How H&MV Engineering achieved high voltage growth in new markets

“When you have access to that funding, it gives you comfort, as the alternative seems costly to explore a new region.”

– PJ Flanagan, CEO

Key Takeouts:

  • H&MV had grown steadily from a small electrical sub-contractor to high voltage specialist.
  • The Enterprise Ireland Market Access Grant helped them set up in new regions.
  • With a country by country, market by market approach, the focus is on the quality of the contracts and having the ability to be selective.

Case Study: H&MV Engineering

Headquartered in Limerick, high voltage solutions specialist H&MV Engineering (H&MV) has experienced rapid growth in recent years, breaking new ground in the UK and Norwegian markets. Enterprise Ireland has provided valued assistance to H&MV throughout this busy growth period.

“We specialise in grid connections”, says CEO PJ Flanagan. “If a high-energy user customer wants to connect to the power grid, they need H&MV to build a sub-station and connect them. We also work for distribution network operators (DNOs) and transmission network operators (TNOs). If a company is developing a data centre, the first thing they need is a grid connection. That’s what we do.”

The firm was founded in 1997 and Flanagan joined the following year as its first apprentice electrician. Growing steadily since 1997, the company has transitioned from a small electrical sub-contractor to a high voltage specialist, operating as principal contractor on major projects.

In 2015, Flanagan and his business partner John Stokes led a management buyout (MBO) of the company with the support of MML Growth Capital Partners. “MML is backed by Enterprise Ireland and AIB”, says Flanagan. “That was our first introduction to Enterprise Ireland. We had turnover of €7 million and 70 employees at that time. We now have 155 employees, turnover has grown to €33 million, and we have just announced our planned expansion. This expansion will result in H&MV doubling our workforce here in Limerick over the next five years. In the last two years, our design team alone has grown from 1 to 14.”

As part of the MBO process, Flanagan and the management team set out a long-term vision of how they wanted the company to develop. “Our ambition was to grow the company in the UK and across Europe”, he says.

“Enterprise Ireland’s market research supports have been very beneficial for us. When you have access to that funding, it gives you comfort, as the alternative seems costly to explore a new region. We have been very successful in the UK to date and anticipate UK turnover to reach £4 million in 2018.”

H&MV has also focused on the Norwegian market as part of its strategic growth. “Business in Norway is progressing for us now and we secured a €6 million contract outside Oslo last year. We have applied for another grant to assist in researching and validating the Dutch market.”

This country by country, market by market approach is a deliberate strategy. “We are looking for steady organic growth”, Flanagan points out. “We don’t chase numbers. We chase quality in terms of the contracts we work on and the clients we work for. We are very selective and we don’t take on just anybody. Our clients tend to be very large companies in industries like pharmaceuticals, utility provision, data centres and renewable energy. Many of our customers are state-owned.”

Growth ambitions are not limited to Europe. “I am travelling to South Africa in the near future to look at that market. We might explore the Far East as well. Advance research to ensure market viability is imperative.”

Enterprise Ireland support has played a key role in the company’s growth in recent years. “It has been massively important to us”, says Flanagan.

“Enterprise Ireland helped us make initial contact and build relationships in new regions. They are very helpful in terms of organising meetings and introductions. We have been able to use Enterprise Ireland’s overseas office network as well. Support from the organisation gives you great confidence. It can be lonely at first when you’re trying to break into a new market, so it’s great to have someone on the ground to give you support and help. I would encourage other companies to approach Enterprise Ireland if they have ambitions to expand into a new region.”

East Coast Bakehouse

“Knowing what Enterprise Ireland do, they are about creating real employment opportunities in Ireland. We knew for us it was a credible soundboard to the plan that we had.”

Darragh Monaghan – Commercial Director

Who

East Coast Bakehouse are a Louth-based biscuit producer. Using the finest ingredients, they have created a range of biscuits which landed on shelves in September 2016.

How

Accessing relevant funding from Enterprise Ireland enabled East Coast Bakehouse to secure and fit out their 50,000 sq ft manufacturing facility.

Result

East Coast Bakehouse are in a position to produce enough product to enter both the UK and Irish market simultaneously.

