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

 

Ready for a New World: How Modubuild grew during the Covid-19 crisis 

Never has there been more need for advice, guidance, reassurance and fresh ideas for Irish companies facing the unprecedented challenges that 2020 has brought, which is why the theme for Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week (IMW) 2020 was“Ready for a New World”.

One of the keynote speakers at this year’s IMW event was Kevin Brennan, the co-founder and managing director at Modubuild, a company that has enjoyed phenomenal growth thanks to large-scale projects throughout Northern Europe. Understandably, the company has faced project delays and postponements thanks to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic but is still expecting strong growth this year.

“The way we look at it is that Covid has been a problem but it’s just one of the many problems that you encounter as an international business on a day-to-day or year-to-year basis,” says Kevin. “Our main message would be to remain positive, communicate with your people and continue to service your clients. We don’t see Covid as an excuse not to deliver. It may be more difficult but the world continues on.”

From small beginnings to big contracts

Modubuild was set up initially as a small company by Kevin and his business partner John Comerford to take advantage of an opportunity around modular construction, specifically in the area of specialist fire and explosion protection. Clients included Dublin Airport and Limerick Tunnel, as well as some pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly, Pfizer & Amgen. The company quickly became specialists in this area and were well poised to deliver solutions for the burgeoning data centre industry that experienced strong growth in the last decade.

Our first data centre job in Ireland was around 2012, and in 2015, we won our first big international contract, an €8 million contract for a data centre in the Netherlands for the same client. At the time, it was one of the biggest data centre projects in Europe. From then on, the company has skyrocketed in growth, averaging 60% year on year since then. Current year revenue will be somewhere north of €34 million, so all going well, we’d be expecting to go past the €50 million mark next year.”

Throughout their growth, Modubuild has been supported by Enterprise Ireland, both in terms of grants and advice as they expanded into new countries. “Enterprise Ireland helped us out a lot since we initially branched out into the Netherlands, leading us through issues like tax compliance and putting us in contact with local suppliers, opportunities etc. We also received two rounds of funding to help recruit people. We’ve found them really beneficial in terms of PR; our first office outside Ireland was in Amsterdam, and Enterprise Ireland arranged for Kevin Kelly, Ireland’s ambassador to the Netherlands, to open the office, which attracted a significant amount of PR. The fact that you have an entity like Enterprise Ireland promoting us as an international company alongside some other very successful companies can only be beneficial in raising our profile.”

Today, the company is headquartered in Kilkenny City, with a manufacturing plant in Castlecomer and offices in Amsterdam, Brussels, Manchester, Stockholm and Helsinki. “Our business is mostly in North Europe, following our clients as they require our services. Lots of data centre activity is located in Northern Europe – our clients tend to roll out different projects across Europe and ask us to come on the journey with them. We’re in the process of setting up in Spain in the next year because data centre activity is increasing there and we are also looking at opportunities in other countries.”

The plant in Castlecomer is another side to the business. “In Castlecomer, we design and manufacture high-tech modular buildings and can then ship them throughout the world. For example, we’ve just delivered a large turn-key design and build vaccine laboratory for a Global BioPharma customer. We designed, built and tested the entire facility in our factory, while the client was getting planning and preparing the site. We then shipped it to site in large modules and re-assembled the building on site in 10 days, this means our client can have a lifesaving vaccine ready for market around one year earlier than it would normally take.”

Tackling 2020’s challenges

Modubuild was in a strong position coming into 2020, which helped the company navigate the two major challenges of 2020 – Brexit and Covid. Brexit, explains Kevin, was something they had prepared for well in advance. “One of the things we did when Brexit first came on the scene was to set up a separate company that operated within the UK. We also took the foot off the pedal somewhat in the UK as it’s a very competitive market and instead focused our attentions elsewhere in Europe – and it’s been a very successful strategy for us.”

Covid, on the other hand, was a different story. “Covid was something that nobody saw coming. For us, we had seen huge growth coming into the crisis, and we were extremely busy with almost full order books. The biggest impact probably was the temporary closure of some projects, particularly in Ireland because of lockdowns, and that hit our Q2 turnover probably to the tune of 25%. But overall, we’re still projecting strong growth this year, perhaps not at the same level as before Covid, but possibly somewhere north of 30%.

“We’re lucky that the sectors we work in are all seen as essential – for instance, many of our clients are looking to develop vaccines for Covid and need rapid delivery of vaccine laboratories, which we can build in Castlecomer. Then the data centre industry is continuing its growth at pace, if anything, Covid has meant there is an even greater need for data centres due to video conferencing, remote working etc.”

