Net Zero: Time for Irish companies in the UK to prioritise strategies to tackle climate change 

Net Zero

Irish companies operating in the UK have had quite a turbulent few years. Not only have they worked through the Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected literally every part of the business world, but they have also come through the preparation and implementation of Brexit. But now there’s another issue that is becoming ever more urgent by the day – climate change – and it’s time now for Irish companies in the UK to start implementing strategies to make their business more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

While climate change is an urgent issue in every country, an even closer light has been cast on the changing environmental and sustainability conditions of the UK market. The UK was the first industrialised nation to enshrine its climate targets in law, pledging to cut carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 78% by 2035 and to reach net zero by 2050. This has been supplemented by recent UK government announcements including its ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution (published in December 2020), a new hydrogen strategy and an offshore wind sector deal. COP26 is taking place in Glasgow this autumn, and to coincide with its launch, the UK government is planning to publish a comprehensive cross-sectoral net zero roadmap, which should provide greater clarity for all sectors.

By and large, net zero been welcomed by the market, as businesses can see the opportunities that come with such a move, but the details still need to be sorted out,” explains Darragh Cotter, Senior Market Advisor, Industrial and Cleantech, at Enterprise Ireland. “The comprehensive roadmap to be published ahead of COP in November is expected to include all the important steps to take the UK to their net zero target, including the level of investment the government is willing to put into it.”

 

Already an urgent issue

With such ambitious targets, it’s clear that this will result in fundamental changes across the business community. Already, the UK net zero challenge is rapidly impacting government policy and legislation, influencing consumer preferences, impacting investor decision making and changing the way major corporates work with supply chain partners.

If you already have a presence in the UK, you must become conscious of the net zero ambitions of your customer base and the changing dynamics,” says Darragh. “For instance, already a lot of public procurement is building in environmental criteria into their tender assessments. That will be the same in the construction and agricultural sectors. So our message is that this is a critical issue for Irish businesses if they want to continue working in the UK because everything from procurement to the type of products and services will undergo fundamental change as we journey towards net zero.

“For us in the Enterprise Ireland London office, it’s the number one issue facing businesses today; we want to educate our clients on the issues facing them, find out what’s required by their customers and potential customers in the UK and relay that information to our client companies. For instance, we are seeing more and more UK corporates looking for their supply chain to have achieved environmental accreditation through certification such as ISO 50001 and ISO 14001. Our client companies need to be aware of the criteria they need to fulfil in order to continue doing business in the UK.”

To help, Enterprise Ireland has launched Net Zero UK: Ready for a Green Future, a proactive market intelligence and insights campaign that is designed to keep Irish business informed of the UK’s net zero plans and their impact on business. Through webinars, podcasts and reports, the campaign will highlight technologies and verticals that are likely to decline and those that will grow and emerge, along with the evolving expectations of major UK corporates. These insights can inform the strategic planning and R&D activities of Irish companies operating in the UK to both protect and to grow their business over the coming years.

Opportunities

Of course, with every change there’s opportunity, and working with Irish SMEs to identify new and relevant business opportunities is a key goal of Enterprise Ireland’s Net Zero UK campaign. “Net Zero will affect every sector, but some sectors would require different measures to others,” says Darragh. “For Irish companies, there are opportunities across all sectors related to net zero, not just in renewable energy – there are also opportunities in construction, engineering, manufacturing, local authorities, finance, business technology and more.”

Enterprise Ireland’s Net Zero UK campaign is complemented by the €10 million Climate Enterprise Action Fund, which provides a suite of products to help Irish companies assess their current carbon footprint and develop a concrete decarbonisation strategy to help future-proof their business. These financial aids work alongside the focused sector insights provided by the Net Zero UK campaign.

Despite Brexit, the UK remains one of Ireland’s most important export partners, and it’s vital that Irish companies take action now to address the opportunities and risks brought about by the growth of UK’s green economy. Enterprise Ireland’s Net Zero UK campaign aims to support Irish exporters and help them to emerge stronger, more successful and more sustainable than ever.

Net Zero UK is part of Enterprise Ireland’s Evolve UK campaign. Find out more here.

Dr Michael Maguire, CEO AVECTAS

AVECTAS leading the way in non-viral cell engineering technology

Dr Michael Maguire, CEO AVECTAS

“Horizon 2020 was all about scientific excellence; this project allowed AVECTAS to further develop our pioneering SOLUPORE® technology within a structured framework.”


Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Executive of AVECTAS

Key Takeouts:

  • AVECTAS, a spin-out company from Maynooth University, has developed a game-changing approach to engineering cells for use in immunotherapy.
  • AVECTAS received €2m from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme via its SME Instrument.
  • This support along with that of investors was key to enabling AVECTAS to progress the commercialisation of its SOLUPORE® platform including completing successful preclinical studies.

H2020 Case Study: AVECTAS

Case Study

Cellular immunotherapy is an exciting new approach to treating cancer that offers hope to millions of people worldwide as it has the potential to cure the disease without the harsh side effects of treatments such as chemotherapy.  It involves editing genes outside the body, in effect arming them to attack and kill cancer cells when they are infused back into patients.

Generally, viruses are required to re-engineer cells but AVECTAS, a company headquartered in Dublin and with locations in Canada and the USA, has developed a novel, non-viral gene editing approach that has multiple benefits over alternatives.

“At AVECTAS we’re looking at the next generation of cancer therapy products, including complex gene editing that will address the treatment of solid mass tumours.” explains Dr Michael Maguire, CEO of AVECTAS

“We have developed a cell engineering platform, SOLUPORE®, which works by temporarily making the cell membrane permeable to allow cargo such as mRNA, RNPs and plasmids into the cell.”