See How We Helped East Coast Bakehouse

How Aerogen’s ‘Born Global’ Mindset Drove Export Success

“The more resources you apply — particularly on the ground — the more traction and sales you achieve. We found that you can’t dabble in a market; you have to go all-in.”

John Power, CEO, Aerogen

Key Takeouts:

  • ‘Born Global’ mindset drove export success.
  • Strong distributors plus people on the ground accelerated market penetration.
  • Each market entry enabled locally by Enterprise Ireland.

Case Study: Aerogen

CEO of Aerogen John Power recognised long before he established the company in Galway in 1997 that he would have to make sure it developed a unique solution that could be sold globally — distinct from something designed specifically for Europe or the US.

The result was an aerosol drug delivery system that reduces the length of time a patient needs to be on a ventilator, meaning they recover faster and have a shorter stay in hospital. Its proprietary vibrating mesh technology turns liquid medication into a fine particle mist, gently and effectively delivering drugs to the lungs of critically ill patients.

Aerogen is now synonymous with the effective treatment of respiratory illness among patient groups of all ages, playing a critical role in emergency departments and intensive care units in over 75 countries worldwide.

“Medtech companies by nature are ‘born global’. I knew there was no chance of setting up and sustaining a business developing original medical equipment just for sale in Ireland and the UK,” says Power.

“All of our products are heavily regulated and any new iteration has to get both European and US approvals, so we have always brought those markets along in parallel since early 2000. A lot of our partners, such as GE Healthcare and Medtronic, want products that sell internationally and are regulated internationally.”

The US is Aerogen’s leading market — its aerosol drug delivery system is now being used in the intensive care units of 60% of the top 200 hospitals in the US. Europe, including the UK and Ireland, is its second biggest market accounting for around 30% of sales, followed by Asia and the Middle East.

Aerogen’s Partnership with Enterprise Ireland:

  • Partnership began with feasibility funding in 1997.
  • Accesses Enterprise Ireland’s network in every market it enters.
  • R&D supports have enabled risky and costly innovation.
  • Shares Enterprise Ireland presence at important trade events.

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

Working with distributors

While Aerogen currently sells through distributors in all of its markets, its entry strategy in many cases was to partner with large healthcare multinationals which sold its solution alongside major pieces of capital equipment. Power’s connections in the industry helped in this regard as he had worked in multinationals previously.

Aerogen’s annual revenues have been growing by 25-30% over the past number of years, reaching €50m in 2016. Of its total workforce of 130, there are now 20 people based full-time in the US, four in Germany, three in France and two in the UK. It added 35 people to its headcount in 2016 and will do the same this year.

 

“One of the things we have learned is making money in any given market is all down to putting more resources into it – both commercial and clinical. The more resources you apply, particularly on the ground, the more traction and sales you achieve. We found that you can’t dabble in a market, you have to go all-in” says Power.

Selecting the right distributor in each market for Aerogen’s products has been crucially important and the expertise and experience that exists within the workforce has played a key role in this regard.

“I have a group of guys involved in our export markets who have worked all their lives in export sales for big multinational companies and specialise in different regions,” says Power. “They know who the good distributors are. Most of the time distribution is done on the basis of personal experience or a strong recommendation from someone you know.

 

Germany and France – challenges overcome

While Ireland is a huge exporter of medtech products, a large percentage of this is by US multinationals based here. This is in contrast to Germany and France which have large indigenous medtech sectors.

Germany and France dwarf Ireland when it comes to their indigenous medtech sectors. Both are quite protectionist in many ways and want to support their own industries in their own countries,” says Power.

“For that reason, our products have to be better than those manufactured by German and French companies to make sure they will sell. Germans like to develop their own innovative products and France has a long engineering and technology track record. So any technology you’re trying to sell has to be substantially better than what they have developed themselves if it is to interest them.”

In order to sell into Europe, a medtech product must achieve the CE Marking certification. After that, it must be approved by the individual authorities in each country. How easy or difficult this is depends on the structure of the health system.

“For example, in France, there is a very strong public health system which can mean a reticence to change. You have to ensure products are properly coded by the relevant health authorities before you can sell into that market,” says Power. “Normally there is more of a mix of private and public health systems – sometimes it is easier to get in the door of private hospitals as there is less bureaucracy.”

