Supporting Regional Development Critical To Future Jobs Growth

 

Resilience is a word we became used to in 2020 and it is an apt term to describe how Irish business responded to the dual challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the end of the Brexit transition period.

For thousands of businesses across Ireland, and their staff, it has been a tough, challenging year marked by disruption and uncertainty. But what has been remarkable is how Irish businesses have responded to the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.

At Enterprise Ireland we work closely with the Irish manufacturing, export and internationally traded services sector.  We invest in established companies and start-ups, we assist companies to begin exporting or expand into new markets and we back research and development projects creating future jobs.

This week we launched our annual review for 2020.  The good news is that the companies we are proud to support employ more than 220,000 in Ireland.  Despite the challenges faced in last year, nearly 16,500 new jobs were created, closely mirroring the 2019 outturn.

However, job losses were significantly higher than in previous years, resulting in a net reduction of 872 jobs across the companies we support.

There is no sugar coating the fact that it was a tough year for business.  However, behind these statistics are individual stories of companies taking brave decisions to change their business model, reimagine their product offering and find new ways of doing business and connecting with customers to trade through the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.

Enterprise Ireland has worked with these companies throughout the year to ensure viable companies have the liquidity, supports and advice they need to trade, and importantly, to sustain jobs.

Enterprise Ireland supported companies have a key role in the Irish economy.  65% of employment is outside the Dublin region and these indigenous Irish companies, many of which are world leaders in their field, are critical to delivering balanced regional economic development.

Powering the Regions is Enterprise Ireland’s strategy for regional development.  It outlines specific plans for each region in the country, drawing on their existing enterprise base, their connections with third level institutions and their unique potential for growth.

The strategy is backed significant funding.  This time last year more than €40m was allocated, in a competitive call, to 26 projects fostering regional entrepreneurship and job creation.

These included the Future Mobility Campus Ireland, based in Clare, which explores the potential of autonomous, connected and electric vehicles, UCDNova’s Ag Tech innovation centre in Kildare and the Clermont Hub in Wicklow which focuses on content creation and draws on the region’s established film and audio/visual track record.  The 26 projects were supported under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, which has seen €100m invested in similar projects since 2017.

Given the potential impact of Brexit, particularly in the Border region, 11 similar projects designed to cluster expertise and innovation were supported with €17m in support under the Border Enterprise Development Fund in 2020.

These were strategic initiatives, closely linked to government regional policy, with a medium to long-term focus on supporting regional enterprise.

However, due to Covid-19, Enterprise Ireland moved last year to provide more agile interventions to regional businesses assist them to reset and recover.

Ensuring that viable companies had the access to finance was an important necessity.  Through the government-backed ‘Sustaining Enterprise Scheme’ Enterprise Ireland allocated €124m last year to support more than 400 companies employing more than 10,000 people.  The majority of this funding went to regionally based companies.

Similarly, €8.2m in funding for 95 enterprise centres, which are critical to the start-up ecosystem and future job growth regionally, was made available in September.

Retail business across Ireland also benefitted from the Online Retail Scheme which saw 330 retailers allocated €11.8m in funding to enhance their online offering, reach new customers and increase sales.

Through a mix of strategic funding aimed at long-term enterprise development and more agile funding supports Enterprise Ireland has helped to sustain jobs throughout Ireland in 2020.  We’ve also supported those sectors, such as cleantech, construction and life sciences which continued to grow and create jobs last year.

The pandemic will have lasting effects including how we work and where we work.  Many of these long-term changes can complement strong local and regional economies.  A key element of the Powering The Regions strategy was the potential of remote working and co-working hubs that Enterprise Ireland is committed to developing with our partners.  That potential has been accelerated by the changing work patterns evidenced in the past year. Now, more than ever, having a strategic approach to enterprise development is vital, and Enterprise Ireland looks forward to the role it can play as we recover and build for the future.

By Mark Christal, Manager, Regions and Entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland.

New African Dawn: Launch of the Continental Free Trade Agreement

A new year usually brings with it hope, optimism and new resolutions. The first two weeks of 2021 have however been fraught with the on-going pandemic, Britain’s exit from the EU and increased protectionism and populism around the globe. In marked contrast with this tone, one continent is pushing forward with hope, optimism and new resolutions.

The first of January 2021 saw the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This milestone agreement strives for greater trade cooperation on the continent. The aim is to bring together 1.3 billion people in a $3.4-trillion economic bloc that will be the largest free trade area since the establishment of the World Trade Organization. This agreement comes into force, with support from 54 of the 55 countries recognised by the African Union (Eritrea being the sole exception) is a hugely positive move.

The Agreement establishing the AfCFTA was signed in March 2018 and of the 54 Member States of the African Union that have signed, 30 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

The main objectives of the AfCFTA are to create a single market for goods and services, facilitate the movement of persons, promote industrial development and sustainable and inclusive socio-economic growth, and resolve the issue of multiple memberships, in accordance with the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The agreement lays a solid foundation for the establishment of a Continental Common Market.

AfCFTA presents a significant opportunity to boost intra-regional trade as well as increase Africa’s negotiating position on the international stage. Intra-African trade has always been relatively low. In 2019, only 15% of Africa’s $560-billion worth of imports came from the continent – compare this with a figure of 68% in the European Union (UNCTAD).