The key difference between our platform and competing technology is the gentleness. Currently, cells that are being modified are typically from a patient who may be ill and the cells may be fragile. Our approach minimises stress to cells so they function extremely well when reintroduced to the patient.”

As well as delivering benefits to patients, the SOLUPORE® gene editing process is a shorter, simpler and much more cost-effective one than other processes currently available, offering the potential to deliver life-changing treatment at an affordable cost.

 

Support for commercialisation

Having developed the SOLUPORE® platform, the next step for AVECTAS was scaling the process and aligning it to regulatory compliance to enable commercialisation. To achieve this, the company applied for support under the SME Instrument of Horizon 2020 and received additive funding of 2m.

The SME Instrument supports innovators to commercialise ground-breaking concepts that could shape new markets or disrupt existing ones in Europe and worldwide.

“This support was absolutely fantastic for the company at the stage we were at and for our ambition. It was as much about validating what we were doing as about the grant, as AVECTAS has always been very well supported by our investors,” says Maguire.

Horizon 2020 is all about scientific excellence. The objectives and deliverables that were part of the project provided a structured framework and a discipline that was valuable to us. In addition, we felt trusted, supported and part of something bigger.”

As a result of the SME Instrument support, AVECTAS achieved a number of progressive strategic objectives. “The SME Instrument enabled us to accelerate our discussions with government agencies, academic institutes, regulatory bodies and other companies in the formation of a national strategy. There are very progressive efforts now across industry, academia and the funding community to join up the thinking around cell therapy and for Ireland to do the same in this field as we’ve done in biotechnology where we’re now a world player. It’s exciting to see what will come of that.”

 

Persistence pays

Maguire is keen to encourage other companies to take advantage of the support available through Horizon Europe (Horizon 2020’s successor) but stresses that it should be viewed as additive rather than core funding.

“I feel strongly that companies need to have solid investment and avoid being dependent on grants such as Horizon funding. That’s not the right way to run a business and it can take you down avenues that don’t align with your company strategy. Additive funding such as Horizon Europe can allow you to accelerate progress but shouldn’t be the only source of finance,” says Maguire.

There is also much to be learned from the application process itself which hones focus and delivers fresh perspective.

“We made a number of applications for this funding before being successful and we learnt from the feedback on each of them, including how the outside world views your business. I would encourage people to be persistent and don’t get dispirited if the first or second applications are unsuccessful.”

AVECTAS has benefitted from a range of Enterprise Ireland support since its set-up and also got assistance with preparing the Horizon 2020 application.

Recently it has secured further funding through the Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund run by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It is partnering with Bluebridge Technologies and NIBRT to expand its Solupore® platform to manufacture next-generation allogeneic products that can be produced at scale for large numbers of patients. The allogeneic approach uses cells from donor tissues rather than the patient’s own cells.

The project will take AVECTAS further towards commercialising an advanced, large-scale, digitalised cell engineering platform optimised to manufacture ‘off-the-shelf’ cell-based therapies for cancer treatment.

For further information about applying for support from Horizon Europe, the successor programme to Horizon 2020, please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie.

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H2020 CityxChange team

+CityxChange helping to create the positive energy cities of the future

H2020 CityxChange team

Horizon 2020, and its successor Horizon Europe, are designed for innovation. It enables participants to take risks and therefore achieve more.”


Terry Connolly, Limerick City and County Council, +CityxChange project

Key Takeouts:

  • Limerick City and County Council is taking part in a five-year, €24m, pan-European project to create positive energy blocks within cities.
  • The project is funded by Horizon 2020 under its Smart Cities and Communities call.
  • Now midway through the project, +CityxChange is set to roll out its blueprint for carbon reduction across seven European cities.

H2020 Case Study: CityxChange

The European Union’s (EU) ambitious vision of creating positive energy cities – those that generate more energy than they use – is being advanced by a major pan-European project, +CityxChange, running over five years.

The aim of the project, which has received 24m from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, is to create positive energy blocks within two ‘lighthouse’ cities and then roll out the learning and solutions across five other European cities. This will establish a blueprint for creating energy positive urban environments, essentially co-creating solutions to global-scale challenges at the local level.

Trondheim, Norway and Limerick, Ireland, are the lighthouse cities, but as Terry Connolly of Limerick City and County Council explains, the challenges in each are very different.

Trondheim’s positive energy block is a new build that was designed to be energy positive. In Limerick we’re trying to do the same thing with Georgian buildings, which is a massive challenge,” says Connolly.

Limerick City and County Council is working with a number of expert partners to develop solutions for buildings located in the Georgian Innovation District to help generate more energy than they consume and allow for any excess energy to be returned to the grid.

+CityxChange involves extensive data collection, engaging communities, upgrading building stock, accelerating the clean energy transition and balancing energy use. Despite the challenges, however, including the impact of Covid delaying the energy monitoring elements, the project is progressing well.

“We’ve completed the data collection and building modeling work and are well advanced with citizen engagement. The response from the public has been great.

We’ve recruited 20 energy champions in Limerick who are demonstrating how they are changing their energy use, and we have funded several small community innovative energy positive projects through open calls,” says Connolly.

+CityxChange’s extensive remit is being delivered by a consortium consisting of 32 partners across Europe including city municipalities, universities, and businesses and organisations in the fields of research, technology, community engagement, energy production/distribution and logistics.

“In essence we’re looking at how digital technologies can be exploited to improve quality of life, make cities more climate-friendly and productive, and facilitate business development,” says Connolly.

 

Horizon 2020 supporting innovation

Connolly has been involved in numerous European projects over many years, which have spanned a wide range of funding mechanisms. He believes Horizon 2020 and its successor Horizon Europe are perfectly designed to support innovation.