A further challenge in France and Germany has been that healthcare providers demand proof of the economic, as well as the clinical, benefits of any new medical technology. Aerogen has concentrated a lot on this area in the past 18 months, investing in clinical studies to prove the benefits of its technology clinically and how it can reduce the cost of care – for example by reducing admissions from accident and emergency departments.

“Everybody prefers data from their own market. It is an expensive game, but if we want scalability in terms of our product, we have got to be prepared to invest in this area,” notes Power.

Top Tips for Exporting to Europe:

  • Develop a superior, differentiated solution — not a ‘me too’.
  • Start with a narrow market focus and service that well.
  • Work long and hard to identify the right distributor.
  • Nothing beats your own people on the ground, driving your distributor.

For more details, click here .

Cartoon Saloon draws audiences with creative magic

“We have a creation and design part, but we also have a production and commercial part. Those things must marry and live side by side.”

– Gerry Shirren, Managing Director, Cartoon Saloon

Key Takeouts:

  • International recognition early on set the course for success.
  • Creative talent went hand-in-hand with strong business practice.
  • Feasibility funding from Enterprise Ireland facilitated the exploration of new platforms and market opportunities.
  • Joint venture with a Canadian company set to promote expansion.

Case Study: Cartoon Saloon

An animated fairy tale provided an unexpected twist in the story of Kilkenny-based animation studio Cartoon Saloon. The company’s 2009 film, The Secret of Kells, in which the unfinished Book of Kells is imperilled by Viking invaders and entrusted to the hands of a young hero, was nominated for an Academy Award – a remarkable achievement for the studio’s first production.

“The nomination was a surprise to everyone and it broke completely new ground,” says managing director, Gerry Shirren. He attributes success to the studio’s uniquely strong visual style. Since then, Cartoon Saloon has garnered another Academy Award nomination for its feature Song of the Sea and enjoyed commercial success with productions such as Puffin Rock. Two seasons, totalling 39 episodes, of the seven-minute cartoon were first screened on pre-school channels RTÉjr and Nick Jr in May 2015, and subsequently picked up by Netflix for worldwide streaming the following September.

The studio clearly has outstanding creative talent but it’s also a for-profit business. “We call it a creative enterprise,” says Shirren.

“We have a creation and design part, but we also have a production and commercial part. Those things must marry and live side by side.”

It’s been a successful pairing. Puffin Rock was launched in China by a leading streaming service in August 2017 and has since had a streaming rate of more than one million views per day.

Cartoon Saloon has always innovated, creatively and technically. “We moved really quickly to digital delivery about five years ago when broadcasters were still looking for physical delivery. Now digital is the norm,” explains Shirren.

Early on, the company received RD&I grant assistance from Enterprise Ireland to evaluate and implement a digital management pipeline. This proved essential for efficient production. “We were looking at customisable software which needed to be heavily modified for our own processes,” says Shirren.

“The funding brought us into the realm of digital management systems which we hadn’t used before.”

It was another step on the path to a more professional, streamlined production process. “When funds are in short supply, that sort of support makes a difference. I don’t think we would have got through the implementation of the visual system without it,” adds Shirren.

More recently, the studio received a grant from Enterprise Ireland to embark on a small feasibility study, a sort of voyage into the unknown. “We wanted to find out whether we could port over to a virtual reality environment,” explains Shirren. A showcase piece was created, based on a virtual reality world inspired by Song of the Sea, and is now available for VR and Gear VR mobile platform, both free to download from the Oculus Store.

“It was a speculative project and we couldn’t have done it without support,” Shirren continues. “We learnt an awful lot from the process.” Anyone who has an Oculus Rift headset can now experience the studio’s creation.

Cartoon Saloon’s latest film, The Breadwinner, was launched at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017, and a new film, Wolfwalkers, is currently in production. The studio has also formed a joint venture, Lighthouse Studios, with Canada’s Mercury Filmworks to do third-party service work which may involve animations for big hitters such as Amazon and Disney. “In about twelve months, Lighthouse could be as big as Cartoon Saloon,” says Shirren. “That means Kilkenny could have two animation studios with perhaps 100 employees each, making the city a magnet for talent.”