Like most other companies, remote working and staying in contact with employees during lockdowns have been challenging. “A lot of our people are mobile and working in different locations so we were well used to communicating through video chat etc, but probably our biggest challenge was missing the interaction of working and collaborating in an office environment. We’ve tried to keep people connected by having regular Town Hall meetings online and doing various other activities online to keep people involved, virtual coffee meetings etc. There was huge uncertainty back in March/April, we noticed many people and businesses around us were panicking, so one of the first things we did as a company was to send a clear out a clear message to our people that we were in a strong position, peoples jobs were secure and we weren’t going to put people on reduced hours, furlough, forced holidays etc. In fact, we stated that we were going to keep recruiting – and that’s what we’ve done, we have continued to grow team significantly to ensure we were ready to take on new and larger projects.”

In addition, having boots on the ground in Europe has proved beneficial. “We had a couple of hundred people located on projects throughout Europe, and most of them made the decision to stay in those countries during the pandemic rather than travelling back to Ireland every week or two weeks as they would have done pre-Covid. This meant that all our projects stayed operational throughout the crisis, in fact, we actually started a couple of new projects in Europe right in the middle of the pandemic.”

 

Click here to watch the opening of Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week 2020, featuring Kevin Brennan.

c2GRAN: Using Horizon 2020 support to reduce 5g energy consumption


“H2020 offers funding opportunities for projects at every scale and an open call can be easily found relevant to your idea.

Ehsan Elahi, TSSG, Co-ordinator of the C2GRAN Horizon 2020 open call project

Overview:

  • The European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme has supported almost 150,000 participants in over 30,000 projects.
  • The C2GRAN project received €75,000 in Horizon 2020 supports.
  • The c2GRAN project aims to minimise energy consumption and carbon emissions related to the usage of 5G radio access networks.

The European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme has a budget of over €80 billion over seven years (2014–2020) and so far has supported almost 150,000 participants in over 30,000 projects with an average project grant of €1.9m.

Such huge numbers may seem intimidating to individual researchers who are seeking funding for small projects. But the good news is that through Horizon 2020’s system of cascade, or open call, funding there are extensive opportunities to access support for smaller projects.

Ehsan Elahi, a Senior Software Engineer at TSSG, is one of many researchers who has benefitted from the system. He received €75,000 for his six-month C2GRAN project, which aims to minimise energy consumption and carbon emissions related to the usage of 5G radio access networks.

“People are using 5G radio access networks for many things like watching HD videos, two-way video streaming, downloading or uploading huge data files. This requires consumption of a huge amount of energy which causes high levels of carbon emissions. C2GRAN aims to minimise the energy consumption and carbon emissions by using machine learning to auto-scale the available resources according to demands and migrating the resources to where renewable energy is being used,” explains Elahi.

The small project involved just two TSSG researchers and a mentor from the CONNECT centre at Trinity College Dublin, the world-leading Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Future Networks and Communications. CONNECT provided a state-of-the-art testbed for Elahi’s 5G experiments. 

Refining the proposal

Elahi’s funding came through an open call under the Horizon 2020 5GinFIRE project, which provided almost 2.5m under four open calls for different areas.

“I applied to three of the calls for my C2GRAN project. On the third attempt I was successful,” says Elahi.

It was not a case of third time lucky for Elahi but rather the result of refining his proposal in the light of feedback from the assessors.

“The application process is really simple. The first step was to submit a summary of the proposal and to select a testbed. In our case that was TCD. Once they confirmed that the testbed was suitable for this project and they had enough resources to allocate to it, I submitted the final application to 5GinFIRE. That took just four weeks and you get very good, detailed feedback,” says Elahi.

“Using the feedback from my first two submissions I was able to refine the proposal and was awarded funding under the fourth open call.” 

Benefits beyond funding

The benefits of being involved in a Horizon 2020 project, says Elahi, go well beyond the funding.

“The C2GRAN project was a fantastic opportunity to work with excellent researchers. During the six months of the project, I attended progress meetings where I shared and also heard some very good ideas, got new research directions and learned new tools as well.

“Overall the project was a big success and it led to follow up activities including another proposal, V2GRAN, which is the next step towards commercialisation of the concept.”

Elahi is currently participating in two further Horizon 2020 projects, E-Corridor and NGIatlantic. As one of the co-ordinators of NGIatlantic, he is in involved in managing five open calls.

“My experience of the C2GRAN process is now helping me a lot in managing open calls in the NGIatlantic project. I’m applying the lessons learned from the application process and from networking with excellent researchers,” says Elahi.