“Some funding mechanisms can generate a lot of paperwork for participants, in particular those that are based on having to spend money first and then claim it back.  I believe that can make people risk averse because they’re afraid they might not get their money back”.

“Horizon 2020 is high quality funding; it’s designed for innovation. Of course, you still have all the paperwork requirements but the fact that you get most of the money up front makes you better placed to take the risks needed to deliver real innovation”.

“Also, Horizon-funded projects are by their nature at the cutting edge of research and innovation and so are extremely interesting projects to be involved in,” says Connolly.

With his extensive experience of Horizon projects, Connolly is able to offer some advice to other organizations and businesses that might be considering responding to a Horizon call.

“The key thing for anyone thinking of getting involved in a Horizon project is to ensure that it’s aligned with what you want to do. You don’t want to start something and then realise it’s beyond your capability or out of step with your business focus.  A Horizon project is a contract that you have to finish.”

Enterprise Ireland’s support and expertise is an invaluable resource for applicants.

Enterprise Ireland has so much information about these projects and what’s happening across Europe and they can share that with you. They can advise on which projects you have a better chance of winning and can help with identifying partners or putting you in touch with someone who is looking for a partner”.

“We’re talking to them at the minute to prepare for Horizon Europe calls. They’re helping us pinpoint which clusters we will look at and focus on which applications might be of interest”.

“They’re also very honest, so they’ll tell you straight if they don’t think your project will work and that means you don’t waste time working on a proposal that’s going nowhere.”

For advice or further information about applying for Horizon Europe support, please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie

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Salaso CEO Aoife ni Mhuiri

Salaso: Using market research to hone your growth strategy

Salaso CEO Aoife ni Mhuiri

Market research is important at every stage of building a business, not just when you’re exploring new markets and verticals. For Aoife Ní Mhuirí and Salaso, market research was vital when their precision exercise digital platform was inundated with requests from new customers over the last 12 months – and this is where Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre proved so useful.

“The last year has been an absolute gamechanger in terms of digital health, we experienced a large increase in inbound customer queries because we had the digital platform to deliver to patients under COVID restrictions.” explains Salaso CEO Aoife Ní Mhuirí

“As a small company, we had to focus on the right opportunities and we found the Market Research Centre particularly useful in understanding these customers. More strategically it is has helped us hone our market expansion strategy in the US.”

 

The growth of digital health

In business for 10 years, Salaso is a well-established digital platform designed for health professionals to make precision exercise prescriptions easily accessible for patients. The idea was born out of Aoife’s experience as a working chartered physiotherapist and her interest in e-learning and digital technology.

“I did the Endeavour Programme back in 2011 at the Institute of Technology in Tralee (now Munster Technological University), and that was essentially the start of Salaso. The company’s aim was to use technology and multimedia to make exercise a core part of healthcare and this led to the development of the Salaso platform . Physiotherapists, occupational therapists, primary care therapists, nurses, physicians and so on can use the infrastructure to engage their patients in exercise and physical activity programmes in order to  improve outcomes both for the patient and the clinic, hospital or practice.”

The platform can be used in countless scenarios, as Aoife explains. “It’s really for every patient; one of our clients in the US said that our infrastructure will benefit every person coming through their doors – and that’s true. No matter who you are or what you do, there’s always an exercise programme that can benefit your health and wellbeing – whether you have breast cancer, you’re recovering from a stroke, you have a pain in your back, you want to play sport and need to recover from a hamstring strain, there’s always an exercise programme for you.”

“We like to think of ourselves as pioneers in precision exercise, delivering the smart infrastructure that allows practitioners select and guide the patient in choosing the right exercise, at the right time and in the amount of time the patient has to engage in exercise.”

 

US growth ambitions

Headquartered in Kerry with offices in the UK and the US, Salaso is going from strength to strength. “There are huge opportunities for our platform in the US due to the direction that healthcare is taking over there – it’s very much about keeping people out of hospitals and surgeries, and that’s what our platform feeds into. We have an office on the East Coast and also in Nevada, working to target the value-based care market on the West Coast.”

That opportunity has grown even more due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as Aoife explains. “The pandemic changed the delivery and the consumption of healthcare forever, which is a good thing for many people, as there’s easier access to the care that they need – because the technology is  available and the infrastructure is there in the hospitals. The behaviour has changed too, now that digital healthcare is accessible. Think of someone who’s had a stroke or suffers from Parkinson’s disease who needs to access care or follow-up physiotherapy – before they would have been reliant on someone driving them there, maybe a son or daughter who has to take time off work, now they can access the care they need from the comfort of their own home.”

This, coupled with the fact that patients are becoming more educated about the many different forms of healthcare, has resulted in Salaso becoming a much sought-after platform.

“More patients are also now more involved and informed about their options; if there’s an exercise programme that might help postpone a surgery or improve recovery, then they want to know about it.”

“All of the evidence shows that if you engage with prehabilitation before surgery, the outcomes post-surgery are better. Even if you look at an area like cancer, exercise not only improves quality of life but it can also have a positive effect on survivorship.”

As Salaso grew, so did its need for market research; as Enterprise Ireland clients, the company was able to avail of the Market Research Centre to help them recognise opportunities and understand new markets. “We used the Market Research Centre for accessing a lot of the reports for the overseas markets, the US in particular,” Aoife explains.