 

Learn how Enterprise Ireland can support your R&I ambition with dedicated innovation funding.

How research helped Ventac to identify opportunities that drive innovation

“For our customers innovation is crucial. They win contracts based on performance and fuel efficiency, but noise is also a key criteria. That is where we come in.”

– Darren Fortune, Managing Director, Ventac

Key Takeouts:

  • Constant innovation in-line with legislation drove export success.
  • Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding enabled new product development.
  • Specialist test laboratory and manufacturing facility a major draw for European clients.

Case Study: Ventac

Ventac, a recipient of Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding, was named overall winner and Manufacturer of the Year at the National Small Business Awards 2017. The company supplies noise control solutions for commercial vehicles such as bus and coach, agricultural and industrial machinery and specialist machinery including truck-mounted refrigeration units and forklifts.

Ventac has overseas offices in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Turkey, and plans to open an office in the United States next spring. 70 percent of Ventac’s products are exported, mostly to original equipment manufacturers in Europe. Customers include Combilift, Terex (construction vehicles), Hyster-Yale (forklifts), Zetor Tractors and Alexander Dennis (bus manufacturer). “In Europe our market is driven by noise legislation,” says Fortune, “but new legislation is coming out in the US and our existing European customers see North America as a target market.”

“For our customers innovation is crucial,” he adds, “they win contracts based on performance and fuel efficiency, but noise is also a key criteria. That is where we come in. ”Ventac needs to generate new materials and products to reduce noise in vehicles, adapting the solutions for specific noise frequencies. For example, it redesigned the wheel arch insulation in tractors from a Czech manufacturer and reduced noise by 50 percent inside the vehicle. While a traditional solution might be to fit a quilt to the wheel arch, Ventac is now looking to go one step further: “We are asking why the wheel arch can’t be better acoustically. We are developing that type of product.”

Ventac sees a big future for electric vehicles, not just cars but also buses, coaches, forklifts and other commercial vehicles. Electric motors generate higher frequency noises than those of internal combustion engines and therefore require new materials. “You need different materials to treat that noise source,” Fortune explains, and Ventac has put its expertise on the case.

In 2012, the company received RD&I funding from Enterprise Ireland to develop a brush cover for road-sweeping vehicles with reduced noise, and a new floor for buses and trucks that sandwiched acoustic polymer material between thin layers of plywood. This floor was 40 percent lighter than current bus floors; for ease of manufacturing, Ventac is working to substitute the wood component.

“We are now looking to make a composite plastic that would reduce noise for passengers and reduce vehicle weight,” Fortune explains. Due to the product’s potential, Enterprise Ireland supported an Innovation Partnership between Ventac and the Irish Centre for Composites Research (iComp) at the University of Limerick.

“R&D funding has been fundamental in helping Ventac develop new products for different customers in European markets,” says Fortune. “This focus on R&D and innovation at Ventac has enhanced our reputation in our target market as an innovative solution provider.”

Ventac boasts a special acoustic laboratory where it can test mock-ups of materials and parts, and create tailored solutions. Customers can hear and measure the resulting noise reduction at their own sites or at the Blessington testing facility.

“It is a real show stopper,” says Fortune, “when we bring clients from Europe and show them our manufacturing facility and then our acoustic laboratory.” Ventac has grown from around 30 employees in 2013 to 50 today. Exports for 2017 were just under €3 million. Next spring, Ventac will open an office in South Carolina to take advantage of an automotive cluster around South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

Asavie

“Enterprise Ireland have enabled us to take bigger bets and scale the company faster. And we’re really seeing the benefit of that today.”

Keith O’Byrne – Director

Who

Asavie are a technology company developing and scaling Internet of Things applications from prototype to production.

How

Funding from Enterprise Ireland has allowed Asavie to hire a team of developers instead of hiring one by one.

Result

Working with Enterprise Ireland allowed Asavie to accelerate their work, scaling far quicker than they would have without help.