Elahi is keen to encourage others to take advantage of open call funding and advises them not to be put off by initial rejections.

“H2020 offers funding opportunities for projects at each scale and an open call can be easily found relevant to your idea. It is a very competitive process and the competition is increasing but I would say to other researchers, believe in yourself, never give up. Keep reapplying and improving your proposal based on the feedback you get.

“One of the essential things is to be focused and clear about the scope and implementation of your project. The proposal must include a workable business impact and a clear exploitation plan.

“Horizon 2020, and going forward Horizon Europe, offer great opportunities but I would advise researchers to start with the smaller open calls to gain experience before you consider coordinating a large project.”

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

 

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

 

Innovation and ambition take centre stage at International Markets Week 2020

 

In a major event to mark International Markets Week four Irish companies shared the stories behind their exporting achievements

The role played by innovation and ambition in helping companies to internationalise was the theme of “Ready for a New World”, a major virtual conference which marked the launch of Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week 2020.

More than 700 companies logged on for the panel discussion with the founders of some of Ireland’s most successful international exporters.

They provided insights into not just the scale of their ambition but of the ways in which they innovated, and in some cases pivoted, in order to achieve it.

Tim Houston, CEO of Clonakilty based Global Shares, expressed his ambition to see the fintech become a ‘unicorn’, or billion dollar company.

It started out in 2005 as a provider of services in the area of employee share options. By 2015 it had perfected and launched a platform to simplify the share ownership process for both employees and employers, all over the world. “Since then we have never looked back,” Houston told delegates.

Today it is one of a handful of global providers in its market and competes against major legacy providers such as Merrill Lynch, UBS and Morgan Stanley.

“We don’t have the big brand but we do have the speed to market and a great team.” – Tim Houston.

“We don’t have the legacy platforms that some of these big banks suffer from either, so that’s how we compete. And where we can’t compete with them we partner with them,” he explained.

It’s a strategy that has put the fintech on track to grow employee numbers from 370 currently to 1000 in the coming years.

Nicola Mitchell, CEO of Life Scientific, an agrichemical company, said her company was set up in 1995 to provide contract research services to a number of sectors but has grown by focusing on designing innovative versions of off-patent crop protection products.

In the process it has injected competition into an oligarchic market, to the benefit of farmers around the world.

Making the transition involved giving up the valuable contract work it carried out for multinational agrichemical clients in order to realise its strategy. It’s always a tough decision for any business but it has paid dividends for Life Scientific.

“We wanted to scale, we wanted to be global,” – Nicola Mitchell.

It did just that. Life Scientific Germany launched two years ago and went to Euro 10m sales very quickly while, in 2014 she sold half the business to InVivo, a Euro 6 bn French co-op with 5,000 employees, in exchange for market access in France.  “Without this we wouldn’t have jumped from Euro2m to 60m. We’ve a very healthy business in France and a very healthy partnership,” she said.

“The single most important thing we can get right as a virtual type company which invests in R&D and sales & marketing alone, is to be able to find the best partners, whom we can work with the best, and go fast. (France) has been a great poster child for our global expansion.”

Kilkenny’s Modubuild transformed what was a domestically focused construction firm by winning its first contract overseas, to build a high tech data centre in the Netherlands, in 2015.

Today 70% of its turnover comes from exports. It provides both on-site modular construction and off-site construction at its facility in Castlecomer where it can design, build and ship at speed.

The company employs 300 people and has been helped in its overseas expansion by Enterprise Ireland’s teams on the ground, CEO Kevin Brennan told delegates.

“When we entered the Netherlands market in 2015 our turnover was Euro 1.5m. We have grown 60% year on year since we started working internationally and this year we expect it to be around Euro 34m, and Euro 50m next year,” he said.

Aerosol drug delivery company Aerogen employs 300 people, including 200 in Galway and 100 in commercial offices around the world, founder and CEO John Power told the conference.

Its products are included in all major manufacturers’ ventilators. “We’re the ‘Intel inside’”, he said. The company ships to 70 countries and, as a result of Covid, in the second two weeks of March alone received the equivalent of half a year’s orders.

But Power is intent on moving the business further up the value chain from being a drug delivery systems provider to becoming a speciality pharmaceutical provider too, he told delegates.

Innovation helped many of the companies showcased to power through Covid. Global Shares had already migrated its staff to remote working in 2019. This year has been the company’s “best new business year ever,” he explained.

“Our strategic plan is to focus on the four largest economies in the world, China, Japan, North America and Europe and we try and stick with just those.

