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.


“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


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


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


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.”


“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


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


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


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.


Tenacity and R&D Drive Chanelle Group Growth in the EU

“The EU accounts for a much larger percentage of the total global veterinary pharmaceutical market – making up around 36% of the €23bn total, compared to 14-16% in South America.”– Michael Burke, Managing Director


Key Takeouts

  • Higher prices and stable markets made EU the priority export market.
  • Concerted and strategic R&D investment has been a key driver of growth.
  • Enterprise Ireland supports have helped develop innovation and production capacity.

Case Study: Chanelle

Chanelle Group’s success in Europe has been largely based on founder Michael Burke’s long-term vision and awareness of the need to take time to develop markets which he believed held potential for the company.

A qualified veterinary surgeon, he decided to give up his practice in the mid-1980s as he had spotted an opportunity to manufacture generic pharmaceutical products for animal health.

In 1985 he bought a seven-acre site in Loughrea, Co Galway and started out with just two staff manufacturing products in a 40,000 sq ft warehouse for the Irish and export markets. “It was a small beginning, but we grew organically every year since as we learned,” he says.

Nowadays, Chanelle is the largest Irish-owned manufacturer of pharmaceuticals in Ireland, employing 395 people and exporting to 80 countries worldwide, with key markets in the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa and the Middle East.

The group supplies ten of the top 12 multinationals in the world in both the human and veterinary pharmaceuticals sectors, with a product range including anthelmintics, anaesthetics and antibiotics that have come off patent. Sales growth in the past three years has been 30%, reaching around €100m in 2016.

Burke was named Visionary CEO of the Year in the 2016 Animal Pharm Awards in January. Animal Pharm is a worldwide animal health publication in existence for over 30 years. Chanelle also won the Exporter of the Year 2016 award at the Irish Exporters Association’s annual awards.

Top Tips for Exporting to Europe:

  • Perseverance and persistence are the keys to successful product registration.
  • Clear and simple strategy and goals enable organic growth.
  • Strong sales depend on continuous innovation.

For more detail, click here

Exporting strategy

When Chanelle started out as an exporter it concentrated on South America and the Far East as it was easier to get product licences in those regions, according to Burke. “Europe, and the UK, was exceptionally difficult in terms of registering products. These markets were protectionist at the time, only wanting to grant licences to local companies operating in our sector,” he notes.

However, in 1996 Burke took the strategic decision to pull out of South America and redirect his focus onto the EU as he felt there were better long-term opportunities there and it was a higher price market.

“The EU accounts for a much larger percentage of the total global veterinary pharmaceutical market – making up around 36% of the €23bn total, compared to 14-16% in South America,” says Burke.

“The first few years in Europe were very difficult but we just had to live with it. You could have a product registration application submitted for two or three years in any one market before you would even get a reply from the authorities – they just weren’t interested in registering foreign products.”

Burke was undeterred and believed that patience would pay off in the EU after his experience of cracking the Japanese market. “We were the first company to introduce generic veterinary pharmaceutical products in Japan and it took us six years to gain a foothold there, with the help of the Irish ambassador at the time,” he recalls.

“It’s a different ball game in Europe now. Everything is much easier from a regulatory perspective. Things changed in 2003/4 – now as a pharmaceutical manufacturer you just have to meet the necessary requirements and will get a product registered in about a year and a half.”

Chanelle was required to register its products in each country in Europe individually. Once it had managed to get product licences the markets were open to dealing with the company and it was easy to get distributors, according to Burke – who makes a point of visiting all the company’s international customers personally at least once a year.

Now, Chanelle Group has over 1,700 animal health licences registered in the EU and 500 in the rest of the world – the largest number of registered veterinary licences of any company in Europe. It holds over 800 product licences for human health products worldwide.

About 83% of Chanelle’s business is in the EU at the moment. The veterinary side of the group has grown by 326% in the past ten years and by 236% in the past five years. Growth rates on the human side have been similar, having come from nothing in 2000.

Chanelle’s approach in Europe was to start with the UK, followed by Spain and Germany. It set up a dedicated UK subsidiary, Chanelle Animal Health UK, in 1992 and in 2000 established Chanelle Medical, which focused on human generic pharmaceutical manufacturing.