See How We Helped Asavie

Dawn Farms Meeting Customer Expectations Through Innovation

“We have had a long-standing positive and proactive relationship with Enterprise Ireland and currently avail of its R&D support programme”

– John McGrath, Head of Business Development

 

Case Study: Dawn Farms

Established in 1985, Dawn Farms is a family-owned company and the largest specialist supplier of cooked and fermented meat protein ingredients outside of the USA. The company currently supplies world-leading food brands across more than 40 markets, including the UK, the wider EU, the Middle East and Africa, offering a “one-stop shop” to customers in the pizza, sandwich, snacking and ready meal categories.

Named Irish Food and Drink Exporter of the Year in 2016, the company employs over 1,000 staff based in state-of-the-art facilities in Naas, County Kildare, and Northampton, England.

According to Head of Business Development John McGrath, a holistic relationship-based service that puts the customer’s brand first – with product, process and service innovation playing a central role in its total value proposition – is at the heart of the company’s success.

“We have identified a number of key trends, based on consumer insights, that drive our product development pipeline”, he explains. These include the “quest for health and wellness” and “sustainable lives”.

In line with these trends, all Dawn Farms products are free from artificial colours, hydrogenated fats and MSG, while also meeting the latest standards on salt.

The company’s new Streetfood Collection, born out of its extensive investment in consumer insights, combines a bespoke cook and sear process to produce a range of Mexican, American and Korean-inspired street food cooked meat products to allow their customers meet growing demand in the hand-held snack and food to go markets across Europe. Cooked “low and slow”, this new range brings all the flavours of street food alive and comes in vacuum-sealed pouches for better and more consistent recipe and flavour delivery in store.

“Today’s consumers are seeking out authentic and better tasting food experiences”, says McGrath. “The Street Food Collection delivers on that need for Dawn Farms customers.”

 

 

The company’s Texan BBQ Beef Burnt Ends sandwich filling is another example of this consumer-led innovation in action. “Consumers today are becoming more discerning about barbecue food and this is evident in the different types of regional barbecue sauces offered in burger chains as well as the broad choice of restaurants seeking to deliver authentic American barbecue experience and tastes”, McGrath points out. “It also taps into the ‘back to basics’ food trend – a return to primeval cooking methods such as grilling, barbecuing and fermentation. The burnt ends’ concept also fits the sensorial trend towards charring, blackened and burnt textures in ingredients from meat to ice cream.”

Similarly, the company’s Italian-Style Porchetta product was inspired by traditional Italian street food. “The rationale behind this ingredient is to give food-to-go consumers an authentic Italian food experience. This fits in with the Borrowed Nostalgia food trend, where people are looking for traditional food experiences from other countries. Porchetta is a traditional Italian roasted pork delicacy, typically sold from a cart or a truck, sliced to order and served in a sandwich as a quick treat at the market or at a fair.”

“We have had a long-standing positive and proactive relationship with Enterprise Ireland and currently avail of its R&D support programme”, he adds. “This has allowed us develop a range of product and process improvements across the business that underpin our commercial strategy and foster new growth opportunities in a very demanding marketplace.”

APC

“Enterprise Ireland has the knowledge and understanding of the various industries and markets and is very willing and supportive in passing on the information and advice.” – Sharon Davin – R&D Grants Manager

Who

APC are a pharmaceutical and biotech process research company based in Dublin.

How

Development Advisers from Enterprise Ireland were able to help APC rapidly access global pharma and biotech markets.

Result

Support from Enterprise Ireland allowed APC to create processes that are robust and portable. This allows their partners to have flexible supply chains, speeding up delivery to end users.

See How We Helped APC

 

CustomerMinds makes digital communications API ever after for major clients

“Creating the new API interface was a great experience for the team because the developers knew they were building something that was core to the business in the near term. Almost as soon as they were building it, it was being used commercially.”

– Jonny Parkes, CEO, CustomerMinds

Key Takeouts:

  • Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I grant transformed capabilities and opened up a clear path to additional exports.
  • Their forward-thinking approach won major new projects in the UK.
  • Partnerships with third parties are set to drive further international expansion.

Case Study: CustomerMinds

“Helping big companies communicate better with their customers is at the heart of what we do,” says Jonny Parkes, CEO of CustomerMinds, a Dublin-based enterprise software company. “Think large banks or utilities, which have hundreds of thousands – or, in some cases, millions – of customers. They want to communicate more effectively with those customers but often have large legacy platforms or different systems bolted on to deal with their core business.”

