder & CEO Pharmapod

Pharmapod leads the way in reducing medication errors and improving patient safety

“You need to be completely dedicated to finding the solution, and you need to sacrifice a lot. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, you just have to have that fire in your belly.

Founder and CEO, Leonora O’Brien

Key Takeouts:

  • Leonora O’Brien’s career as a pharmacist alerted her to issues regarding patient safety.
  • Pharmapod aims to be a worldwide solution to a global problem.
  • Local support has been invaluable for launching internationally.

Case Study: Pharmapod

If it takes a village to raise a child, as the saying goes, what exactly does it take to start and build a worldwide business? Support, dedication and even more support, says Leonora O’Brien, the founder of Pharmapod, a cloud-based system that aims to reduce medication errors by allowing healthcare professionals to record and share information with other healthcare professionals both within their country and globally.

“To succeed you need to make sacrifices and be dedicated to your business; it’s not for everyone,” she says. “There is support out there but you have to do the groundwork to find it. It’s up to you and your team to see what’s available and position yourselves to avail of it.”


Pharmapod offers a worldwide solution for a global problem

Pharmapod was established in 2012 with help and financial support from Enterprise Ireland, which has announced a new €750k Competitive Start Fund (CSF) for Women Entrepreneurs, opening for applications on 25 June 2019. The company aims to address what Leonora identified as a very real issue globally.

“Throughout my career as a pharmacist, I became aware of the issues regarding medication and patient safety,” Leonora explained. “At the same time, there was a growing legal obligation on pharmacists to record and analyse the risks to their patients. There was no solution in place, and being a chief pharmacist at Ireland’s biggest pharmacy chain at the time, I found that not having a system for recording patient safety issues was a real barrier for us as an organisation, and for the sector in general to learn and improve.

“You come across these issues on a daily basis, in pharmacies, hospitals and nursing homes, from the minor to the major, and many of these are preventable – we really needed a system that allowed healthcare professionals to learn from each other. Pharmapod is really fulfilling a need in the sector.”

The issue, Leonora says, is a global one – and Pharmapod is aiming to be the worldwide solution to the problem.

“To date, Pharmapod has been primarily active across three countries – Ireland, the UK and Canada – but we have recently signed a partnership agreement with the International Pharmaceutical Federation, The FIP, who has 144 members organisations internationally. We’re now starting to work through the different geographical regions with the FIP – for example the Middle East is a key focus area right now. No country is exempt from the issue – for instance, medical error is the third-leading cause of death in the United States – so this is a solution for a global issue.”


Global growth followed success in Ireland

The system grew steadily from its beginnings in Ireland – the secret to its success, Leonora says, is a great team dedicated to the solving the problem. “We launched initially onto the Irish market, and had some really excellent, brave and innovative pharmacists in Ireland who understood the benefits of such a system and took it on at an early stage. We have 30 people on our team now, and we are constantly evolving the system, keeping our ears to the ground for changes in regulations and responding to feedback and new requirements from users.”

A key turning point was the launch of Pharmapod into Canada. “At the moment, 58% of community pharmacies in Canada are using Pharmapod – and that number is growing. Ontario mandated for the system to be used in 2018; they have 45% of the pharmacies in the whole of Canada, but we already have pharmacy groups using it on a pan-Canadian basis too.”

Having local support has been invaluable when launching internationally, says Leonora – and this is where Enterprise Ireland came in. “We went for the Competitive Start Fund at the start of the business, and all the way through, Enterprise Ireland has been a great support to us. The Canadian office was fantastic when we were launching in the country, giving us advice on the local market, supplying contacts and connections, and including us in local activities. They really are an extension of your team, a great support for companies expanding internationally. They’re so well informed and helpful, an invaluable resource.

“Initiatives like the CSF for Women Entrepreneurs are addressing a real issue that’s still there. We have to remember, this is not only helping fix things for women, in terms of effective supports and role models, it’s benefitting the economy as a whole,” says O’Brien.

“For us, having that government backup has been really helpful. It lends weight to our offering and adds to our credibility in the eyes of customers and potential investors who might not have been familiar with the company before.”

Leonora’s experience has taught her that the support is there if you look for it. “I believe the biggest barrier is in your mind. You need to be completely dedicated to finding the solution, and you need to sacrifice a lot. Not everyone is prepared to do that. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, you just have to have that fire in your belly.”

And for female entrepreneurs, the business world has never been more accessible or attractive. “In a very short period of time, we’ve made a lot of progress, and a lot of that is down to us as a country shining a light on the issue. Initiatives like the CSF for Women Entrepreneurs are addressing a real issue that’s still there; fixing this issue will not only benefit the economy as a whole, but will also help the next generation in terms of female role models – and very quickly the world can change in that way.”

Enterprise Ireland’s €750,000 Competitive Start Fund (CSF) for Women Entrepreneurs is open for applications between 25 June and 16 July 2019. Under this CSF, up to €50,000 in equity funding is available to a maximum of 15 successful women applicants with early stage start-up companies. In addition, up to 15 of the successful applicants will be offered a place on Dublin BIC’s INNOVATE accelerator programme.

CEO 4site

How 4site engineers innovate

“We are design-led. It’s a unique selling point. We bring innovation to every project we do.”

Ian Duggan, CEO 4site

Key Takeouts:

  • 4site is a leader in the design, survey and installation of fibre networks.

  • The company has fostered a culture of innovation, learning and knowledge-transfer.

  • Success is driven by cost-efficiencies and speed made possible by innovative design.

  • Enterprise Ireland’s Grad Start funding supported the employment of graduate engineers to meet the challenges of a quickly changing sector.

Case Study: 4site

4site is a leader in the design and roll out of large-scale fibre network systems, the gold standard for digital connectivity. Founded in 2003, the company is based in Limerick, with offices in Dublin and the UK, and has approximately 80 employees. 

Starting out as an engineering firm, run by and employing engineers, 4site is committed to a culture of innovation with new, imaginative design solutions that give the company a competitive edge.

“If I were to offer advice to start-ups in the sector it would be to diversify – don’t be too dependent on a particular capability.” 