“The building of a new facility in the mid-1990s in Loughrea gave us the impetus to diversify,” says Burke. “We have totally different distributors, sales staff, regulatory staff and research and development [R&D] departments for the two sides of the business.”

Focus on R&D

The group as a whole is very focused on R&D as a way of differentiating its offering and dealing with competition. This has been a key driver of its growth. It has over 70 people working in R&D now, including 40 people at its R&D laboratory in Amman, Jordan. Chanelle Group also has sales offices in the UK and India.

“We invest over €8m annually in R&D and this investment will continue as we launch 75 new products over the next five years in both human and veterinary pharmaceuticals,” says Burke.

“We try to pick products for our pipeline that other companies may not be picking. This is an art in itself. For example, on the veterinary side we are developing ten ‘super generic’ products, one of which we have launched. There is nothing similar to these products on the market – other products may have the same active ingredients, but not the same formulation.” The super generic product launched was Rheumocam Granules, which treat musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis in horses.

Chanelle is in the process of completing a 30,000 sq ft expansion of its 300,000 sq ft facility in Loughrea as part of a €70m investment programme supported by Enterprise Ireland. This will double production capacity at the site and lead to the creation of 175 new jobs over the next five years.

“One of the keys to our success has been our people, 60% of whom are third-level graduates,” notes Burke. “This will continue to be the case as we look ahead to expansion into new markets including the US. We expect revenues to increase by 65% over the next five years.”

Chanelle’s Partnership with Enterprise Ireland:

  • Availed of various supports including overseas advice and R&D supports.
  • Enterprise Ireland Lean programmes have helped drive operational excellence.
  • Completing a major expansion of its Loughrea facility as part of a €70m investment programme supported by Enterprise Ireland.

To see how Enterprise Ireland has supported Chanelle from day one, click here.

R&D lights the way to LED sales spike

“Thanks to Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I grants, we do the knowledge-economy part in Ireland now. This has created jobs and been a great success for us.”

– Pat Kelly, Research, Development and Innovation Director, LED Group


Case Study: LED Group

Innovation in its ROBUS brand is a crucial driver of growth for the LED Group, a leading provider of LED lighting technologies, founded in 1984.

Its products, sold mainly via electrical wholesalers worldwide, offer energy savings, a long life and ease of maintenance. “Traditionally, customers put halogen fittings in their homes, but now there’s an array of LED products to choose from with far longer lifespans,” says marketing manager Deirdre Howard.

In 2014, the company set up a team focused exclusively on research, development and innovation (RD&I), underpinned by grants from Enterprise Ireland. This allowed it to win market share abroad and strategically exit manufacturing in China.

“When I came in as a research, development and innovation director in early 2014,” says Pat Kelly, “we had a relatively small share of the residential downlight market in Britain.” Kelly, who arrived at the company with a physics and engineering background, initiated a project that incorporated new state-of-the-art knowledge into a downlight: driver-on-board technology.

The grant funding allowed the company to test around 20 prototypes of the new technology before achieving a breakthrough.

“We introduced a product called Triumph Activate that substantially expanded our share of the market. It allowed us to tender in new areas because of its reliability, and its sales have put a significant amount of money on our topline too.”


  • Product reliability substantially increased market share and opened new areas for tender.
  • Adapting products for foreign markets created rapid growth and built brand perception.
  • Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding provided a safety net against risk and helped seed investment

When LED light fittings are powered by mains electricity, the current has to pass through a special electronic device called a driver. Often separate from the light fitting itself, this device is based on old capacitor technology and contains bulky components that must be soldered together. As a result, it’s often the first point of failure.

LED Group developed driver-on-board circuitry that can be included in the light itself. It’s essentially a pod that can be dropped into the light fitting, making the system much more efficient and reliable, improving its longevity, and requiring less power. All components are placed by machine, minimizing the potential for human error.

The company launched a version adapted for the Australian market; it only entered this market in 2010 but has already seen rapid growth there. “Introducing products such as Triumph Activate gets people talking and is a really positive force in building brand perception,” says Howard.