“The centre was very useful for segmenting the industry, as well as identifying the possible leads that we could go after. It also helped us in understanding the market in the US, how reimbursement worked, and what has changed in the last 12 months. ” says Aoife

“The centre was very useful for segmenting the industry, as well as identifying the possible leads that we could go after. It also helped us in understanding the market in the US, how reimbursement worked, and what has changed in the last 12 months. For instance, a year ago, tele-health wasn’t reimbursed, but during the pandemic, reimbursement for tele health was brought in temporarily, and now it appears to be here for the long-haul. Getting information on topics like this is so useful when navigating a complicated market like the US healthcare market.”

The pandemic has accelerated Salaso’s growth as a company but expanding too fast can have its pitfalls too – and again, the data provided by the Market Research Centre can be invaluable. “There’s great opportunity for us to expand right now but we’re still an SME with limited resources, so knowing the best use of those resources is critical for the future of the company. And that’s where market research really comes in for a company like us.”

Learn how Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre can support your company’s export ambitions.

Paula Carroll

New Frontiers: The first step for ambitious entrepreneurs

IPaula Carroll - New Frontiers National Programme Manager

Ireland has a fine reputation around the world for being a country of innovators – indeed, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have an idea for a new product or service, or a vision to make an existing solution even better. But translating that idea into a viable business is a massive jump – which is where the New Frontiers programme comes in.

Delivered on behalf of Enterprise Ireland in 18 Institutes of Technology and Technological Universities across Ireland, New Frontiers is Ireland’s national entrepreneurial development programme, as Paula Carroll, New Frontiers National Programme Manager, explains:

“It’s a programme designed to support early-stage entrepreneurs, from when they have that business idea in their head right through to when they bring that product to market. It offers a structured and supportive environment and runs across three stages.” 

Delivered in three phases, the New Frontiers programme is designed to be as user-friendly as possible, allowing you to explore and develop your idea over a number of phases

“In Phase 1, someone may come in with a sketchy idea and want to explore and validate it,” explains Paula. “Within six to eight weeks, they work on the idea and find out if it can become a valid business that’s worth progressing. It’s part-time so requires no commitment; the participant can complete the phase in the evenings or at the weekend without it affecting their job. It consists mostly of interactive workshops.

“After Phase 1, participants can apply for Phase 2, which is an intensive six-month immersive programme.

“In Phase 2, participants work on their business idea full-time; the programme includes interactive workshops, five one-to-one mentoring sessions and a €15,000 stipend.” 

They also get a lot of support within the colleges or universities in which the programme is being run, and have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. During this phase they get milestone reviews, to ensure they stay on track as six months can pass very quickly indeed.

“At the end of the six months, sometimes participants can look for additional support either from the Local Enterprise Office or from the High Potential Start Up team in Enterprise Ireland. They could also stay on for Phase 3, which is another three months of support.”

 

Creating success stories

Enterprise Ireland has been managing the programme since 2012, and since then, approximately 4,900 individuals have participated in New Frontiers, with 1,500 going on to the immersive Phase 2 of the programme.

“We also did an evaluation at the end of 2019,” says Paula, “and out of the people we surveyed who had completed the programme, over 83% were still in business. Plus the turnover of those people surveyed was over €300 million.”

Some of those still in business are genuine Irish success stories. For instance, a 2019 participant is Uccello Designs, a design and manufacturing company providing stylish assisted-living devices such as an innovative no-pour kettle; Uccello Designs now employs 11 people in Ireland, Australia and the UK. Another success story is 2017 participant Kianda Technologies, which has developed a no-code business process automation platform that allows business users address core business process management needs without the need for outside help. Now supported by Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-Up unit, Kianda recently experienced a 40% increase in their customer base and is aiming to triple the size of their team by the end of the year. And, Immersive VR Education in Waterford, one of the 2016 participants, raised €6.75 million following a successful IPO in 2018.

 

Supporting every corner of the country

The regional aspect of the programme plays an important role in Enterprise Ireland’s commitment to developing sustainable businesses all over Ireland. “It’s offered in 18 institutions throughout Ireland,” says Paula. “With Covid, obviously, it all went online but post-Covid, Phase 1 will remain online – which makes it accessible to everyone, regardless of where you live – but Phase 2 will have face-to-face meetings, interaction and networking, as well as some online.

“Having that interaction is so important when building a business as other people can challenge an idea within a safe environment, and give participants the opportunity to practise their pitch in front of mentors and peers. 

“New Frontiers encourages people to pitch from day one; we get them to deliver an elevated pitch at the very start, and by the end of even Stage 1, that pitch has been refined and developed through practice.”

The New Frontiers programme is open to early-stage entrepreneurs based in Ireland over the age of 18 with an idea that has employment and export potential. Start dates vary according to your chosen location, but the application process is quick and easy. Simply fill in the online form available on www.newfrontiers.ie and a programme manager will get in touch to discuss your project and send you an application form

Visit www.newfrontiers.ie for details on how to apply.

Cara Edwards title

Graduate Stories: Playing a tangible role in supporting Irish enterprise

Cara Edwards - Grad Programme title

Cara Edwards is currently on Enterprise Ireland’s national graduate programme working as a Development Executive in Dublin within the Life Sciences, Construction, Cleantech, Timber and Consumer department.

I became interested in the graduate programme while I was studying for my Masters in Strategic Management at TU Dublin, where I specialised in innovation. Enterprise Ireland’s support for Irish companies was constantly referenced in my studies, so I knew it was somewhere that I would like to apply to.

 

Applying for the Graduate Programme

The application process is quite lengthy and intense. It’s very important to dedicate time to completing your application. There are multiple stages so it’s vital to research what’s needed in each stage and understand what Enterprise Ireland is looking for. Once you’ve successfully completed the initial online assessment, you’re invited to an assessment day with other candidates – I remember being extremely nervous about this but as soon as I met the assessors, my nerves were put at ease. It’s a great opportunity to show your strengths and to get an insight into what Enterprise Ireland is about and what the work entails.