Innovation at 4site

This is reflected in the recruiting and training of graduate engineers, supported by Enterprise Ireland’s Graduate Business Growth (Grad Start) and Job Expansion Funds.

Enterprise Ireland’s support helped expand the number of employees and establish an in-house Fibre Planning Programme tailored to the skills 4site requires. Employees are mentored, attend weekly training sessions and are encouraged to contribute new ideas through an Innovation Forum. In 2018, Engineers Ireland acknowledged 4site’s excellence in CPD through its Accredited Employer Scheme.


“One of the most successful parts of our business is getting young, enthusiastic graduates who contribute a wealth of new ideas. They always have a faster, better way of doing things and within six months, they are really fantastic additions to the organisation.” 


The ‘4Survey’ app, introduced in 2017 and developed in partnership with Esri, the international supplier of geographic information software, was a product of the Innovation Forum. No more marking maps by hand, taking photos on a handheld device and filling in spreadsheets, which are then taken separately to a central office. The app does it all, transferring complex survey data straight to the design team via the internet. The survey process is now 50% faster, more accurate and more cost effective.

A further innovation is the use of the latest drone technology. Drones highlight solutions not readily available from ground level – for example, carrying out an asset inventory check on a 40m tower, gauging the safety of a rooftop before accessing it, or eliminating the need for permits and mobile platforms at the roadside. Cost and disruption are kept to a minimum, while health and safety risks are minimised by reducing the need for working at height.

This approach has garnered impressive results. A leading provider of fibre network in the UK is blue chip firm CityFibre. 4site recently won the contract to design CityFibre’s new networks in the UK cities of Huddersfield and Coventry. This contract is 4site’s biggest yet and is worth in excess of one million sterling. CityFibre has ambitious plans to provide fibre to five million homes across 12 UK cities.

In 2017, 4site provided survey and design services to develop a 5G-ready network for the Scottish city of Aberdeen. 4site also fitted a network of ‘small cell’ sites connected to existing fibre and power services. Small cells are unobtrusive and cost-effective installations, ensuring excellent wireless and mobile phone coverage particularly suited to the densely populated urban environment.

With over a decade’s experience of major network infrastructure projects, 4site has acquired a reputation for excellence. This year, they were only the second Irish company accepted to the FTTH Council of Europe. They have also achieved ISO certification in environmental management, quality management, and health and safety, as well as acquiring a list of major clients including Vodafone, Cignal, Huawei, Three, Nokia, Ericsson, O2, Eir and Siro.

Duggan recognises that quality and reliability are also important factors in their success, “I think it’s trust that builds strong relationships with our customers, and the fact that we can do things faster and cheaper than our competitors.”


How support from Enterprise Ireland helped 4site to succeed

Advice from Enterprise Ireland resulted in a greater emphasis on sales and marketing, and a restructuring of the management team, Duggan explains, “Enterprise Ireland encouraged us to rebrand and invest in full time sales and marketing managers.  We have built a strong leadership team in the organisation – that has been key.”

“Enterprise Ireland’s advice and support were transformative for the business.” 

4site also made use of Enterprise Ireland’s Business Accelerator Funding scheme to expand into the UK market with offices established in Reading in 2012.


The future for 4site

Europe is only just beginning to promote fibre networks with countries such as the UK, Ireland, Italy and Germany trailing behind. According to the 2017 FTTH Ultrafast Broadband Country Ranking the UK has approximately 3% coverage. The market potential therefore is vast.


Learn how Enterprise Ireland can support your Innovation project here.

T.E. Laboratories maximising commercial benefit of IP

“Enterprise Ireland’s IP Strategy programme has made a fantastic impact. It’s going to change the landscape of how we handle IP.”

Breda Moore, Technical Director, T. E. Laboratories

Key Takeouts:

  • T.E. Laboratories is evolving from primarily providing environmental and oil analysis services in the Irish market to developing novel, game-changing analytical sensors and instruments for customers worldwide.
  • Enterprise Ireland’s IP Plus Strategy programme and Lean Plus programme have had a dramatic impact on the company’s approach to product development and IP protection.
  • T.E. Laboratories is now moving to commercialise a range of new environmental analysis products, initially targeting the US market.

Case Study: T.E. Laboratories

T.E. Laboratories Ltd, based in Tullow, Co Carlow, started life in 1991 carrying out fuel analysis. It still does; but the company is now entering new territories, with future growth set to be driven by hi-tech product launches, based on novel intellectual property (IP) developed in-house or via technology transfer from international partners.

“We have enjoyed iterative growth from the start, becoming an accredited environmental laboratory and a chemical manufacturer as well as Ireland’s only specialised oil analysis laboratory,” explains Technical Director, Breda Moore. Clients include multinational pharmaceutical and other manufacturers as well as local authorities, utilities and fleet operators.

“Specialist analytical and chemical manufacturing services are set to remain important pillars of our business. But our future growth projections are based on the company evolving as a leader in developing advanced sensors and analysers for environmental and oil applications.

“Moving into a purpose-built building, in 2010, with a dedicated R&D laboratory for new product development, was a key milestone. Our focus changed from doing more of the same to being quite expansive about product development, looking at things that we might have previously considered too big a challenge, either financially or knowledge wise, with the aim of producing a significant number of new products in a relatively short time.”

T.E. Laboratories now employs 50 people, including seven full-time researchers in the R&D lab, which is the engine room for new product development. The lab is 75% funded through EU collaborative research projects (such as Horizon 2020 and Framework programmes), allowing this relatively small company to punch above its weight in innovation terms.

Protecting intellectual property

Now, with R&D projects delivering tangible results, the challenge of maximising the return from this output has come sharply into focus.  

“We are starting to generate significant levels of IP both internally and in collaborative projects. As these products get closer to market, thinking strategically about their commercialisation becomes important, making us realise that, up to now, we hadn’t given IP enough attention,” explains Moore. 

For T.E. Laboratories, then, the recent launch of Enterprise Ireland’s new IP Strategy programme was perfectly timed. The pilot programme provides companies with financial support towards the cost of engaging an external IP advisor to help them develop an IP strategy to secure the maximum return from their RD&I activities, and, in the process, strengthen their in-house IP management capabilities.