Another RD&I project saw the company convert one of its range of small fluorescent outdoor lights to LED, then move the technology to bigger lights for car parks and develop a patented retrofit capability for them. “We can retrofit not just our own fitting, but those of 16 other manufacturers,” points out Kelly.

LED Group is also part of LEDLUM, a European-funded project which aims to reduce the weight of the LED driver by 90 per cent and increase its lifetime. “This enables us to play senior hurling on the research stage,” quips Kelly. He hopes it will ultimately enable the company to offer a ten-year warranty on fittings by 2020.

Another ambitious goal that Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding supports is the development of ‘human-centric lighting’. This will bring outdoor light quality indoors, replicating natural light by tuning the blue content that our eyes use to set our body clock. “The lighting behaves as if it’s morning or afternoon,” explains Howard. “We hope to launch products in universities, schools and hospitals next year.”

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

Ding credits innovation for growth

“We looked at ways of automating our day-to-day operations so as much of the business as possible is focused on R&D and creating new features & products.”

– David Shackleton, CEO, Ding


  • Developing proprietary technologies led to huge competitive advantage.
  • New products and improved technology enhanced user experience and drove success.
  • Enterprise Ireland offices abroad enabled rapid expansion into foreign markets.

Case Study: Ding

Irish SME Ding offers consumers an easy way to deliver mobile top-ups to friends and family in over 130 countries. People can add data or minutes using the Ding app or website, or by walking into one of 600,000 stores worldwide.

The company allows users to deliver credit to phones from over 400 different operators, with a reach of four billion phones.

“It’s a simple idea, but the complexity becomes a huge challenge when you do it at scale,” explains Ding CEO, David Shackleton.

The company started selling phone top-ups in 2006, but with just a little marketing new customers quickly came on board.

“Back then we had a pretty clunky technology platform, but as people realised they could use this service to provide a gift in another country, word quickly spread,” recalls Shackleton. Ding is especially popular among expats with links to Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

Ding received RD&I grants from Enterprise Ireland that were particularly crucial in its early days. “We were able to invest and build up proprietary technologies and push the envelope in terms of the platform’s scale, which has given us a massive competitive advantage,” says Shackleton.

The three major corridors for Ding’s business are currently North America to Latin and Central America, Europe to Africa, and the Middle East to Asia. With 190 employees, 130 of them in Ireland, the company had gross revenues last year of half a billion dollars. It continues to enhance the user experience by improving its technology. Shackleton believes that: “every pre-paid phone in the world – which is 85 per cent of phones – should have an app that’s able to do top-ups. That’s a huge opportunity.”

One project supported by an Enterprise Ireland grant illustrates how solving a complex problem can simplify life for consumers. A customer can walk into a shop, ask to put €5 onto a mobile phone number elsewhere in the world, and Ding handles the rest. “We developed a piece of technology that allows us to predict from somebody’s phone number which mobile operator they use,” says Shackleton.

“It’s a really nice, seamless experience for the user, but behind the scenes there’s a lot of complexity involved in doing it.”

The Enterprise Ireland funding pushed the company to think about what represented business as usual and what was innovative. “Recently, we looked a lot at ways of automating our day-to-day operations so as much of the business as possible is focused on R&D and creating new features,” explains Shackleton. Ding often releases over 20 updates in a single week, such as support for new mobile operators, improved user flow on Ding’s website, or improved content on the app. “You could develop an app for €10,000 but to be truly world-class and operate at scale, the backend system needs to be sophisticated, which takes millions of euros and years upon years of learning and development.”

The core platform runs hundreds of transactions every second, with a surge at peak times on Friday nights and Saturdays. The company also runs deep learning algorithms and machine learning to manage and monitor fraud, and underpin digital marketing initiatives. According to Shackleton: “We can do a reasonably accurate prediction of what a customer might be worth to us over time, which enables us to spend confidently in terms of digital marketing.”

Headquartered in Dublin, the company has regional offices in Miami, Dubai, Barcelona, San Salvador, Bucharest and Dhaka. Shackleton credits Enterprise Ireland offices abroad with allowing the company to expand to markets as diverse as Russia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia: “we couldn’t have done business in all those countries without their help.”