There are lots of opportunities in various departments, especially on the national programme, and you can indicate your preference before the final interview.

 

Lots of responsibility from Day One!

The role has given me a unique opportunity to work with a variety of companies from a wide range of sectors; from Day One, I was given lots of responsibility working directly with clients and supporting colleagues on various initiatives. Over the past 10 months, I’ve been project managing one of Enterprise Ireland’s biggest events, Med in Ireland, which is a biannual high-profile national event that covers the entire spectrum of the Irish medical technologies sector. My role involves driving and coordinating a team of colleagues from various departments, ensuring that planning is underway and that we’re achieving key project milestones. This project has enabled me to work closely with many of our overseas colleagues too.

“Another highlight for me has been working as part of a small team on the Online Retail Scheme, where we administered over €5 million in funding to retailers in response to the huge impact that the Covid-19 pandemic had on the retail sector.” says Edwards

Now that the retailers have had the opportunity to implement their projects, it’s extremely rewarding to see the results – by improving their online capability, they’re more competitive and resilient as a result. This is an example of how rewarding the work in Enterprise Ireland can be.

 

Developing a skillset

I’m now half way through the two-year programme and I’m starting to think about what happens next. I personally would like to stay with Enterprise Ireland as I feel there are plenty of opportunities to further my career. Also, by working so closely with companies, you gain a deep understanding of how they operate and you can take these learnings with you whether you stay with Enterprise Ireland or go elsewhere. It’s also been very inspiring to work with entrepreneurs.

“The Graduate Programme is a great opportunity to work with different companies and build a broad set of skills; there are continuous career development opportunities and lots of learning available through courses, webinars and workshops.” says Edwards

Enterprise Ireland is also incredibly diverse so there are multiple ways to get involved and build your skillset. Plus the work is very rewarding as you’re playing an active role in supporting Irish enterprise. I would really recommend the programme to anyone interested in a career in business. 

To learn how Enterprise Ireland’s Graduate Programme can help you take the next step in your career visit National ProgrammeInternational Programme

Pricing Excellence: Irish exporters need to develop a robust pricing structure to safeguard their business

We are currently entering a period of high inflation, with prices rising in the EU, the UK and the US. Even at home, the Irish Consumer Price Index rose to 1.7% for the year to May 2021. But after several years of stable prices, many companies are unprepared for the commercial implications of inflation, leaving them vulnerable both now and in the future – and this, according to the results of the Pricing Excellence study recently commissioned by Enterprise Ireland, is a very real worry for Irish companies operating in every country.

Having a robust pricing strategy is important in every sector, but thanks to a prolonged period of low inflation, this skill has been underused and underdeveloped. “Pricing is a fundamental capability and relevant in every market,” says Deirdre McPartlin, Director UK at Enterprise Ireland. “It’s not a dark art or something mysterious, it’s a strategy that companies need to develop and fine-tune over many years. It has even been described as a ‘memory muscle’ that unfortunately has weakened over the years of low inflation. A pricing strategy requires both skill and confidence, and these can – and must – be learned and developed.”

Why a good pricing strategy is so vital

“For business to business companies, many of the SMEs we look after are dealing with powerful procurement departments that are highly skilled at getting the lowest prices,” says Deirdre. “Or they may be going up against bigger corporates that have very sophisticated pricing systems and strategies. And with online marketplaces and increased digitalisation, pricing is more transparent than ever – but it’s hard to explain value in those instances or compare like with like. And then there are companies with something completely new – how do you set a pricing strategy in a brand-new market?”

 

Not charging enough

An increasing number of Enterprise Ireland client companies have reported that they are finding the subject of pricing strategy more challenging recently. “We see clients that are so skilled at innovating, that work incredibly hard in winning a customer and in keeping a customer,” says Deirdre. “But they say that trying to monetise that innovation requires skill and confidence, so that pricing is not just ‘cost plus’.

We see customers with order books going out 18 months and yet they’re operating on the thinnest of margins – so they clearly have a very valuable product or they have customers that they’ve maintained for 10 years but they’re not getting the profit margin.” says McPartlin

If you are struggling to find the margin to invest in sales & marketing or R&D to grow and protect your business, but you’re keeping your customers, then maybe you’re not charging for all you provide.”

To look at the challenges being face by Irish companies around the area of pricing, Enterprise Ireland partnered with international pricing and strategy consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners to conduct a survey of Enterprise Ireland client companies on pricing strategy. This was the first multi-sectoral pricing survey of Irish companies, and the results were compared with the global averages from Simon-Kucher & Partner’s Global Pricing Study 2021, which evaluates the pricing and growth strategies of companies across all industries worldwide.

The study involved a survey of nearly 500 Enterprise Ireland client companies covering 12 industries. The sample included respondents across top and middle management positions in a range of B2B and B2C industries. And the results echoed what Enterprise Ireland has been hearing since the end of 2000 – that Irish companies were still producing goods and solutions valued by the market, but that profit margins were increasingly under pressure.

According to the survey, Irish exporters have shown great resilience through the challenges posed by both Brexit and Covid-19, with 54% of companies reporting improving profits in 2020, comparing well with the global average of 59%. 

According to the survey, Irish exporters have shown great resilience through the challenges posed by both Brexit and Covid-19, with 54% of companies reporting improving profits in 2020, comparing well with the global average of 59%.

But with volume gain consistently identified as the key profit driver, and only 8% predicting that these improvements in profits will be sustainable in the long term, any profit gains are highly vulnerable to the impact of inflation rises.