Such companies could benefit from a streamlined digital communication capability – and that’s what CustomerMinds offers. Over the past ten years, it’s built a platform to help clients switch from traditional communication channels to digital ones.

“We give them a centralised platform that picks up feeds from their different systems and then triggers relevant communications that are personalised and targeted,” explains Parkes.

In 2015, the company received an Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I grant that transformed its capabilities. Parkes, who is chairperson of the Learnovate Centre at Trinity College Dublin, foresaw that APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) were the way of the future; APIs are clearly defined methods of communication between various software components. The funding allowed CustomerMinds to hire an experienced API developer and dedicated business development person.

“When Google Maps came along with their API, it became very simple to include their maps on websites. All a web developer had to do was pop in a line of code and Google did the rest,” Parkes explains. “Our APIs give similar ‘out of the box’ functionality, allowing our clients to easily access our services.” The CustomerMinds API project yielded immediate rewards, winning the company a number of major new financial services projects in the UK.

“They wanted to replace all their existing customer communications, which were mainly paper-based with emails and SMS, but their platform wasn’t able to do nicely branded, personalised responses,” Parkes says. The new API allowed them to do just that, quickly and easily, by linking directly to CustomerMinds, where all their content, reporting and analytics now reside.

The roll-out took a matter of months, when the client had originally estimated that it would take years and cost significantly more. On the heels of that success, CustomerMinds has begun another five projects with the same UK client, all leveraging the new API. For every message sent, the Irish company earns a small fee, as well as receiving licensing revenue for the core platform. “If they are communicating more effectively with their customers, we are benefiting from that as a business,” says Parkes.

The Enterprise Ireland grant was key to this success, with Parkes describing the funding as ‘special’ because of its combined focus on technology R&D and business innovation. “The new online process streamlined our application and made life easier too,” he adds.

“Without the grant, we would probably have built an API slowly, while focusing on client projects or billable work,” reflects Parkes.

Thanks to the grant, however, return has been rapid, with CustomerMinds already securing significant six-figure deals on the back of the new technology.

According to Parkes, “It was a great experience for the team because the developers knew they were building something that was core to the business in the near term. Almost as they were building it, it was being used commercially.”

Parkes is now looking to build partnerships with third parties who provide systems to banks and utilities so that they can wrap their systems with the communication layer that CustomerMinds offers. The third parties’ platforms might be running the business for their clients, but without a dedicated communication platform. “The UK and Ireland are our home markets,” says Parkes, “further international expansion will likely be driven by these partnership approaches.”

Click here to learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation supports.

Game-changing brewing technology boosts brand value for Marco Beverage Systems

“People sometimes see an R&D grant as something to get a product to market, but a reputation for innovation also increases your brand value and drives sales all by itself.”

– Paul Stack, Operations Director, Marco Beverage Systems.

Key Takeouts:

  • Enterprise Ireland’s funding helped drive culture of innovation.
  • Leading-edge technology transformed brand awareness and opened new markets. R&D for one product generated platform technologies that could be used in others.

Case Study: Marco Beverage Systems

“It’s important as an SME to be able to afford to continually innovate,” says Paul Stack. “In our business, we generally get about a seven-to-ten-year product lifetime, so innovation is key to replacing and renewing products.” Stack is Operations Director at Marco Beverage Systems, a hot water delivery systems company, headquartered in Dublin.

The company, which provides systems for coffee and tea brewing in the food and beverage industry, is a recipient of Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding.

Its range of products includes water boilers and coffee brewers. Marco has manufacturing plants in Dublin and China, and distribution offices in America, Europe, the Middle East and China, giving the company global reach.

80 per cent of Marco’s products are exported: an increase from 68 per cent only three years ago. It has just under 100 employees globally, with approximately 60 based in Ireland, and its products can be seen in significant coffee, tea and catering locations, including familiar names like Starbucks, Bewley’s and Costa Coffee.

The company’s success is fuelled by its emphasis on innovation. This focus, and a desire to expand it, led the company to apply for RD&I funding from Enterprise Ireland back in 2004. “The main considerations for our design team are energy efficiency, beverage excellence and design excellence, incorporating user experience and aesthetics,” says Stack.