“Through the IP Plus Strategy programme, we’re putting in place a formal process to cover the IP that we’ve already generated so that we can leverage maximum benefit from it, and we’re also looking at the IP we’re starting to produce to identify the best strategy for protecting that,” says Moore.

“For example, we’ve reviewed all the default agreements in our European projects to see how they can be improved, and we’ve examined how we can capture IP in our labs and where we can derive a commercial advantage. It’s all about putting procedures in place to handle IP in a consistent way; whereas before it was very reactive.

“The advice we’ve received from the IP attorney has made a fantastic impact in a short space of time. We can see that we have an awful lot more to do, but the IP Plus Strategy programme is going to change the landscape of how we handle IP.”

New product development

Among TelLab’s developing IP portfolio are a new breed of environmental sensors, which Moore describes as “game changers”.

“We believe we are leading the field in low-cost environmental sensors with our Aqua Monitrix device, which offers real-time, remote monitoring of water quality,” she explains. “We see massive potential in the US market.”

One of TelLab’s Aqua Monitrix prototypes is currently competing in a nitrogen sensor challenge, coordinated by the US Environmental Protection Agency.  If it can meet performance goals during onsite testing, the prize for TelLab will include an order of 200 units and a performance verification report.

“It’s an exciting time for us,” Moore says. “I believe this product range will change the company by an order of magnitude.”

Intertwining a focus on Lean and IP

Dovetailing with the focus on IP protection, T.E. Laboratories recently completed Enterprise Ireland’s Lean Start programme and is now working through Lean Plus to achieve increased competitiveness and productivity across operations.

“We’re particularly interested in applying Lean to our new product development activities. This will enable us to bring products that are successful at the research phase to the market as efficiently as possible. We will cut out unnecessary steps, concentrating on features that add actual value to the end user, and designing with Lean manufacturing in mind,” explains Moore.

“For us, the Lean and IP Strategy programmes are going to cross over significantly in some areas, and we see that as having a hugely beneficial impact,” she adds.

“As we bring these products to international markets, we will continue to use Enterprise Ireland’s global network of offices, and we anticipate significant benefits arising from the IP Plus Strategy and the Lean Plus programmes.”

Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation supports here.

Nuritas uses cutting-edge technology to find new ways of fighting disease

“Nuritas is addressing the world’s growing healthcare needs through bioactive peptide discovery, fuelled by its proprietary AI platform that operates with industry-leading speed and accuracy.”

Nuritas CEO, Emmet Browne

Key Takeouts:

  • Nuritas is harnessing the power of AI to discover peptide-based therapies for global unmet medical needs with unprecendented speed and success rates.
  • One of the company’s products is currently undergoing human clinical trials to test its ability to prevent the onset of diabetes.
  • Founded by Dr. Nora Khaldi, the company has attracted numerous multinational partners including BASF and Nestlé.

Case Study: Nuritas

Nuritas, a company supported by Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-Ups (HPSU) unit, harnesses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to mine the data within food sources to identify and unlock bioactive peptides with the potential to prevent and treat disease. The company’s proprietary AI-based drug discovery platform operates with industry-leading speed and accuracy to address the world’s growing healthcare needs.

Traditional drug discovery (within the pharmaceutical or consumer health industries) is becoming ever more costly with the chances of success decreasing yearly. Alternatively, Nuritas begins its process by identifying a target condition that currently lacks safe and effective treatment options. Nuritas works best in a truly collaborative partnership with companies that have a clearly identified medical need and a need to rapidly accelerate the identification of a novel treatment or preventative action.

CEO Emmet Browne explains, “Our platform is rooted in three key steps: target, predict and unlock. We start by targeting an unmet medical need, often identifying conditions that may currently be deemed undruggable. Our proprietary AI platform intelligently mines the dormant peptides that exist in safe, plant-based food sources. These possess extraordinary potential to elicit a positive clinical effect on the targeted condition. Our in-house wet lab then unlocks the peptides from the source protein and fully characterises the activity profile of the peptide to validate its activity. This data is fed back into the AI platform, making it smarter and continually improving the already unparalleled accuracy and success rate of our peptide discovery platform.”


Stopping disease in its tracks

One of the company’s most exciting developments is the discovery of a peptide for the prevention of diabetes. The peptide has the potential to maintain blood sugar levels and prevent the onset of the condition. The drug-candidate is currently undergoing clinical trials to evaluate safety and efficacy in pre-diabetes.

CFO Greg Stafford said, “Diabetes is a massive global epidemic, with more than 400 million people suffering from the condition. We have the potential to make an extraordinary impact on the incidence of diabetes as Nuritas has identified and unlocked bioactive peptides with the potential to prevent this condition. We are honoured to have received a multimillion euro Horizon 2020 grant from the European Commission to support the development and commercialization of the product.”

Inspiring leader

Nora Khaldi, Ph.D. is the founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Nuritas. Dr. Khaldi founded the company in 2014, with a vision to apply her background in mathematics, computational biology, microbiology and bioinformatics to help solve some of the greatest challenges in human health. Since launching in 2014, Nuritas has grown rapidly and received multiple awards including the Innovation Award at the Forbes Reinventing America Summit in 2015, recognising the global impact that Nuritas’s technology will have on the future of food and health. In 2017, Dr. Khaldi was named Woman of the Decade in Business and Leadership at the Women Economic Forum (WEF) European Union Event and received the Rising Star prize from the Tech Excellence Awards.

At the core of Nuritas’s objectives is engagement in truly collaborative partnerships. The company combines the strength of a partner’s disease space expertise with Nuritas’s strength in peptide discovery, leading to phenomenal success in the development of effective therapies. Among the company’s ongoing partnerships are BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, and Nestlé, the world’s largest player in the food and beverage industry.


“We provide meaningful value to the organisations we work with due to the nature of our approach. We are able to identify and develop bioactive peptides for any target or indication based on the needs of our partners in the pharmaceutical, consumer healthcare and linked industries. The companies we partner with have global reach, possessing the ability to get our products to the consumers and patients who need them most across the globe.” said Browne.