From the survey, 71% of respondents were planning a price increase in 2021, with 35% of respondents targeting price increases above the inflation rate and 34% planning a price increase in line with inflation. But the average realisation rate for price increases was 21%, which means that a company trying to raise prices by 2% would only achieve around a 0.4% increase on average. This puts many companies at risk of significant margin erosion – even if they were targeting for increases above inflation rates.

 

Building skills and confidence in pricing strategy

Price is the strongest profit lever for companies ahead of cost control and increase in sales volume, and these results clearly show that Irish exporters need to develop a sustainable pricing strategy. Not only is this important to protect profit margins, but it’s also needed to future-proof the business, by giving them the resources to invest in research and development, as well as the means to invest in important business functions like sales and marketing activities.

“It’s not price gouging or exploitation, it’s about getting a fair price for the value that you are delivering,” says Deirdre. “We’re living in a time of inflation, which is relatively new for a lot of companies – for instance, we talked to some clients who hadn’t put in place a price increase for nine years. The study clearly shows the need for companies to invest time and skills into a pricing strategy that will equip the company for future growth and success.”

Watch our on-demand webinar with Mark Billige, CEO of Simon-Kucher & Partners to learn the steps needed to implement a price increase process.

Karen_Hernandez

People management and the new work landscape

 

For the past year and a half, employees across the country and indeed the world have found themselves in the unusual position of working from home. But now that some sort of normality is returning to our lives, many industry bosses are keen for their staff to put in a physical presence at the office – however, an overwhelming majority would like to continue working remotely in some way or other.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, the nature of work has changed as, for many businesses, Covid has accelerated the move to remote working,” says Karen Hernández, Senior Executive – People & Management Pillar – with Enterprise Ireland. “Overall, this has been a positive move as many companies have found that productivity has remained the same or even increased during this period.

“A recent survey, conducted by the Whittaker Institute and NUI Galway, found that 95% of respondents would like to work remotely at least some of the time – and with this in mind companies are now seeking to set up appropriate means of supporting remote, hybrid and flexible working.”

 

Challenges ahead

But while this new landscape brings both opportunities and challenges, Hernández says companies should also consider how to address some of the medium-term HR and management challenges now facing their business.

“Possible issues include looking at ways to implement flexible working to suit both the business and the employees, utilising office space while many are working remotely and motivating managers and employees while they are engaged in work outside of the office,” says Hernández

“In addition, staff may be anxious about returning to the workplace, so it is also important to consider health and well-being supports and be aware that remote working attracts the same rights and responsibilities as office-based work in terms of pay, benefits, health and safety and work time.

“But where businesses are employing staff from other jurisdictions, they need to be clear that the employment rights, which govern the terms and conditions of employment, are those of the country where the individual is physically working.”

 

No one-size fits all model

The people management expert says while research indicates that a majority of employees want to keep working remotely, in some format, employers must understand that they run the risk of losing their best talent if they force everyone back to the office.

“Transitioning to a fully remote or hybrid work model may seem easy as we have all been doing it for 18 months,” she says. “But in reality, getting remote and hybrid working right for the long-term is actually very complex and requires significant planning and communication with employees.

“Firstly, companies really need to consider what’s best for them as a business as well as their employees. What’s right for one company may not be right for another, so a good starting point is to survey managers and staff to understand their needs. Then companies need to review and consider how easy it will be for employees to carry out responsibilities remotely – flexibility is key here as what works for one person, may not work for another.”

 

New skills needed

Maintaining engagement and motivating staff is incredibly important and Hernández says that managers need to develop new skills to engage employees in remote and hybrid work environments.

“There needs to be regular two-way communication, via surveys, focus groups and all-hands meetings,” she says. “This is essential going forward and companies need to establish a culture of trust, with value placed on deliverables rather than on input or time spent online.

“In addition, managers need to have the skills to lead and manage remotely – and this may require some additional training.  So, companies need to look out for signs of stress and over-work among employees as it is more difficult to spot in a remote environment.  Indeed, many are reporting that the merging of work and home life is making it difficult to switch off outside work hours and this is exacerbated when the work culture is focused on presenteeism, as employees feel that their time is being monitored.”

Support from Enterprise Ireland

Enterprise Ireland is aware that companies may need assistance when it comes to ensuring a smooth return to the office or developing an efficient hybrid or remote working model. So in in conjunction with Voltedge Management Ltd, it has developed Emerging through Covid-19: The Future of Work to help Irish companies to consider and reflect on these and other HR challenges they are likely to face over the coming months.

“Its purpose is to help business leaders to understand how the world of work has changed over the past year and consider the impact these changes may have on the expectations and motivations of both current and prospective employees,” says Karen Hernández.  “Our intention is to provide insight into good HR practice and to encourage businesses to think about what approaches or responses may be right for them.”

 

Click here to download your copy of the guide.

Jenny Melia, Minister Damien English, Katie Farrell

SQUID: Enabling every business reap the rewards of a customer loyalty scheme through a handy app

At a time when business recovery is on everybody’s mind, winning the loyalty of customers and ensuring repeat business has never been so important. Exactly in the right place at the right time is a new Irish company with a unique product that allows businesses of all sizes implement an effective loyalty scheme for a small price each month.

Established by engineering graduates and best friends Katie Farrell and Matthew Coffey, and supported by Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund, SQUID is an innovative loyalty app that is free for customers to download and can hold “virtual” loyalty cards for a range of businesses.

“It was something that a few people were talking about,” explains Katie. “For instance, for food delivery, you have Deliveroo, Just Eat and so on, but for loyalty, many businesses were still using swipe cards, paper cards or their own app. People tend not to want to sign up to too many loyalty schemes because they mightn’t want a load of cards or different accounts.”