“Energy efficiency has been a major success for us in terms of cutting-edge design. Over 50 per cent of the energy footprint associated with a cup of tea or coffee is in brewing it,” Stack points out. “Our R&D department has significantly reduced the amount of energy our products use, and one of our products is 70 per cent more energy-efficient than anything else on the market globally, which is a great selling point.”

One example of a product that has benefitted from the Marco Beverage Systems R&D program is the Uber Boiler, launched in 2009. This one-cup coffee brewing station has replaced more traditional bulk coffee systems in many cafés and restaurants. It allows baristas to have more control over a recipe and brings them closer to the front of the shop to interact with customers.

The Uber Boiler and similar systems are now a common sight in coffee shops, but when the company first developed this product it had a big effect on the industry. “The product completely changed how our brand was seen in the marketplace as it was so innovative. It opened doors for us, especially in new regions like America. People came to us because of the popularity of the technology,” says Stack.

The company has also found that R&D for one product can generate platform technologies that can be used in others. A separate research project for a different product resulted in innovations that contributed to an automatic version of the Uber Boiler, the SP9, demonstrating the types of cross-pollination that an R&D program can produce.

“People sometimes see an R&D grant as something to get a product to market, but a reputation for innovation also increases your brand value and drives sales all by itself. R&D drives a whole culture of innovation in your business, which keeps you relevant and sets you apart from competitors,” explains Stack. “I wouldn’t just suggest that other Irish SMEs conduct R&D – I consider it absolutely critical. Enterprise Ireland’s funding can really drive this forward.”

New combined antenna solution helps Alpha Wireless maximise its potential

“The Business Innovation Initiative funding allowed us to set up an advisory group of industry experts from across the globe. We worked with them to review the market, decide what technologies were needed and develop something new.”

– Fergal Lawlor, CEO, Alpha Wireless

 

Case Study: Alpha Wireless

“The telecommunications market is changing rapidly; 5G is on the way, and new antennas are required to provide increased data capacity while meeting new stringent environmental standards and legislation” says Fergal Lawlor. “We need our R&D team to consistently come up with innovative new products so we can stay relevant.” Lawlor is CEO of Alpha Wireless, an antenna manufacturer headquartered in Portlaoise.

Alpha Wireless, a recipient of RD&I funding and Business Innovation Initiative funding from Enterprise Ireland, develops and supplies a range of antennas that allow phone masts to communicate with devices such as smartphones.

The company is export-focused; approximately 90–95 percent of its sales are in overseas markets, with North America and Israel among the biggest. A recent round of funding from Enterprise Ireland, however, saw the company develop a product specifically to suit the needs of a market a little closer to home – the UK.

Throughout towns and cities, antennas for telecommunications are now being integrated with street infrastructure, rather than mounted on large masts. This is driven by environmental aesthetics, and is rigorously policed by national planning authorities. Alpha Wireless worked closely with its customers in the UK to design a new product tailored to follow the UK’s specific regulations. Enterprise Ireland’s Business Innovation Initiative funding was key to this effort.

Key Takeouts

  • Enterprise Ireland’s Business Innovation Initiative funding allowed Alpha Wireless to respond to an emerging market need, initially for the UK market, but with the potential to expand to other international markets.
  • RD&I funding helped the company to develop a new type of combined antenna solution.
  • The new product allowed the company to increase sales, exports and number of employees.

“The Business Innovation Initiative funding allowed us to set up an advisory group of industry experts from across the globe,” says Lawlor. “We worked with them to review the market, decide what technologies were needed and develop a new concept.”

Many of the challenges were not just specific to the UK market. The combination of the industry panel and a dedicated on-site R&D department helped the company to tailor its solution and break into the market. They needed to integrate multiple antennas into a cylindrical tube that sits on top of a street pole. “UK planning permission and zoning requirements meant that we had only a 330mm-diameter tube for all the required antennas,” explains Lawlor. The challenge was to get the antenna’s multi-band functionality into that space. The Alpha Wireless researchers needed to miniaturise the technology but keep as much of its functionality as possible.