Invaluable guidance from Enterprise Ireland

Enterprise Ireland supported Nuritas in its Seed and Series A funding rounds. Browne said, “Enterprise Ireland’s investment was not just limited to their financial support. The organisation cares about our business and is committed to the advancement of our technologies. Since Enterprise Ireland’s involvement, they have been part of our progress as our AI-based peptide discovery platform now operates with a 66%+ success rate and is continuing to improve.”

Mr. Stafford said, “We are delighted to have the support of a globally respected organisation. Enterprise Ireland’s involvement is a testament to the promise of our AI-based discovery platform and the organisation’s involvement has been instrumental as we advance our technology.”

The company has just opened an office in Cambridge in the UK and has plans to open one in an East Coast US location in the coming months. Browne commented, “There are key centres for us around the world where we are already deeply active. These would include the US, Europe, and Asia Pacific, specifically Japan and China. We look forward to continued and accelerated growth as we expand our reach around the globe.”


Reaching globally from Ireland

Nuritas currently has a wet lab in UCD and an office near Pearse Station in Dublin city centre; but, the company is combining the two in a new facility on Dawson St. Browne said, “Combining our lab and offices into a single facility in the heart of Dublin is a very deliberate decision. The synergy of our AI platform and in-house wet lab is what makes Nuritas’s approach to drug discovery unique. Being able to join the multidisciplinary teams in the same physical space will only add to the success and accomplishments of our highly talented scientists. In addition, with space for 150 employees, we now have the space to grow our team. A space in the city center will allow for a workplace that is as vibrant and stimulating as the Nuritas team.”

Stafford added, “Companies such as Nuritas are a testament to an environment that provides for growth and innovation. Ireland at present is a hub for companies with ground-breaking technologies, and we intend to remain proudly rooted in Ireland as we emerge as a serious contributor on a global level in discovering life-changing solutions for the world’s growing healthcare needs.”


Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation supports here.

KTL Lean transformation

When KTL targeted growth, they focused on competitiveness

KTL Lean transformation

“..agility can come at a significant cost to the bottom line. Lean allowed us to optimise and standardise most key business processes.”

Niall Byrne, Director KTL

Key Takeouts:

  • KTL is a leading provider of engineering services to the telecommunications and utility sectors.
  • By implementing Enterprise Ireland’s Lean transformation programme, KTL has increased turnover by 30% in the last four years.
  • After standardising their customer acceptance process, KTL allowed customers to onboard solutions much faster and more efficiently, which vastly improved their competitiveness.

Case Study: KTL

Enhanced competitiveness has enabled engineering services firm KTL to achieve significant gains in both turnover and profitability. Since implementing an Enterprise Ireland-supported Lean transformation programme four years ago, turnover has increased by 30% to €40 million, while 1.5% has been added to net margins.

The Naas-headquartered company currently employs 300 people and is recognised as a leading provider of engineering services to the telecommunications and utility sectors, working primarily with mobile network operators, electricity network operators, and major equipment vendors. With operations in Ireland and the UK, KTL’s reach extends to projects in Europe and Latin America.

“We came from small beginnings,” says Director, Niall Byrne. “The company was founded in 1998, as a small civil contractor working out of a house and yard in Maynooth with 15 people. We started out just as the mobile networks were beginning to take off and we were well positioned to serve that market. I’m not sure if we fully realised that at the time. Digifone was our first mobile network customer and we added Vodafone shortly after that. We then moved into power infrastructure.”

Today, KTL works with leading blue-chip clients in the UK and Ireland, including Vodafone, Three, Telefonica, EE, ESB, Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE), and SSE Renewables.

“We see ourselves as a design and build partner for our customers when they are upgrading their networks or installing new technologies,” Byrne points out. “Our focus is on delivering value to customers. We have been an innovative company since we started and have always looked for ways to improve. We began working with Enterprise Ireland in 2008, when we were starting out on our international journey. We worked with them on market research and feasibility studies at that stage.”

Plans for growth inspired focus on operational excellence

In subsequent years, Enterprise Ireland also assisted the company in the implementation of growth plans.

These growth plans led the company to seek ways of improving its competitive position. “We stood back and took a look at the business and at our competitiveness and capability,” Byrne adds. “With the support of Enterprise Ireland, we embarked on a LEAN transformation programme in 2014. We had always tried to be an agile company. We have to be, because we work in a very fast-moving sector. But that agility can come at a significant cost to the bottom line. Lean allowed us to optimise and standardise most key business processes.”

The best example of the benefits of the Lean programme is the customer acceptance process, according to Byrne. “On the face of it, it’s different for every customer and project. It’s a highly complex, 100+ page document for each individual site, of which there are thousands in a mobile network. Anyone who has experience of it will tell you how challenging and time-consuming the whole process is. But when we looked at it and peeled the skin off, we saw how much of it could be standardised. We figured out an innovative approach to it and we also developed a software tool, Infratrack, to do it.”

That sped up the process greatly for KTL and allowed customers to onboard solutions much faster and more efficiently. Other benefits of the Lean transformation programme included a significant reduction in site visits, a 14.7% reduction in expenses through the introduction of a fleet management solution, a 13% reduction in employee turnover, and a 35% reduction in lead time in various processes within the business, including invoicing and purchase order generation.

“It improved our competitiveness, and that enabled us to acquire additional customers and improve our profitability at the same time,” says Byrne.

For the future, he believes that ongoing growth in the mobile market, with 5G coming down the line and continued network renewal by the power companies, will deliver opportunities for the company. “We will continue to develop our fantastic team,” he adds. “We are a service company and our competitive position relies on a talented, experienced, loyal pool of people. We are nothing without our fantastic team. Enterprise Ireland has also been a key part of the team, which enabled us to internationalise and expand the business.”

Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Competitiveness supports here.

Focus on Exports Helped Kirby Triple Turnover

“We’ve achieved growth in three ways, through strengthening our capabilities, going deeper into our chosen sectors, and through geographic expansion.”