The concept is simple so it’s no surprise that Katie and Matthew quickly found several businesses interested in their idea. “It’s a free app, and currently we have over 600 sites on it. We have about 60,000 people using it now.

“The business gets a small device that the customer simply taps with their phone and it adds a “stamp” to their virtual card for that business.” explains Farrell

 This is the basic offering but we’ve added a lot more since then; for instance businesses can now reach out to their customers through push notifications. We’re also looking at doing more integrations as well, for example with food ordering and booking – so in other words, we’re looking at anything a business has to do to drive loyalty, and then we want to simplify it.”

 

Benefits for a small investment

The rewards to the business are significant, especially as the basic package costs just €20 per month. “The app is affordable, it’s free for the users, and it’s more eco-friendly than the printed cards. But people engage with it a lot more than with a paper cards. For instance, 91% of people that placed their first loyalty stamp with SQUID this year have gone on to make another purchase and get another loyalty stamp. And then there’s the ability to actually reach out to your customers as well. We also have a discovery page so you can find new businesses in your area. 

“Each business has their own branded profile page with opening hours, location, social media links, menu etc, so it’s a way of finding new customers too.” says Farrell

Another key benefit is that the business doesn’t have to worry about GDPR. “The contact details and identity of individuals are hidden from the business owners, so they don’t know who they’re talking to or can’t contact them individually by name,” says Katie. “So in a way it saves the businesses the worry about GDPR and for the customer, they can simply turn off the push notifications if they don’t want to receive communications.”

 

Working through Covid

The app launched in October 2019, as Katie and Matthew had put together a small waiting list of customers who were interested in the scheme when they heard about it through SQUID’s initial market research. “We launched with the first five customers in September 2019,” explained Katie. “We decided to start small and grow from there as we were a small team, but we started getting a lot of interest and were onboarding people regularly until Covid hit.”

The beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a significant shift in the company’s clients. “We began with a lot of city centre cafés and their customers would be office workers getting a coffee on their way to work. We could see a spike in the morning and then at lunchtime. But when people started working from home, that changed. We were worried at the start, but the café industry did recover and a lot of new places opened up in the suburbs.

“The lockdown gave us time to look at strategy and to market online through social media. To keep some sort of cashflow going, we also added a voucher market feature into the app so people could buy gift vouchers from the businesses they wanted to support during lockdown.”

SQUID had also won funding from Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF), which allowed them to really establish the business before Covid hit and develop the app. Most significantly, Katie applied for the 2019 call for Women Entrepreneurs, which included a business accelerator programme that proved to be invaluable for the ongoing sustainability of the business during Covid.

“I applied for the CSF before we launched and had a waiting list of customers. We put a lot of work into the application and the pitch, and we got it. Before that we were self-funded, so getting the funds from the CSF was our first opportunity to do some more product development – to move it from being just a prototype to becoming an established business.

“I was part of the call for women entrepreneurs, which included participation in the Innovate programme. Each week we got to attend different workshops and talks from entrepreneurs and marketing experts. I found this great as I was able to meet other entrepreneurs who might be a little further along their path than me; I learnt a lot from the workshops and the various talks too. It was also great to get that day just to take a step back from the everyday challenges and work on the overall strategy of the business – I learnt a lot from this programme which definitely helped with the success of the business so far through a challenging time.”

Visit this page for more information about the Competitive Start Fund.

Steve Keogh - Graduate Programmes

Graduate Stories – Flying the flag for Irish businesses in international markets

Steve Keogh title

Steve Keogh participated in Enterprise Ireland’s international graduate programme working as a Trade Development Executive in the Austin, Texas, office. On completion of the programme he made the move back to Europe and is now based in Brussels working as a Market Advisor

The Graduate Programme at Enterprise Ireland gave me the opportunity to see the world while flying the flag for Irish businesses in international markets. My story is slightly different in that I’m 37 years old and ran a family business in Dublin for many years before deciding that I wanted to do something bigger. While studying Business Management in Tallaght I became interested in Enterprise Ireland and went on to complete an International Management Masters in Trinity before joining the Graduate Programme.

 

Applying for the Graduate Programme

The application process for the Graduate Programme is fairly intense. First you need to write an essay about why you’re good for the role. Then there are online tests to do before a video interview. The group scenarios can seem quite intimidating. In one instance there are five applicants with five individual assessors taking notes and watching your performance as you work through a case study completing tasks and discussing the assignment in front of the group. While it can be intimidating it is worth it for the benefits and experience that the Enterprise Ireland graduate programme provides.

If I were to give one piece of advice to applicants who face the same test it would be that this is not the time to discuss your thesis; this is a test to see how you would act on the ground in the market. Many candidates think that the assessors want to see their knowledge of a topic, when it’s actually a practical test to see what impactful decisions you would make that would help our clients. This test is reflective of the job itself – on any given day, you’ll receive a call from a client looking for contacts or networking opportunities – your job is to connect them with the right person/people, sector knowledge is important but so is practicality. Time is money over here.

If you’re interested in the position, you need to be bold and confident. There’s no room to be timid around ideas, instead be brave enough to voice the ideas that you think would make the most impact.

“Go in with a positive mental attitude and let your willingness to work hard and do the job show.” advises Steve Keogh.

 

Networking is key

The job itself is intensive. You are representative of Ireland on the ground in a foreign business community. I can’t put a figure on the number of tasks you might be asked to do. It’s literally anything and everything that would help Irish companies win exports in a foreign market. It’s about knowledge and networking – the knowledge of the leading sectors in your market, and the contacts you make through attending shows, events and so on.