In addition, many African nations have struggled to develop better-enabling environments for attracting investment and it should follow that this agreement will help to make the continent an increasingly attractive location for foreign companies seeking to penetrate its huge market potential.

This landmark agreement is off the starting block but there is much to be negotiated to reach the desired goal of #OneAfricanMarket.

Under AfCFTA trading, with an aim to eliminate export tariffs on 97% of goods traded on the continent, tariffs on various commodities where rules of origin have been agreed will be drastically reduced and businesses of all sizes will have access to a much bigger market than they used to before. Non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade will also be addressed and a mechanism for reporting of NTBs has been put in place (www.tradebarriers.africa).

In parallel to the AfCFTA, the African Union has also introduced the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons.

Though it will be years before the AfCFTA is fully implemented, the significant steps that have been taken to get the agreement to this point should not be underestimated, particularly in the current difficult global environment. Increasing prosperity on the African continent will ensure that it continues to be a continent of great interest to Irish exporters.

Enterprise Ireland has been assisting Irish companies to navigate the Sub-Saharan African market through our office in Johannesburg, along with an established and growing network of industry specialists across the continent. Contact us to learn more about the opportunities for your business in this growing export destination.

Nicola Kelly, Senior Market Advisor, Middle East, Africa & India

PIXAPP – Shedding light on PIC packaging

“PIXAPP is more than just a project; like all Horizon support I look at it as seed funding to grow your activity.”

Professor Peter O’Brien, Director of PIXAPP Photonics Packaging Pilot Line Horizon 2020 open call project

Overview:

  • Tyndall National Institute in Cork is leading an international consortium that is establishing ‘best in class’ photonic integrated circuit (PIC) packaging technologies
  • The PIXAPP project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme
  • The European Commission has recognised PIXAPP as a flagship pilot manufacturing capability in Europe.

Photonics is the future. In devices ranging from hand-held cardiovascular monitors to self-drive cars, photonic integrated circuits (PICs) are revolutionising technology, enabling significantly higher capacity and speed of data transmission.

Its huge potential to address socio-economic challenges in areas such as communications, healthcare and security, has led the European Commission to invest heavily in programmes to advance PIC technologies. But with most developments focusing on the PIC chips, the challenge now relates to packaging, that is, connecting the chips to the real world though optical fibres, micro-optics and electronic control devices.

To address the challenge, a €15.5m project, involving 18 partners and led by the Tyndall National Institute in Cork, has established the world’s first open access PIC assembly and packaging manufacturing line, PIXAPP.

“The assembly and packaging challenges are considerable and it’s hugely expensive for manufacturers. PIXAPP provides a single point of contact, the Gateway, at Tyndall, through which businesses can access expertise in industrial and research organisations across Europe to translate their requirements into the best packaging solution. It’s a major step forward to enable the conversion of R&D results into innovative products,” explains Professor Peter O’Brien, co-ordinator of the Horizon 2020-funded PIXAPP pilot line.

The importance of sustainability 

When PIXAPP started in 2016, the ability to package PICs was dispersed across several European companies and institutions, each of which could only do a few steps in the process.

“Our aim was to make a diversified, distributed pilot line, which meant coming up with a common language of design, materials and equipment standards that could seamlessly move across different countries.” says O’Brien.

With PIXAPP due to end in October 2021, the issue of sustainability is key to ensuring progress in the area of PIC packaging continues.

“One of the key things we had to show in our Horizon 2020 proposal was a sustainability plan. We can’t just walk away after four years. We’re now engaged with over 120 companies around the world and many of them are gearing up to do the whole packaging process themselves, working with the technology standards we’ve developed.

“Ultimately, that’s what success looks like for us, where we can step back and industry takes on the high volume packaging work. There are still risks involved for companies but we can help reduce those by sharing or advising on equipment and we can train their engineers, which is an important part of what we’re doing.”

O’Brien’s team has also secured funding from the Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund, which will help with regional sustainability.

“When we got the DTIF funding the Commission was delighted because that’s the kind of regional investment they want to see,” says O’Brien.

Insights for Horizon 2020 success 

Applying for Horizon 2020 support can be daunting but O’Brien has extensive experience and offers some insights.

The key to a successful proposal is addressing the call requirements, in terms of scientific excellence, impact from project results including dissemination and structure of the workplan. It is also important to ensure the proposal reads as one document, rather than a large number of small documents complied by partners into a single proposal. Ideally, the coordinator should write the full proposal, taking input from all partners. This will ensure the proposal has one voice, making it easy for reviewers to read, understand and enjoy.

 “Enterprise Ireland gave us support to write the proposal and it’s important to use their expertise as well,” says O’Brien.

The right partners are also central to success.

“You need to have partners that you trust and who trust you, so you have a shared vision, and you need to work with them well in advance; don’t form consortia based on a call. Our funding success is is high, and we like to work with the familiar partners but it’s also exciting to work with new partners who can bring new technologies and insights. Spending time out of the lab meeting partners, including new partners is important. Visits to Brussels to are also important to stay ahead of upcoming calls and as a central location or HQ to meet partners and future collaborators.”

Tyndall’ photonics packaging group is currently involved in 15 European projects and has recently participated in €19m project for a new Photonics Innovation Hub called Photon Hub Europe.