Jimmy Kirby, MD Kirby Group Engineering

Key Takeouts:

  • Kirby provides full mechanical and electrical engineering contracting services, as well as specialist voltage design and construction services to clients.
  • Has achieved growth in three ways, through strengthening capabilities, going deeper into chosen sectors and through geographic expansion.
  • Enterprise Ireland has supported Kirby to develop its international operations.

Case Study: Kirby

Developing export markets has helped Kirby treble its business in just seven years.

Founded in 1964, Kirby provides full mechanical and electrical engineering contracting services, as well as specialist high voltage (HV) and medium voltage (MV) design and construction services, to clients across several key sectors. These include data centre, life sciences, industrial manufacturing, commercial, petrochemical, and substations and renewables.

With the support of Enterprise Ireland, Kirby operates in a number of markets including the UK and Northern Europe.

Growing international operations

“In 2008, we began our first overseas work in the UK, initially focusing on the pharmaceutical, industrial manufacturing and power sectors,” says Jimmy Kirby. “Originally, we were invited in by one of our large multinational power sector customers to deliver projects for them; then we successfully expanded into the other sectors.”

Kirby has continued to develop and grow its international operations.

“Over the past seven years, we have almost tripled our turnover, from €58 million in 2010 to €167 million for 2017. To meet our growth targets, we increased employee numbers significantly. We currently directly employ over 700 people.”

Kirby has strengthened its management team too. “Earlier this year we announced a number of key appointments at senior level to support growth and success,” Jimmy Kirby says.

The company has recently announced further expansion in its international operations to include the new geographical area of the Nordics. “Expansion into the Nordics market is proving to be a successful development for us, having secured a data centre project and with more in the pipeline. We have the capability to execute projects in Ireland, UK, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium, and are currently developing the capability to execute projects in Norway, Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg.”

Preparing for further growth

The business is poised for significant further growth. “Kirby has excellent future prospects due to the strength of our management team, our staff and associated capabilities, our strategy formulation and implementation capability, and our customer value proposition.”

The company has developed an in-house, integrated project execution process called the Kirby Way. “At the core of the Kirby Way is efficient and successful project delivery” explains Jimmy Kirby, Kirby Group Managing Director.

“It involves understanding our clients’ needs, collaboration, building high-performance teams and supporting our clients through every stage of the project,” 

Strengthening its systems and processes is helping too. “Lean practices, such as standardisation, have become important components of our project delivery, bringing significant value to us and our customers,” says Kirby.

Staff members have taken ownership of continuous improvement. “We operate an Innovation Suggestion Scheme with participation encouraged among all of our workforce. This approach allows us to encourage a culture of innovation and continuously generate innovative and lean ideas from our site and office employees. The suggestions are focused around introducing efficiencies into the business through cycle-time reduction.”

Recent project wins include Gemini Data Centre and Substation in Dublin and Kilgallioch Windfarm Substation in the UK. Kirby is currently working on a confidential data centre site in Sweden, a biopharma facility in Meath, and Wembley Park Energy Centre in the UK, among many others.

Three ways to achieve growth

“We have achieved growth in three ways, through strengthening our capabilities, going deeper into our chosen sectors, and through geographic expansion,” Kirby says. “To ensure that there is a continuous pipeline of projects, it is important to track the investment levels in our selected geographies and sectors.”

Working with Enterprise Ireland is helping. “Enterprise Ireland has supported Kirby to develop its international operations over the years in a number of ways. It has done so by providing market research support, local market information and advice on new markets, providing access to its global network of contacts, and hosting networking events and seminars – such as a construction seminar held in Stockholm recently.”

Jimmy Kirby personally participated on Enterprise Ireland’s International Selling Programme in 2010, and went on to do a Masters Degree in DIT afterwards. The company also availed of a Market Access Grant, “which was a valuable support in our internationalisation efforts,” says Kirby.

Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Competitiveness supports here.

Bellurgan Precision beats the challenge of staying competitive

“Enterprise Ireland has been so supportive over the years, it’s not just about money. What they do is open your eyes to opportunities.”

CEO, Stephen Hogg

Key Takeouts:

  • Bellurgan Precision specialises in solving complex design and manufacturing issues, focusing on the medical device and aerospace sectors among others.
  • Competitors in low cost countries meant that Bellurgan must continually add value to their offer in order to stay ahead of the curve.
  • Project support from Enterprise Ireland enabled them to invest in new technologies and training in order to build capabilities and reduce production times.

Case Study: Bellurgan Precision

Components produced by Bellurgan Precision at its state-of-the-art facility on the Cooley Peninsula can be found in a range of high-tech products, ranging from medical devices, aircraft parts, and electronic systems, developed by some of the world’s leading manufacturers.

Having recently celebrated 40 years in business, the family-owned company employs close to 100 people, generating worldwide sales of €12 million, and is targeting annual growth of between 15% and 20% over the next three to four years.

For companies in the sector, remaining competitive is a challenge. Bellurgan’s success is built on a combination of engineering expertise, quality, and an unwavering commitment to customer service. The company’s focus on operational excellence enabled it to add value beyond simply competing on cost, as Bellurgan Precision invests in innovative technologies, processes and skills to get ahead of international competition.

Selling engineering expertise

“We don’t really have a product,” says CEO, Stephen Hogg. “We sell engineering expertise. Our success is built on deep engineering capability and quality standards. We have an excellent team committed to solving complex design to manufacturing problems. When a customer comes and sits down to talk about the product they want us to make for them, they often leave two days later, having found that there are far fewer parts involved than they first thought.”

This is very important in the highly regulated medical devices areas.

“70% of the cost of a product is locked in at the design stage,” Hogg explains. “We help our customers cut out costs at that point. These products have to be approved by the FDA and so do the supply chains. It’s very hard to change the design of a product once it has been approved.”

The company’s principal focus is on the medical devices and aerospace sectors, with many of the world’s top companies on its highly impressive customer list.

“This is largely driven by demographics,” Hogg points out. “The global population is expanding, and there is strong growth in the middle classes, in countries like India and China, which is increasing demand for services such as healthcare and travel.


