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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The impact of Covid-19 was severe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about the SEF supports here

Webinars – Brexit Customs Briefing Series

As the Brexit transition period comes to an end on 31 December 2020, Irish businesses trading with the UK will need to operate in a new business environment.

To assist Irish companies with their final preparations, Enterprise Ireland in partnership with the Local Enterprise Offices will host a series of webinar briefings to advise on logistics, freight, customs clearance and the critical steps needed to avoid trading disruption on Jan 1st.

Register Below:

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

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

 

Tom Delahunty, Global Operations Director, Wisetek

Key Takeouts

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

    Case Study: Wisetek

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

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

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

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

     

    Looking for Solutions

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

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

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

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

     

    A Positive Relationship Pays Off

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

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

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

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

     

    Focusing on the Future

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

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

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

     

    Evolve UK Podcast – Retail – in conversation with Validify’s CEO

    Enterprise Ireland’s Evolve UK podcast series shares market insights to help Irish businesses identify opportunities across the UK.

    Allyson Stephen, Enterprise Ireland UK’s Market Advisor for Consumer Retail, sat down with Fergal O’Mullane, CEO of UK retail tech platform Validify, to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the platform and where the sector might be in the coming months.

     

     

     

     

    Evolve UK Podcast – Digital Technologies – meet the team

    Enterprise Ireland’s Evolve UK podcast series shares market insights to help Irish businesses identify opportunities across the UK.

    Every month, we will be bringing you our ‘Meet the Team’ podcast segment. In these episodes, you will get to know our sector teams on a personable level and find out more about the clients and sub-sectors they work with.

    This episode introduces our Digital Technologies team of Padraic Geraghty and Sarah McNabb.

     

     

     

    Evolve UK – Pharma Manufacturing Sector webinar

     

    This webinar forms part of the Evolve UK Webinar series and provides an overview of the UK Pharma sector including the regional clusters and the main UK pharma manufacturers.

    Hosted by Laura Brocklebank, Senior Market Advisor for UK Manufacturing and Heike Owen from Shibumi Consulting Ltd the webinar will look at the opportunities, challenges and hot topics in the UK Pharma sector. 

    Download the supporting report here

    Evolve UK Podcast – Women in Construction

    Enterprise Ireland’s Evolve UK podcast series shares market insights to help Irish businesses identify opportunities across the UK.

    The ‘She Built That’ initiative was launched to highlight the real influence that women have in the Construction sector. As an industry so often criticised for its lack of diversity, this event highlighted the achievements of women in the sector and looked to inspire the next generation of great women in construction.

    One year on, Conor Stone and Kevin Fennelly sit down with the minds behind the initiative, Anne Corr and Niamh Kearney, to discuss the ideation, the execution and the impact of ‘She Built That’.

     

    Evolve UK Podcast – Aerospace and Aviation

    Enterprise Ireland’s Evolve UK podcast series shares market insights to help Irish businesses identify opportunities across the UK.

    Senior Market Advisor Sean Long speaks with Gerry Reynolds, MD, Takumi Precision Engineering and Chairman of Emerald Aero Group about the Irish Aerospace Sector and the challenges and opportunities it presents to Irish suppliers.

    Opportunities in the UK Cybersecurity industry

    This webinar explores the current state of the cybersecurity sector in the UK.

    Enterprise Ireland‘s Sarah McNabb, Market Advisor in the UK was joined by Thom Langford, founder of TL(2) Security, former global CISO of Publicis Groupe and award winning security blogger to discuss:

    • UK Cybersecurity Current State of Play

    • Impact of Covid and Brexit on the sector

    • Future opportunities/trends and growth areas

    • In the mind of a CISO- how to successfully sell to a UK senior cyber buyer

    • Interactive discussion and Q&A

    For more UK Digital Technologies insights click here.

     

    Aerospace & Aviation

    Market Watch Industry Bulletin – Aerospace & Aviation

    Aerospace and Aviation

     

    Enterprise Ireland’s industry bulletin for the Aerospace & Aviation industry provides insights from Market Advisors across the world, on market developments in each region, exploring market conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic , developments, opportunities and supports.

    Read the full report here.

    Evolve UK Podcast – Digital Technologies

    Enterprise Ireland’s Evolve UK podcast series shares market insights to help Irish businesses identify opportunities across the UK.

    In this episode, senior market advisor Padraic Geraghty speaks with Eamonn Carey Managing Director of Techstars about remote working beyond COVID-19, key tips for Irish companies making the leap across the Irish Sea and the do’s and don’ts of seed funding. 

     

     

     

     

    Global Ambition – Industry Insights Agritech webinar

    Enterprise Ireland hosted a series of Global Ambition – Industry Insights sector focused webinars to deliver market intelligence on the evolving international export opportunities across global markets.

    Host and lead Market Advisor for the sector Brian Hourihane is joined by Robbie Walker, European Growth Officer at Alltech to discuss how Agritech and Smart Machinery solutions are promoting sustainable farming across the globe.

     

    Watch the webinar here.