O’Brien also feels strongly that projects should not be seen in isolation.

“All our projects are strategically aligned so we’re leveraging capabilities from one project to another. A focus on your core technical capabilities is important. And it’s a continuous thing. You have to keep working on proposals, stay up to speed, don’t dip in and out.

“The big benefit of being involved in Horizon projects is the contacts networks and the relationships that you make. You should think of the funding as seed funding to grow your activity. I don’t like the word project, because that suggests it’s done when it’s done. I think the Commission likes to think that every project is seeding something else much bigger.”

For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact h2020support@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizon2020.ie

Market Watch – A view from Manchester

Key Takeaways

• The UK is the largest export market for Enterprise Ireland clients
• The North West of England has been growing at a faster rate than London in recent years.
• The Manchester office for Enterprise Ireland opened in 2019 and is providing support for many Irish firms operating into and in the region.
• Despite Covid and Brexit, business is still moving.
• There are opportunities for Irish companies in many areas including construction, healthcare, digital technology, and life sciences
• Irish companies may also achieve contracts with local authorities

As our closest neighbour, the UK has long been a crucial trading partner for Ireland and as one of the fastest growing regions of the country, the North West of England was the obvious choice for Enterprise Ireland to open up a second UK office last year.

Headed up by Laura Brocklebank and her colleague Kevin Fennelly, the Manchester branch focuses on opportunities for Irish clients in manufacturing – covering areas such as pharmaceutical and food and drink as well as paper, print and packaging. It is also leading on UK local authorities with major spending budgets across infrastructure, transport, healthcare and more.

“The UK is the largest export market for Enterprise Ireland clients, which, despite the challenges of Brexit, grew 2% to €7.9 billion in 2019, with all non-food sectors recording growth of 6%,” says the senior marketing advisor.”

And the market continued to perform strongly in spite of uncertainty, demonstrating that client companies have remained committed to the UK market and its short/medium-term growth potential.

“Adding to this, the north west of England is a particularly dynamic region which actually grew at a faster rate than London in recent years – in fact, if it were a country, it would be the 12th largest economy in Europe. And this was the key driver for Enterprise Ireland when selecting Manchester to locate its new office last year.”

Brocklebank says the Greater Manchester region alone is the size of the Irish market and the combined authorities of Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region, North of Tyne, Sheffield City Region and Tees Valley have devolved powers which means that decision-making powers and funding are transferred from Westminster to these regions.

“The UK remains a key first export market for Irish industry to enable them to innovate and diversify and for these reasons, many Irish companies look to the North of England to set up a presence in the UK and it is often their first overseas presence,” she says.

“Our Manchester team focuses on opportunities in manufacturing, along with partnerships with UK local authorities who have major spending budgets. We collaborate extensively with our London office and work as one team with our 20 colleagues who are specialists in various sectors including Construction, Life Sciences, Healthcare, Digital Technologies, Cleantech and Renewables – all of which are of strategic importance and opportunity across the region. In effect, we are also the eyes and ears on the ground for our colleagues leading these sectors.

“As the North of England is traditionally the industrial heartlands of the UK, having a base here shows our commitment to the region and we are attuned to the needs of Irish companies, which are active all across the area.”

Accessibility is key and the Irish Sea has long been an important link between the UK and Ireland. So as the Port of Liverpool has submitted a bid to become established as a UK freeport, the regional lead says this could provide an opportunity for Irish companies with relevant smart ports solutions and automated and high-tech solutions which facilitate maritime trade and logistics.

“Ireland’s strong marine and civil engineering companies will be keen to collaborate with UK partners in the North West to help facilitate the necessary infrastructural upgrades required to cater for increased trading and customs realities,” she says.

“In addition, over the past number of years the area has experienced a boom in new building and infrastructure projects and there are many Irish companies leading in the Construction sector – John Sisk & Son have created a major landmark with Manchester’s Circle Square Affinity Living Project, ESS Modular opened their Manchester office in July 2020, having completed a number of projects in Leeds and Oldham, and have a current project with North Manchester General Hospital. And Techrete’s architectural precast concrete cladding can be seen on the iconic One and Two St. Peter’s Square.”

Manchester is also home to a fast-growing £5 billion digital ecosystem and has been officially ranked as the UK’s Top Digital Tech City, while Newcastle became Smart City of the Year 2019 for its innovative approach in using technology to help transform services and improve the lives of residents.

The marketing expert says there is a lot happening in the region which could provide opportunities for Irish firms.

“Digital tech company, Gamma Location Intelligence has recently opened their first overseas office in Manchester as they expand into the UK, having established in Ireland in 1993,” she says. “They have become a market leader in the provision of location intelligence systems and services which drive innovation across many sectors including insurance and retail, focusing heavily on cutting-edge research and development projects, leveraging Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.

“And in October 2020, VRAI, a data driven VR stimulation training for high hazard environments, announced their expansion into the UK with their first overseas office in Gateshead’s PROTO Centre, the UK’s immersive technology cluster.

“There are also opportunities for Irish businesses who can support local authorities in digital transformation, smart cities, connectivity, transport, housing, infrastructure, roads and highways and adult and social care. And a great example of this is SilverCloud which works with Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, providing support for those who may be feeling stressed and anxious due to the current pandemic.”