Competing against low-cost countries

“We are either a Gold partner or number one supplier with all of our customers, who are all global multinationals,” he continues. “Virtually everything we do is exported. Less than 1% is used on domestic market. We might sell products to multinationals based in Ireland, but they will ultimately integrate them into products which are shipped around the world.”

“Remaining competitive is a constant challenge. “We have to compete against low-cost countries, and this means continuously adding value for our customers and investing in new technologies, processes and skills to stay ahead,” says Hogg.

Support from Enterprise Ireland for continuous improvement

Enterprise Ireland has been so supportive over the years,” he adds. “It’s not just about money. What they do is open your eyes to opportunities. They took us on visits to world-class players like the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. We were able to hear world-class clinicians talking about their work and this was a great help to us. Enterprise Ireland also strongly supported our continuous improvement programme – we just couldn’t compete without that.”

One example of that programme was the implementation of lights out manufacturing. This allows a highly sophisticated machine to run 24/7 while only being attended to for one shift a day. The pallets are set up by the operative and automated process takes over after that.

“We have also bought a robotic system to help place parts and that gives us the flexibility to make better use of high-end machines”, Hogg adds. “Enterprise Ireland has also helped us with our investment in these technologies. We have participated in a number of different Enterprise Ireland programmes, with the most recent one being Lean. It impacts everything. The great thing is that it is open to everyone to get involved. Everybody can take part and make suggestions for improvements and solve problems. It changes the way people approach problem-solving. It’s hard to put a value on that.”

Looking to the future, he says that growth will come from existing and new market segments and building strong relationships with customers.

“You have to be out in the market all the time, continuously planting acorns. You can’t just sit back on what you have. It’s all about relationships and we get great support from Enterprise Ireland in terms of trying to attack new markets and new market segments.”

Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Competitiveness supports here.

Critical Healthcare MD

How Critical Healthcare Makes a Difference to Medical Emergency Services

 “Our research found that that organisations were suffering from a lack of purchasing control, resulting in maverick buying, excessive supplier costs, endemic overstocking.”



Key Takeouts:

  • Critical Healthcare’s search for a competitive edge led to in-depth field research, including discussions with both procurement and ambulance teams.
  • Research inspired them to develop a managed service that streamlines procurement and stock management processes while eliminating risk.
  • Enterprise Ireland awarded the company a €150,000 Business Innovation grant to assist with the further development of the system.

Case Study: Critical Healthcare

Based in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath, Critical Healthcare was established 18 years ago with the aim of becoming the first choice for the emergency medical services in Ireland. Having become specialists in the market, Critical Healthcare identified further opportunities to enhance their offering and disrupt the expanding niche further afield.

“We started out supplying everything from bandages to airways, nebulisers, nasal cannulas and stretchers,” says managing director Anne Cusack. “Our customers were the emergency medical services, like the National Ambulance Service, fire service, and other rescue services. Back in those early days we were only operating in the Irish market.”

As the recession drove the market to become ever more competitive, Critical Healthcare decided it needed to examine its value proposition in full.

“Back in 2012, we were only supplying products to our customers, and we felt that we needed to move beyond that,” says Cusack. “We couldn’t continue to compete on price alone. We needed to find a way to add value to our customer offering, which would not only assist with their procurement processes, but also enable us to become part of their procurement solution.”

Successful search for competitive edge

The company’s search for a competitive edge led to in-depth field research, including discussions with both the procurement and ambulance teams within the National Ambulance Service, which uncovered potential opportunities.
Cusack explains, “Our research found that organisations were suffering from a lack of purchasing control, resulting in maverick buying, excessive supplier costs, endemic overstocking. As a result, many products were going out of date and there was poor visibility of which supplies were being used, and where. Manual purchasing processes across multiple locations were time-consuming, prone to error, and costly. Paper can be lost and manual data entry leaves room for mistakes. Increased volume of supplier queries can swamp finance departments.”

Understanding these issues inspired Critical Healthcare to develop a managed service, which provides a highly flexible solution that streamlines procurement and stock management processes, eliminates risk, improves productivity, and reduces costs.

The resulting Medlogistix Software as a Service (SaaS) system is specifically tailored to the needs of the healthcare sector. When it was piloted in the National Ambulance Service in 2012, it demonstrated savings of up to 37% on annual spend. After this success, Critical Healthcare won a tender in 2013 to implement Medlogistix across all 102 National Ambulance Service stations in Ireland, followed by contracts with Dublin Fire Brigade and the Irish Coastguard. But even that was just the beginning.

Support for becoming internationally competitive

“We knew we had something that was equally relevant to the emergency services markets internationally,” Cusack recalls. “We started looking at the UK, Scandinavian, and German markets. That’s where Enterprise Ireland enters our story. We had built the original system in-house but recognised we needed assistance to develop it further, to ensure the scalability and reliability it needed to be internationally competitive.”

Enterprise Ireland awarded the company a €150,000 Business Innovation grant in 2015, to assist with the further development of the system.

Cusack says, “We spent a year working with a development company, scoping out the needs of the system and writing the software. 2016 was spent finalising and user-testing the system, and it went live across our existing customers in 2017.”

Medlogistix, a business intelligence software package, incorporates e-procurement, stock management, and a reporting dashboard, all backed by a managed service for a traditionally manual paper-based sector.

Competing for and winning the largest international contracts

International success was already assured, due to a contract won in 2015 with Falck, the UK’s largest private ambulance service provider, thanks to the Enterprise Ireland development support.
“Falck is the largest private ambulance service provider in the world,” says Cusack. “They are headquartered in Denmark and have operations in 55 countries. We were able to compete for and win the contract in the UK because we were able to demonstrate the savings the package could offer across all elements of the procurement process and we were able to tell them what the new system would look like. Falck has been one of our biggest international advocates since.”

The next step for Critical Healthcare is expansion into continental Europe. Industry observers see strong underlying market growth for Emergency Medical Services in the EU, driven by trends including demographic shifts. In the UK, for example, the use of ambulance services has increased by 59% over a decade. The share of citizens aged 65 and older is expected to grow from 19% to 24% from 2015 to 2030 across the EU, with the number of transports required much higher for older citizens.