 

Making an impact for Irish business

Nothing makes more of an impact than if a company rings up looking for advice on how to get into a sector and you’re able to introduce them to the major players and progress an introduction– you’ve just saved them a lot of time and a lot of headaches. And on the flip side you will have lots of people coming to market with a product that mightn’t be suitable – your knowledge of the market could save them time and money if you can direct them to the best market fit for their product.

One of my favourite success story’s features a company from Tipperary called Saint Killians that produces candle units for churches. Their products make it so that when the candle burns down, the wick drops into a water bath underneath for safe extinguishing. About a week after I stepped into this role, they contacted me and asked for help to sell into Texas for the first time. This was my first task and I felt I had something to prove so I got on the phone to every priest from Houston to Dallas and back, and now, if you go to 10th Street in Austin, there’s a church there with a candle unit from a company in Tipperary – and I got it there! That’s the sort of impact you can have for an Irish company and the feeling of being able to point to it and say: “I did that” is extraordinary.

“Enterprise Ireland gives you the opportunity to do genuinely meaningful work for Irish companies in international markets.” says Steve Keogh.

 

One Year Later

One year later and I am sitting in the Enterprise Ireland Benelux office on the 14th floor of Sablon tower in city centre Brussels. It’s been an interesting transition to say the least and I feel invigorated by the challenge of a new region, new team dynamics and business culture.

I have started a new position as a Market Advisor for digital solutions and will be working with colleagues in the wider Eurozone team to deliver impact for clients in cyber security, ICT and more. That’s what’s great about Enterprise Ireland, the opportunities for progression and exciting challenges are there. It takes a combination of patience, opportunity and results but if successful you can join one of the overseas offices in a new region and gain an entirely new cultural experience, or advance in your career in HQ at Eastpoint and remain at the forefront of innovation.

The preceding year was challenging for businesses globally as we all transitioned into the world of virtual work, restricted travel, and general uncertainty. Working from Austin I was able to witness first-hand the adaptability of the Enterprise Ireland team and we all pivoted into new ways of delivering impact for clients. Through webinars, virtual pitch events, business accelerators and network we could still deliver key supports to help win new business and expand existing relationships for our clients.

For those wishing to progress beyond the grad programme in Enterprise Ireland, your demonstration of capability will increase your responsibility. My portfolio was expanded to include the energy and aerospace sectors for the US and I thoroughly enjoyed finding new opportunities for clients in these markets. The development of meaningful relationships with your clients will be key in your success.  The clients I worked with had incredible offerings and exceptional business development skills so once I could find the right opportunity for them, I was confident that they would work their magic and get results. Building trust with your manager and team will open doors to new opportunities and keeping a keen eye on new or unexplored sectors in your region will provide a platform to demonstrate your innovative thinking. In this regard I particularly enjoyed looking at the commercial space and renewable energy sectors in the US.

I think ultimately that there is an element of job fit that comes into play. It won’t take you long to figure out if this is the sort of role you enjoy and if it is the right one doors tend to open.

If you are successful in joining the programme, you have gained the opportunity of a lifetime. Whether you stay on with Enterprise Ireland or take up a new role in a different organisation, the skillset, network and confidence you will have gained set you up for success in any new endeavour.

To learn how Enterprise Ireland’s Graduate Programme can help you take the next step in your career visit National ProgrammeInternational Programme.

Why Export title

Export Journey: Step 1 – Why Export?

Why Export title - image of woman packing a box

In a post-Covid world access to international markets, buyers, distributors and information is now at the fingertips of Irish SMEs thanks to increased digitalisation.

When looking towards new markets, it is important to consider the potential benefits of exporting for your company such as;

1. Diversification of market and reduced vunerability

A well considered diversification plan can minimise a dependency on the domestic market and the potential exposure to domestic downturn.

2. Increased revenue and scale

Exporting opens channels to exponentially expand the home market and identify new markets to take advantage of globally. A larger market base delivers economies of scale, enabling you to maximise your resources.

3. Improved profitability

Your ongoing domestic operation should cover business-as-usual fixed costs, either directly or via other types of business financing, which should, in turn, facilitate a faster growth in your export profits.

4. Best practice and knowledge

Accessing global markets will provide additional benefits to an exporter, aside from increased revenues such as new ways of doing business, increased awareness of global best practice, cultural and international competitiveness, that could also bring benefits to your market offering in Ireland.

5. Domestic competitiveness

Considering your company’s export potential will increase its resilience against potential competition within the domestic market.

 

 

Assess & validate title and two women at a computer screen

Export Journey: Step 2 – Assess & Validate

Assess & Validate title and business people

Before beginning your export journey you must clearly identify your target market.  You may have preferences based on previous experience, understanding of the language or culture or simply some connection with the market, though a good starting point it’s not enough of a reason to export to this market.

Market Research will form the backbone of your export strategy as you begin to validate your plans.

The key elements for consideration are:

  • What makes your product unique
  • Who are your competitors in your selected research market?
  • Who are the buyers in that market?
  • How does your product compare in terms of pricing?
  • How is the product sold in that market?
  • What are the local regulations, certification for selling your product and can you currently comply?
  • A clear understanding as to why you have selected this market as the potential first market.

What supports are available?

If your business is at an early development stage the Local Enterprise Office has the supports to help you plan, start and grow

If you are are already supported by Enterprise Ireland you can contact your Development Advisor here.

The Market Research Centre provides access to world class research databases to help client companies make better, more informed business decisions. Contact the Market Research Centre here

Enterprise Ireland hosts events to assist companies’ growth plans – See our events calendar for details.

Our Market pages and Going Global guides provide expert insights and contact details for our overseas offices.

Learn how our Exporter Development team can support your growth.