Of course, there are still some challenges, with uncertainty surrounding both Covid-19 and Brexit but the UK will continue to be an important and attractive market for Irish enterprise.

“Earlier this month, we had a rich and productive meeting with Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region Mayor, Steve Rotherham, to discuss and agree the strongly aligned sectors of which Enterprise Ireland clients have strong supply chain capability,” says Brocklebank. “So we are looking forward to further collaboration and to have deeper engagement across these sectors.

“Enterprise Ireland also warmly welcomes the announcement of a new Consulate General for the North of England and we are looking forward to working together to strengthen Ireland’s presence in the region.”

To learn more about UK opportunities see the Evolve UK page here 

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

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.

P3 hotels: Utilising Sustaining Enterprise Fund to deepen financial fund and improve cashflow

 

With all eyes focused on Brexit, businesses around the country were caught unawares with the onset of Covid-19 earlier this year. But while industries across every sector, both in this country and around the globe, were negatively impacted, some found that their product or service was suddenly very much in demand.

This is true of the software produced by the team at P3 Hotels, headed up by Phelim Pekaar. Established in 2000 as a web design company, in 2009, it focused its attention on hotels and then in 2015, began devoting all its energies to integrating with the Opera reservation system. And last year, had begun rolling out an online check-in system, which, once the pandemic hit, was exactly what every hotel in the industry was looking for.

“After going through many guises and developments, about five years ago, we started working with the Oracle Opera reservation system, which is used by all the largest hotels around the world,” says the company founder. “We built a booking engine on top of that software so guests can book, cancel, modify and manage online. It also facilitates corporate bookings and has a loyalty tool – all of which we brought to the web.

“Thinking about how to further develop our product, I realised that I hate queueing and could never understand why hotels still have this system of standing in line to check-in and check out – guests should be able to just grab a key and go.

“So we developed an online check-in system, trialled it and had it up and running for most of last year, when Covid hit. Then all of a sudden, online check-ins became a buzz word and everyone wanted to be able to check-in and out of their hotel online and wanted to have the hotel experience without touching anything outside of their room.”

Since April of this year, the entrepreneur has been run off his feet, setting up new customers with the system which has made life easier for guests both in this country and in the UK.

“Before the pandemic, we had 14 customers and since then, we have gained 14 more – which is fantastic,” he says. “We hadn’t developed the online checkout last year, but we were about to start it, so we rushed it through very quickly and thanks to an Enterprise Ireland Agile Innovation Fund, we were able to develop it and get it out there. Now we are trying to move forward from a sales and marketing perspective and get more people on board to help us with our new customers.

“We realised a few months ago that things were not going to get back to normal until some time next year so decided to apply for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund (SEF) to give us a deeper financial fund which would help carry us through to April or May of next year. This will be a fantastic help and applying for it is very straightforward, once you get your head around it.”

“Over the years, we have had a lot of support from Enterprise Ireland, all which have been hugely beneficial, but the SEF is really brilliant because we can forward plan as it allows access to the funds now rather than reclaiming it at the end as is the case with some of the other grants. So when we get the funding we can cashflow better, take on more people to help with onboarding new customers and put a buffer fund aside which we can draw on over the next couple of years and I can get back to creating new sales.”

Along with financial aid, Pekaar has also taken part in several programmes which have also been very beneficial.

“I have done a number of programmes with Enterprise Ireland over the years and found them to be very helpful,” he says. “In fact, I was on holiday when I received an email asking if I wanted to take part in the Eurozone For Growth programme and instantly I said ‘I’m in’ as I knew how good it would be.”

The company CEO believes that some of the strategies learned during these courses will be beneficial over the coming months as the effects of Brexit begin to unfold.

“Apart from the negative impact the pandemic has had on my customers, many of whom were looking for a reduction in fees, P3 Hotels has managed well over the past year,” he says. “However, when Covid hit, we put Brexit out of our minds, even though we had spent the past two years worrying about it.

“I hadn’t been focusing on it in recent months and have won a lot of business in the UK recently and nothing ever arose about Brexit as our product is too important to customers because there as no-one over there is doing it. But I do worry as many of our customers have a lot of properties in the UK, so it is something we need to think about.

“I don’t believe our customers in the UK will stop working with us, but they could begin to suffer financially due to Brexit, which will impact us, so we need to take steps towards the Eurozone market – and we will start with Germany as this is something we had been working on before Covid hit.”

So while the future still remains somewhat uncertain, Pekaar believes there is still light on the horizon.

“Before Covid, our plan was to keep developing alongside Oracle Opera who are rolling out a new solution vision, on the back of which would get more work,” he says. “We are continuing to work closely with them – they are recommending us too and that’s starting to take momentum now.

“So for now, our five-year plan is to keep the head down and keep going with that process. Covid is not likely to throw us off track as it’s more like a bump in the road, but once we come out the other side, I worry that everyone will be like dogs out of a trap and sometimes my fear is that I will look back and say that I haven’t done enough to stay ahead.

“I am trying to figure out what I should be doing when the trap door opens – it’s hard to tell but I hope I am prepared enough for the future – and feel that I’m as ready as I can be.”