“The new system is working fantastically well and has made us competitive in international markets,” Cusack notes. “We are now in the next phase of its development, which we are funding ourselves. We are talking to Falck in Denmark and putting together a case for the system’s roll-out in other European countries. Our business is growing strongly. We currently employ 22 people in Kilbeggan, with forecasts to increase that to 30 over the next five years. Our turnover target for this year is €6.4 million and our goal is to grow that to €10 million in 2020.”

Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Competitiveness supports here.

Improved Competitiveness Drives Growth in Every Sense for Phonovation

 “I knew that there must be a better way of working and I went to Enterprise Ireland and said we had an excellent team, but we weren’t changing fast enough. They said there was only one answer: to go LEAN.”


Key Takeouts:

  • Automated voice and business SMS provider Phonovation undertook the LEAN transformation programme in 2015.
  • Profits have increased year-on-year since completing the programme: 150% in 2015, 240% in 2016, and 140% in 2017.
  • Phonovation’s growth shows no signs of stopping, with over 200 million messages a year going through their software each year.

Case Study: Phonovation

In 2015, automated voice and business SMS provider Phonovation decided it needed to change in order to become more competitive. That’s what led the company to begin working with Enterprise Ireland on a LEAN transformation programme.

Phonovation was already the leader in its field in Ireland, but Chief Executive Gavin Carpenter believed a step up in performance was necessary.

“I had completed a masters in management in UCD in 2013,” he explains. “I knew that there must be a better way of working and I went to Enterprise Ireland and said we had an excellent team, but we weren’t changing fast enough. They said there was only one answer: to go LEAN. A development adviser came out to us and explained it. There was complete buy-in to the concept from everyone here.”

Implementing LEAN drives dramatic growth

Growth since then has been little short of dramatic, with profits climbing by hundreds of percent since 2015.

“It has been incredibly powerful for us,” Carpenter says. “Profits increased by 150% in 2015, 240% in 2016, and 140% in 2017. We have also increased staff numbers from 16 to 26 in that time. We have grown in every sense thanks to our improved competitiveness.”

Phonovation was the first company in Ireland to provide premium-rate telephone services for TV, delivering services for popular programmes like Where in the World and The Late Late Show.

“We started to roll out business offerings in 2005,” says Carpenter. “Running premium-rate services for TV shows and so on gave us the ability to handle very large volumes of calls. We could run the service for TV in the evenings and offer business services during the day. We quickly became the largest SMS application to person (A2P) provider in Ireland. When your bin company texts you to let you know when your collection is due to take place, that’s A2P. Over 200 million messages go through our software each year.”

While consumers may be sending fewer text messages, SMS has seen year-on-year growth every year since 2011, mainly due to increased business usage.

“SMS is very effective at generating reaction and response,” Carpenter explains. “There is a 95% reaction rate for SMS, as opposed to 15-20% for email. It’s expected to continue to grow until the mid-2020s. During the winter storms, we were sending one million messages a day to parents around the country, letting them know about school closures and reopenings. It’s an essential service these days.”

Working with Enterprise Ireland on LEAN

Working with Enterprise Ireland on the LEAN programme brought about considerable efficiency improvements.

“It taught us how to identify and attack waste in the business. There are seven types of waste and each of them feeds into each other. Overprocessing is typical in IT, for example. You might build a website for a customer that does seven things when the customer only wants five. 20% of the time is spent doing things that are not needed. Waste is anything that doesn’t deliver value to customers.”

And the elimination of waste has delivered enhanced competitiveness.

“When we talk about competitiveness, we talk about delivering value to customers while still making a profit. Every sale we make is based on return on investment. That makes us very competitive. We tell customers how much they will save, or how much additional revenue they will generate, as a result of using our solution. One of our largest customers has a return on investment of seven to one from our solution – for every €100,000 they spend with us they make €700,000 in additional revenue. It makes it very easy to close deals. We put a huge amount of effort into delivering the maximum return on investment for customers.”

The future will see a mix of domestic and international growth as well as new product introductions. “We are going to grow overseas, mainly through Irish customers with international footprints. We have also developed a fintech product, which is a security solution for SMSs sent by banks. It is used by one banking customer in Ireland already and we were recently in Frankfurt with Enterprise Ireland presenting it to banks there.”

Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Competitiveness supports here.

How Focusing on Competitiveness Drives Innovation in vStream

 “Because we are selling something innovative we have to be as efficient as possible in order to get the value out of what we charge clients. That’s very important when you are creating ‘world firsts’, as we often are.”


Key Takeouts:

  • The recession in 2008 prompted vStream to develop a presence in the UK sooner than planned.
  • 70% of vStream’s revenues come from outside Ireland, including international sports teams and global software developers.
  • Management worked closely with Enterprise Ireland to develop an operational strategy, as efficiency is key for a creative agency.

Case Study: vStream

By boosting its competitiveness Dublin-based vStream is spending more time innovating and less time administrating.
The award-winning experiential technology company creates immersive consumer experiences for big-brand customers.

Set up in 2007, one of vStream’s first Irish commissions was a 3D rugby and soccer fan experience created for Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. The personalised, stereoscopic adventure allows visitors to the stadium to be individually called up to play for Ireland, and to do so ‘virtually’.

In 2008, the recession prompted vStream to focus on competitiveness and develop a presence in the UK sooner than planned. It paid off, resulting in a major commission from the Westfield Shopping Centre group to create world-first experiences, from ‘5D for Christmas’ to clickable video content for Spring-Summer shoppers, launching in Westfield Stratford City, one of Europe’s largest shopping centres.

Commissions from further afield followed, including work for the San Francisco 49ers – an American Football team – and the US Super Bowl.

Today, 70% of vStream’s revenues come from outside Ireland. The company has worked with global brands such as Formula One teams McLaren and Mercedes F1, and enterprise software maker SAP, using leading-edge technologies, such as Augmented and Mixed Reality and gestural holographic interfaces, the kind found in Tom Cruise movies.

Using Microsoft HoloLens, vStream recently created a holographic, interactive tour guide named Simone to demonstrate one of carmaker Audi’s newest high-tech models, a world first.