“It took us six to nine months to design the combined antenna, which was intense in terms of R&D resources. The RD&I funding came in very useful during this period and helped us increase the size of our R&D team,” recalls Lawlor.

The result was a complete suite of antennas small enough to be mounted onto a lamppost, providing coverage at street level where it is really needed. The company’s focus on learning the needs of its market, and the resulting innovative technology, has paid dividends.

Since applying for the Enterprise Ireland funding in 2015, Alpha Wireless sales in the UK are now in the millions and it has more than doubled its Irish workforce to 120 employees. It’s not resting on these laurels, though; combined antenna solutions have global potential, and Alpha Wireless has begun selling variations elsewhere, including the US, Canada and Greece.

Lawlor is enthusiastic about the funding the company received from Enterprise Ireland and explains that the application process can help companies to think strategically. “We always keep our business plan up to date, so applying for the Enterprise Ireland funding was a simple task,” he says. “However, for a company that isn’t already forward-looking then the application will help, by providing an opportunity to think strategically and plan.”

Click here to learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation supports.

Irish Dog Foods brings export market to heel

“Initially, we set up as a standard dog food business. But we found that we were just a ‘me too’ brand, so we needed something to set us apart. As a business in a small island nation, with all the logistical and transport challenges that poses, our business had to find a niche to allow us to sell globally.”

– Liam Queally, Managing Director, Irish Dog Foods

 

Case Study: Irish Dog Foods

“We have grown at an exponential rate and Enterprise Ireland’s support has been key to that growth,” says Liam Queally.

“We’re currently in our second phase of Enterprise Ireland-supported R&D projects with a range of new products focused on export markets in North America.” Queally is managing director of Irish Dog Foods, a pet food manufacturer headquartered in Naas.

The company, a recipient of Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding, produces a range of dry pet foods and meat-based treats. It found that ‘humanisation’ – creating dog snacks inspired by appealing and healthy human foods – was the key to opening new markets and increasing sales.

“Initially, we set up as a standard dog food business. But we found that we were just a ‘me too’ brand, so we needed something to set us apart,” explains Queally. “As a business in a small island nation, with all the logistical and transport challenges that poses, our business had to find a niche to allow us to sell globally.”

Key Takeouts

  • Developing niche products defined brand and opened new markets such as the US.
  • Applying for Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding was straightforward and encouraged strategic thinking about research and development.
  • Open discussions and idea generation were a major part of the R&D process.

The company responded to this challenge by developing new product ranges, with support from Enterprise Ireland.

“New products are key to our growth in new markets. Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I grants have enabled us to get new products to market in a shorter time,” Queally explains.

In 2012, Irish Dog Foods successfully applied for Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding to develop a humanised pet treat range, with the aim of launching these products in North America. The range included a healthy granola-style bar and a chicken fillet-based snack with superfood ingredients such as kale, spinach, cranberries and blueberries, and ingredients to promote good joint and skin health.

This innovation paid off, and the new products opened doors in the US market. Between 2013 and 2015, export sales increased from €29 million to €43 million and 30 new staff members were hired in Ireland. The company is now heavily export-focused, with many well-known retailers stocking its products. These include Petco, Petsmart, Walmart and Costco in the US, and Aldi and Lidl in Europe. Irish Dog Foods also has distributors further afield in countries such as South Africa, Korea and Japan. “Our American customers operate in what is widely agreed to be the most impenetrable and competitive market worldwide. In a number of these, we are the only Irish manufacturer listed,” points out Queally.

The company carries out all its R&D in dedicated facilities on-site. Initially, it had only one employee working on new product development. Now, the team has grown to fourteen people, including food technologists and innovation experts. R&D doesn’t have to be hugely technical, much of the work involves coming up with new ideas. “A key R&D facility is our innovation suite, a stand-alone room for thinking and brainstorming,” says Queally. “This is an environment designed for open discussions and idea generation, where we use idea boards to develop new concepts.”

Queally would advise other Irish companies to follow his lead and apply for Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding. “Applying is fairly straightforward, and we learnt a lot about R&D throughout the whole process, even the application stage,” he explains. “It got us thinking strategically about our R&D and what it could bring to the business. Any hurdles were worthwhile and we had excellent support.”

Click here to learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation supports.