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

Innovating for Recovery: CW Applied Technology

On the first episode in our new series Innovating for Recovery, we are joined by the Managing Director of electronics company CW Applied Technology, John O’Connell. In response to the Covid-19 crisis, CW Applied Technology designed and manufactured a portable Room UV-C Steriliser. 

The portable steriliser is designed for virtually any room that needs air and surface disinfection, including sterile areas, laboratories, unoccupied patient room. On the show, we discuss, the origins of the idea, and its variety of uses, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Companies of every size, from all sectors, are benefiting from the Sustaining Enterprise Fund

As businesses across Ireland prepare to accelerate their recovery from the impact of Covid-19, Enterprise Ireland has seen a significant increase in demand for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund (SEF) Launched in April of this year specifically to help companies negatively impacted by the pandemic, the SEF offers qualifying businesses funding of up to €800,000 consisting of up to €200,000 in non-repayable grants and a further €600,000 in repayable support over five years with a grace period of three years before repayments commence.

“Up to 50pc of the funding can be made up of the non-repayable grant subject to a maximum of €200,000,” says Leo McAdams, Divisional Manager with Enterprise Ireland’s Investment Services Division.

The funding supports the implementation of a Business Sustainment Plan, which must be provided by the company when applying for assistance under the SEF.

“The SEF funding is time-limited, so it is important that businesses apply as soon as possible for the funding they need to stabilise, reset, and accelerate their recovery.”

One business which has already benefited from SEF funding is JC Walsh & Sons, owners of the iconic Connemara Marble brand. The company supplies three key markets – giftware products for the tourism retail sector, jewellery through TV and online retailers such as QVC Channel and The Irish Store, and religious goods including rosary beads to customers in Ireland and the UK.

“Covid-19 came at the worst possible time for us,” says Managing Director Stephen Walsh. “In early March every cent of our working capital was tied up in stock ahead of what everyone expected to be a bumper tourism season. Our customers expect just-in-time delivery, they don’t want to be told their order will be ready in six weeks. It has to be available immediately, so we have to invest in stock at the beginning of each year. The tourism retail business stopped dead, with sales falling by 95pc.”

The collapse in global tourism dealt the business a heavy blow. “Tourism retail here in Ireland is geared towards overseas visitors. There is no real domestic market for it. Fifty per cent of what we produce is exported, with the US being our key market. A lot of our US customers are destination venues and all these places are closed now.”

That saw cashflow drying up as well. “We had no spare money and nothing was coming in. The only game in town really was the TV business, online retailers, and our own retail website. Our religious goods business also held up fairly well in the UK, with customers including Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral.”

The response was swift. “We did a couple of things when Covid hit. We took immediate action and put our staff on the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and we effectively ran the business by candlelight. We also called Enterprise Ireland.”

The relationship with Enterprise Ireland goes back a long way. “We have been clients since 1963 when my father went on a trade mission to the US with them,” says Walsh. “Enterprise Ireland did three things when we contacted them earlier in the year – they supported us, they encouraged us, and they believed in us. We got an immediate response They appointed a business adviser who did a report confirming that we had a viable business and they then hooked us up with a consultant to write the Business Sustainment Plan.”

The company received €200,000 in SEF funding in late August – €100,000 in a cash grant and €100,000 in a repayable advance. “The beauty of the advance is you don’t have to start repayments until after three years. You can also use the strategic financial plan approved by Enterprise Ireland to leverage bank funding as well. The SEF has given us the cash to support the business and invest in new product development as well as develop our online business. It has kept us afloat and in the game until such time as the tourism retail market resumes. I would encourage other companies to talk to Enterprise Ireland. It’s an organisation that says yes before it says no. They really have their clients’ best interests at heart.”

To be eligible for funding under the SEF companies must be in the manufacturing or internationally traded services sectors, employ more than 10 people and have seen a fall in turnover or expect to see a fall of 15pc, or have experienced significantly increased costs as a result of Covid-19.

“Companies of every size and across all sectors of the economy are benefiting from the SEF,” says Leo McAdams. “The Fund helps Irish businesses to reboot after Covid-19 by providing the finance to stabilise cash flow, adapt operations, and innovate to meet new customer needs. Businesses wishing to accelerate their recovery should contact Enterprise Ireland now.”

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

Automotive supply chain and purchasing strategy changes in the Covid era

Simon Schwengle is a partner at KBC (Kemeny Boehme and Company) and an expert in purchasing and supply chain issues with focus on automotive. Project objectives include supply chain/purchasing strategies, preventive supply chain management, cost initiatives, and reactive supply security. in the following interview with Global Ambition Simon talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the industry and the changes it will bring. 

 

  • Global Ambition: The current supply chain structures in the automotive industry is changing drastically due to the COVID19 situation. In general, in which areas of the relationships between OEMs and related Tiers do you see the biggest impact?               