At vStream’s core are the complementary skills of co-founders Niall O’Driscoll, a creative director, and Andrew Jenkinson, a technologist.

Working with Enterprise Ireland to boost operational excellence

“What we do has always been very different and big brands are always trying to tell their story in a new way,” says O’Driscoll.

It’s a competitive space, however. Management at vStream has worked closely with Enterprise Ireland to implement operational excellence. “There are other companies in our area. They don’t look exactly like us but we cross over a number of different competitors,” says O’Driscoll.

Creativity drives innovation at the company and if the technology required to deliver an experience doesn’t exist, “we build our own”, he says. To ensure vStream has the resources to do so, operational efficiencies are vital.

“Because we are selling something innovative we have to be as efficient as possible in order to get the value out of what we charge clients. That’s very important when you are creating ‘world firsts’, as we often are.”

vStream drives competitiveness from concept through to delivery

The company recently introduced 10,000ft, a resource management and time-tracking software programme. “It allows us to track hours and integrates with our accounts process. We are trialling it as part of changes to our internal management processes designed to boost efficiencies and drive competitiveness across the board, from concept through to delivery.”

The company has also introduced cloud-based collaboration tool Slack. “Email is unwieldy, especially long chains of emails. Slack allows us to organise our communications much more efficiently.”

Much of vStream’s intellectual property has been patented and future revenues will increasingly come from licensing its technology around the world. Here, too, Enterprise Ireland funding has helped.

“We had created all this value but had realised only a small amount from our IP. We have done the R&D, proved our product in the market, now it’s about taking it out to compete in as many markets as possible. Future growth will come from exploiting that IP commercially and we are hiring someone now to help us make that move from being a projects-based to a services-and-products-based-company,” says O’Driscoll.

vStream drives competitiveness from concept through to delivery

He knows that to win in a global market no company can afford to carry excess weight.

“You need the flexibility to be able to diversify as we did during the recession,” he says. “The market shifts and changes all the time and to compete you have to be efficient and innovative enough to turn on a dime.”

Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Competitiveness supports here.

Strong Strategy Key to Combilift’s German Market Success


“Having Germany as a good reference has helped to build our credibility in other export markets – customers think if German companies are buying our product, it must be good.”

– Martin McVicar, Managing Director, Combilift

Key Takeouts:

  • Exporting proved easier than domestic sales from day one.
  • Selling direct before appointing a distributor was an effective strategy.
  • Europe has delivered more sustainable growth than BRICs.
  • Enterprise Ireland provided credibility and on-the-ground support.

Case Study: Combilift

German clients have been the easiest to convince and as a market, Germany has been one of the easiest for Combilift to crack and grow in – compared to Italy or Spain – according to managing director of the company, Martin McVicar.

“The reason for this is that Germans are very analytical and open to innovative products when they can see a visible benefit – for example, when it will make them more efficient,” he says.

“Having Germany as a good reference has helped to build our credibility in other export markets — customers think if German companies are buying our product, it must be good.”

McVicar established Combilift in Co Monaghan with Robert Moffett in 1998. Both were highly qualified engineers with decades of experience between them. Their expertise, knowledge of the market and practical experience led to the development of the Combilift — an innovative long-load material handling solution.

By the end of its first year, Combilift had sold 18 units — 17 of which were in the export markets of the UK, Norway, Belgium and France. To date it has sold 35,000 units in 75 different countries and has developed a range of customised handling solutions.

“In our first year, we did sell one unit locally in Co. Monaghan, but strangely we found it easier to sell into other markets as a start-up in development stage”

“Customers in Norway, for example, didn’t query how big or small we were – they just saw that our product was innovative and solved an unmet need.”

A traditional forklift drives backwards and forwards and is manufactured by major players such as Toyota and Mitsubishi. Recognising that they couldn’t compete directly with these manufacturers, McVicar and Moffett were focused on innovation from the beginning.

“One of the unique selling points of the initial model was that it was multidirectional – it could also move left and right – allowing customers handling long products to transport them in a sideward direction, like a crab movement” McVicar explains.

“Nobody had developed a product like this before — one that could operate both indoors and outdoors. Our forklift could handle any length of product in a small space and handle it with more safety.”

Combilifts’s Partnership with Enterprise Ireland:

  • Availed of Enterprise Ireland R&D supports since it was first established in 1997.
  • Benefitted from introductions to English-speaking distributors in Germany.
  • Participated in trade missions that helped secure new key customers.
  • Boosted management capability with the Leadership for Growth programme.

To see how Enterprise Ireland has enabled Combilift’s success, click here.

The direct approach

McVicar and Moffett recognised from the outset that as a manufacturer of materials handling equipment Combilift had to be focused on exports; the UK and Ireland alone would not sustain the business.

They were very targeted in terms of the type of customers they went for — specifically the segment of companies with long products, such as timber producers. “We knew the big players weren’t specialised in the long-load market. We started in mainland Europe; then went into the UK. We went into the US and Germany in year two, which meant we had broadened out to six countries,” says McVicar.

In the early years, Combilift entered countries quite quickly, directly targeting specific industries and customers and not actively looking for distributors. Taking this route led to distributors seeking the company out. “When distributors in a given market can see there are already a number of users of your product, it convinces them of its quality and they are much more likely to be successful in selling it than if you knock on their door,” notes McVicar.

“We made mistakes in some markets, taking on distributors that promised the sun, moon and stars and we went nowhere with them. Finding users first and appointing or looking for a distributor afterwards proved to be a much more successful strategy.”

In Germany and France, Combilift purposely appointed English-speaking distributors to speak to local clients on its behalf. It didn’t invest in language skills in Ireland, but placed sales people fluent in languages on the ground in different markets. There are currently three based in Germany.

“Germany has better spoken English generally than other European countries. If you can speak to the owner of a dealership in English you are more likely to make a fast impact in that market,” says McVicar.

Combilift is in the process of building a new €40m, 46,000 sq ft greenfield operation in Co. Monaghan, which will allow the company to double its production in a single shift. This is planned to be operational in 2017. Presently, Combilift employs a total of 440 people and recorded turnover of €200m last year.