Simon Schwengle: We are currently in the second phase of the impact of COVID-19 on OEMs and their multi-tier supply chains. The focus has been on ensuring the short-term, highly critical supply of series production requirements, on supplying development/research and protection requirements as well as keeping to industrialisation schedules for tool and system suppliers. It is the second phase that has a much greater impact on supplier relationships along the entire supply chain in the long term by focusing on costs. Many suppliers are already attempting to request reimbursement from OEMs for additional costs both in upkeep and general continuation of production as well as for the discontinuation of previously agreed discounts. The OEMs will take a tough approach in this regard, while always precisely assessing the risk of impacting supply. Suppliers with professional claim management will have an advantage over competitors. A general restructuring of the supply chain in line with geographical considerations (as some reports in the press have suggested) will not be possible in the short or medium term, and in the long term, cost pressure will continue to be the deciding factor when selecting locations and therefore when developing supply chains. However, OEMs will be much more interested in transparency across the entire supply chain (from second to n-tier suppliers), as well as the chain’s management and price structure.

              

  • Global Ambition: Demands in all areas are shifting and in most cases they unexpectedly dropped. What challenges do you see suppliers facing in their dealings with buyers and customers, considering pre-placed orders, long-term contracts, related claims and their overall annual planning?  

Simon Schwengle: At the moment, suppliers are, more than ever, having to manage conflicting objectives, including ensuring liquidity, maintaining supply outputs and controlling costs. As things stand, there are far fewer insolvencies than expected. The tools offered by governments are effective and reserves set aside by the OEMs are less strained than expected so far. As a result, the first big cases of insolvency have all been ailing companies struggling with problems that go beyond the impact of COVID-19. However, liquidity measures still need to be taken in good time, both with regard to customers and concerning a company’s own suppliers. These measures can reach from amending terms of payment to detecting the need/option for shifts early on. To ensure supply – an objective that can sometimes stand in stark contrast to ensuring liquidity – suppliers that have a great deal of flexibility within their own production and along their supply chains are at a clear advantage compared to the competition. As a general rule, agreements and EDIs should always be documented/archived, customers’ terms of purchase need to be interpreted correctly and additional costs always need to be approved to provide a professional basis for processing claims. Controlling costs will start to become the main focus in the fourth quarter of 2020. The volumes required by OEMs will fall by 20% to 30% in the current and coming year. Any and all part prices and investment calculations will need to be revised. This is another area where suppliers need to be professional in order to present plausible claims to customers and effectively guard against claims by their own suppliers and OEMs.

              

  • Global Ambition: Do you have any suggestions or common practices in mind for companies that deal with claims, either on the supplier or the customer side?

Simon: For us, there are two important dimensions: The analytical dimension and the strategic/tactical dimension. Analytical and detailed preparation is the foundation of claim management. In this regard, “players” with a good basis of facts will also be able to assess situations correctly and generate a coherent external perspective. In our experience, suppliers with professional change management are much more successful here. Remnant costs should become the focus for suppliers if quantities fall. Additional information, such as the progression of raw material prices (traded or not listed) or public company ratings, can also be helpful. However, the strategic, tactical dimension is usually the more important one. The key questions here are: What is my position at the customer compared to competitors? Which tenders are outstanding? Which pending payments can I use? The OEMs are traditionally in a very strong position in this regard. They will attempt to use the pessimistic forecasts as a way to pressure the suppliers in their portfolios.

 

  • Global Ambition: How could the procurement of products in the industry change – considering price competition and development/implementation of new technologies?  

Simon Schwengle: I don’t have a very precise answer for you: It really depends… Generally speaking, OEMs align their supply chains with the target dimensions of cost, quality, flexibility, innovation and sustainability. The last aspect, in particular, will see the pressure on supply chains with high energy consumption increase the most. Depending on the product/component groups, the contributions are designed for the target dimensions in order to avoid cost increases in favour of achieving other objectives. New technology, either on the product or in the production process, is therefore generally an opportunity to increase prices or reduce costs. However, this only applies if old technologies made the biggest contribution to achieving cost objectives prior to COVID-19 – either in skipping new development cycles (negative for supplier development revenue) or in part prices.

 

  • Global Ambition: Speaking about technological development: Which areas of the modern technologies do you think will be pushed out by OEMs and Tiers, and are there sub-sectors where you expect somewhat ‘normal investment’ even in the near future?

Simon Schwengle: We differentiate between the following clusters: New technologies, regulatory requirements and classic automotive. The latter will become more and more difficult to place on the market in the near future. There will be big players offering scaled options for unprofitable/unattractive scopes, resulting in new dependencies between OEMs and suppliers. For products depending on regulatory requirements, there will continue to be moderate growth. Requirements are on the rise (and can quickly lead to big problems and pose big risks, as the example of the RDE introduction shows) in end-customer markets across the globe. New technologies are following the major e-mobility trends with regard to drive concepts, autonomous driving and expanded functions for automated driving assistance – that is to say increasing E/E scopes in vehicles – and the expansion of networked services and mobility services for vehicle users.

 

  • Global Ambition: Lastly, what do you recommend companies to consider when positioning themselves towards their customers after the industry ramped up again?

Simon Schwengle: Recovery and return to old volumes for conventional automotive is not realistic until at least 2022, and the ordered volume scenarios for the coming years will not be achieved for the time being. The price demands, as well as all other requirements from OEMs, will still remain unchanged, however. There will be adjustments in supplier markets – so make sure your reaction to short-term enquiries from customers is quick and well-considered. Use opportunities offered by your existing customers – horizontal integration can be an important driver for revenue. Find sensible ways of diversifying without making big investments – vertical cooperation can also contribute to a better cost structure along your own supply chain. Increase flexibility for manufacturing companies – if this did not already happen before COVID-19.

 

The African opportunity for Irish firms

There is a tendency among people in Europe and the rest of the Developed World to take a somewhat negative view of Africa. While the continent certainly does have its problems, the fact remains that Africa presents huge opportunities for Irish firms in a variety of sectors, including agritech, life sciences, education, fintech, construction, ICT and other digital technologies.

And the extent of the opportunity is vast. There are 46countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a total population of 1.2 billion. According to the World Bank, between 10% and 15% of those people are middle class. Furthermore, there are more people earning over $25,000 a year in Africa than in India.

Africa is the second-largest landmass in the world after Russia and has more cities with a population of over 1 million than the US.

Overall, the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is set to double to 2.5 billion by 2060. That will give the continent a very large cohort of young people. While the rest of the world is greying the African population is getting younger.

At an individual country level, Nigeria has a population of 200 million at present. That is set to grow to 400 million by 2060 when it will have overtaken the US in population terms. Ethiopia has more than 100 million people at present and that is also set to double by 2060 and has been the fastest-growing economy in the world over the last two years (10% annum).

Sub-Saharan Africa pre-Covid-19 was the second-fastest growing economic region in the world after South East Asia. English is widely spoken, while the time zones in Africa are similar to Ireland’s.

The middle-class proportion of the population is also set to continue to grow, further adding to the scale of the opportunity. That trend is largely being driven by increased urbanisation, with people moving from the land to the cities in increasing numbers.

Vast opportunities in Africa

Africa also possesses vast mineral wealth. Just about every mineral required by modern industry can be found in Africa. In fact, every mineral the world needs can be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone.

The continent is also rich in natural resources, with major gas finds off Mozambique being larger than many of those found in the Arabian Gulf. Meanwhile, companies such as Tullow Oil are active in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. Quite a few African countries are becoming oil producers and exporters, while others are growing wealthy from minerals and precious metals exports.

Agriculture will be a key driver of opportunities for Irish firms. Every country in the African Union has a stated ambition to become self-sufficient in food in the coming years. This is driven by the simple imperative that foreign exchange is not available to import food. Population growth will drive increasing demand for food and that in turn will provide openings for Irish agritech companies.

These companies can share their knowledge to help African farmers and food producers to increase yields. Irish farming can produce ten times what we consume as a nation and this capability can be transferred. For example, Irish know-how has helped Kenyan potato farmers produce yields of 60 tonnes per hectare, a sixfold increase on previous output.

Education is another zone of opportunity. Up until 2020, some 400,000 Africans left to study abroad each year. In the main, they are studying for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. The biggest market is Nigeria at present, while Africa has the world’s fastest-growing third-level sector. Pre-Covid-19, Ireland was only attracting around 900 students from Africa each year. There is clearly room for improvement there.

The African healthcare system is different from our own in terms of the fact that all of the growth is in the private sector. These new hospitals and clinics are demanding the very best when it comes to healthcare technologies and other supplies, and they offer a potentially lucrative opening for life sciences and medtech firms.

In the years ahead, much of Africa’s economic growth will be driven by digitisation. Young Africans tend to be much earlier adopters of digital technology than their European counterparts. This is in part due to the poor state of older technology infrastructure in much of Africa. Digital Technologies Irish technology companies, involved in areas such as Fintech and Telecommunications find multiple opportunities in Africa in the years ahead.

Other digital technologies experiencing strong demand growth there include all forms of e-health and e-travel.

Construction is another major opportunity. Africa has rapidly increasing needs for housing, hospitals, roads, industrial infrastructure, water and sanitation, datacentres. All sectors are relevant, and Ireland’s well-travelled construction industry is ideally positioned to meet that demand.

At present, Enterprise Ireland is supporting more than 400 client companies to do business in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth has been very strong in recent years, with Irish exports to sub-Saharan Africa growing to well over €500 million. Growth in the key markets of Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya reached 16%, 9% and 7%, respectively, during 2019 against a backdrop of a global growth for Irish exports.

Enterprise Ireland supports

Enterprise Ireland has adopted a hub-and-spoke strategy to assist client companies in this hugely complex region. We have offices in South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya to cover the south, west and east of the continent, and we use these bases to support client companies working in neighbouring companies.

There are challenges, of course. Africa is a very big place, with a huge variety of different languages and cultures. Companies need to be very committed to the market and understand that African purchasers are quite sophisticated. The best strategy for most Irish firms will be to work with local partners. That presents its own challenges in terms of maintaining and developing the relationship from a distance. Through our e-program of meet the buyer and presentations of sectoral opportunities, Enterprise Ireland helps client firms to find local partners as well as to sustain relationships with them.

On the other hand, Ireland does have some natural advantages. As a small country in Europe which has come through a period of rapid development only quite recently, there is a natural affinity with many African countries. Furthermore, coming from a multi-cultural, highly educated, entrepreneurial country, Irish firms are able to deal with cultural and other differences with a sensitivity that makes them the envy of other exporting nations around the world.

For these and other reasons, it is time for us to open our eyes to the African opportunity. If you want to know more about Africa contact us in Enterprise Ireland 

National Women’s Enterprise Day 2020 a virtual, and real, success

 

Covid couldn’t stop Ireland’s most successful female entrepreneurs from stepping up to inspire more

National Women’s Enterprise Day 2020, organised by the Local Enterprise Offices, was like no other in that, because of Covid, for the first time in its 14-year history, it took place entirely online.

In all other ways, it was exactly the same – providing women with the inspiration, support and confidence to start and grow a business.

Sheelagh Daly, Entrepreneurship Manager at Enterprise Ireland, has been involved in this flagship event for women in business right from the start.

National Women’s Enterprise Day was an initiative set up by the Local Enterprise Offices in 2007, supported by Enterprise Ireland.

“Back then the landscape was quite different in that there was a dearth of female entrepreneurial role models. If you went back and looked at the newspapers, for example, there weren’t many women being profiled in a business or entrepreneurial setting,” says Daly.

Providing role models 

“Research shows that role models are an important way to inspire women and give them the confidence to start a business.  So we knew we needed to profile women who had done it successfully already. It was that whole concept of ‘to be it you have to see it’,” she says.

But a lack of role models wasn’t the only challenge.

“At the time there was also a real lack of access to business networks for women. While the Chambers of Commerce were, of course, important, they tended to be for more established businesses. More informal networks, such as rugby clubs and golf clubs, didn’t provide the same level of access to women.”

There was a need for “a mechanism to provide women with access to networks in order to inspire, demonstrate and build confidence in female entrepreneurship,” she says.

National Women’s Enterprise Day was just the mechanism.

Showcasing success – and support

“It was also a means to disseminate the huge range of supports available from lots of different government agencies, not just from Local Enterprise Offices and Enterprise Ireland, but from Intreo, Failte Ireland and the Credit Review Office,” she explains.

“The idea was to bring all these things under one roof, on one day, with one big bang that would put female entrepreneurship on the map.”

It did just that.  “The first event was held in Mullingar and was fantastic, and overbooked, so we carried on.”

Indeed, the event grew so much that in recent years the Local Enterprise Offices have run regional versions too, to enable even more women to attend.

All followed the same proven format of enabling participants to listen to successful women at different stages of their business journey, to gain an understanding of the supports available to them, and to have an opportunity for networking.

“Then, in 2020, we had Covid,” she says.

Covid can’t stop it

Having supported so many businesses to ‘pivot’ to online to cope with the pandemic, the network of Local Enterprise Offices were quick to do the same with National Women’s Enterprise Day. It took place on Wednesday 14th October, entirely remotely, and was a huge success.

“We saw an enormous attendance of 1641 people which was amazing and well reflected this year’s theme of ‘Stronger Together’,” says Daly.

Speakers included Olympian turned businesswoman Derval O’Rourke, who talked about the strength, discipline and resilience required to deliver peak performance in one sector before pivoting to another.

Sonia Deasy, founder of international beauty brand Mortar & Pestle, spoke about her journey taking a brand from “local to global”.

A series of ‘leading lights’ included successful female entrepreneurs across a range of sectors, from Clare Hughes of CF Pharma in Kilkenny to Mary Walsh of Ire-Wel Pallets in Wexford and Odilon Hunt of AVA Audio Visual in Sligo.

Exploring overseas markets

Sheelagh Daly hosted a panel discussion entitled “Exploring Overseas Markets”, featuring expert commentary from Anne Lanigan, Enterprise Ireland’s Regional Director Eurozone, and Marina Donohoe, Enterprise Ireland’s Director for UK and Northern Europe.

As well as exhorting female entrepreneurs to explore Eurozone markets, they pointed out that the UK will always be hugely important to Irish businesses too.

Marcella Rudden, Head of Enterprise with Local Enterprise Office Cavan explained the questions to address when starting your export journey.

“She spoke about how to choose a market to target and how the Local Enterprise Office should be your first port of call because it has the supports to help you, both financial and otherwise,” says Daly.

One of the main threads running through the day was not to be afraid of exporting, she says. “The message was that it isn’t something that should be seen as intimidating and that there is help available.”

That help is not just from Local Enterprise Offices but from all sorts of sources, including networks for women in business in countries such as France and Spain, delegates heard.

“Before you commit to a market do the research, make sure that it’s the right market for you and that you can compete in it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” says Daly.

Information is crucial. Both men and women have similar business ambitions but research indicates that women take a more cautious approach, including in areas such as borrowing for business. They typically “prefer more information before they take a risk”, says Daly.

“The ambition is very much there but the approach is different.”

Women’s success is Ireland’s success

National Women’s Enterprise Day 2020 took place in a year which also saw the launch of Enterprise Ireland 2020 Action Plan for Women in Business. This important six-year strategy to support female entrepreneurship was launched in February, just before Covid.

“The reason such emphasis is being put on women is because we are still looking at a much higher proportion of men in leadership and entrepreneurship,” explains Daly.

This needs addressing because, both as an economy and a society, we “need the skills and talents of all our population to be realised,” she says.

We also need those businesses that are started to be the best they can. “All the research demonstrates that the greater the diversity the stronger, more profitable and faster-growing the business,” says Daly.

“That leads to wider economic benefits, so it’s a real economic imperative that everybody, regardless of gender or other diversities, does not face barriers when it comes to starting or growing a business.”

 

Watch the ‘National Women’s Enterprise Day Virtual Event’ sessions on-demand here