“That said, during lockdown we won the largest company in the world, in Saudi Arabia, which we ostensibly won over the phone,” he said.

Covid has seen data usage grow exponentially, fuelling demand for data centres too. Once Modubuild won its first contract overseas in 2015 it continued to grow, both as a result of follow on business, as his clients grew, and by winning new clients.

“Once you break into it, it’s a good industry to be in. We gained a reputation as a company that could deliver internationally, so we are now working for multiple clients in multiple countries throughout northern Europe and we expect to move more towards southern Europe too as the data centre industry moves more towards African markets,” said Brennan.

As a design engineer by training, John Power’s primary innovation in Aerogen was to spot the opportunity to create an entirely new product category, aerosolised drug delivery for ventilated patients. As a result of this, the company has no direct competitors.

But whatever sector you are in, being the best is the only secret of success, he suggested.

“Multinationals utilise your product or service because you give them a better product or service than anybody else, no other reason,” – John Power.

Innovation, research and development is the key to delivering that, he said.

“We have a big team of research scientists in R&D, electronics, software and mechanical engineers. We keep developing new products, and new iterations of existing products, and diversifying across the hospital.”

In fact, the major innovation Aerogen has made is into funding its own drug trials, including one he predicts will have the biggest impact on neonatal care seen in 50 years.

“It’s about R&D and keeping moving up the chain. You want to be your own boss, you don’t want to be reliant necessarily on others. The way you do that is you innovate and come up with the best products in the world,” he said.

It’s a sentiment Kevin Brennan endorsed. Construction is an inefficient industry, which is why Modubuild invested heavily in its off-site manufacturing facility, bringing high tech construction back to a factory environment, with a team dedicated to innovating new ways to construct facilities.

That is paying dividends for its clients. “We just delivered a vaccine laboratory for a multinational client, designing and building it entirely in our factory and then shipping it out and constructing it on site in 10 days. That allows our client to get to market a year quicker than it would traditionally,” he said.

“It’s very important for us to be continually innovating, looking for new and quicker ways of delivering projects for our clients. – Kevin Brennan”

Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon, who hosted the panel, said the common denomination in all of the companies featured was innovation, “not just in product or service but also in business model.”

But their success was about more than innovation alone, she added.

“What is also coming across really strongly is the importance of ambition. One of the big challenges we have is not having sufficient Irish companies of scale. Each of these panel members has a very clear view. They want to be in control of their destiny and they really have a very strong strategy to build a company of scale in Ireland. It’s great to see that being done in Dublin and the regions.”

 

Click here to watch the launch of Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week 2020

Life Scientific: Partnerships powering success in a highly-regulated sector

The story of Life Scientific is one of perseverance in a complex industry, ingenious methods to prove a novel concept, and a leader with the utmost respect for the process and the people involved.

Nicola Mitchell is the founder and CEO of Life Scientific: a company that develops high-quality, off-patent crop protection products, giving farmers a speedier, cost-effective option.

We spoke with her shortly after she was announced as an EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist to learn about the woman at the helm, the remarkable story of Life Scientific, and how Enterprise Ireland supports helped the company along the way.

“Samantha Power is actually my first cousin,” Mitchell says as she describes the strong women in her family as her major influences. “Samantha’s mother really influenced me when I was younger. She went to the States, and was the first woman in Ireland to get a high court ruling that she was allowed to bring her children with her.” Vera Delaney, the Irish-American academic, author and Democratic Party member’s mother was a nephrologist who, after tenaciously climbing the ranks in a male-dominated sector during the 1970’s and 1980’s, refused a top job in a Manhattan hospital because it would mean giving up the face time she had with her patients. Mitchell cites this integrity as powerfully influencing decisions she made throughout her career.

She credits her collegiate and later employment choices to her father, whose footsteps she followed by studying chemistry. He cautioned her not to accept a post in a large multinational corporation, but instead get a job in which she could learn and eventually build her own business. “In Ireland, for chemists, it’s all about multinationals, you’re doing manufacturing but have no sight of warranty or business aspects; you don’t do global stuff.” Her father had been what she describes as ‘a cog in a wheel’ in large multinationals, and Mitchell decided that she didn’t want to miss out on being global. “Why can’t we build a multinational in Ireland where we get to be global, where we get to do the R&D, where we get to build the brands?” With Life Scientific, Mitchell would go on to disrupt the regulatory landscape for off-patent agrochemicals from the unique R&D base she had built in Ireland.

After spending 10 years working in a generic agrochemical manufacturing company, absorbing everything she could, Mitchell set her sights on starting her business, knowing that it needed to manufacture something of true value. “I started Life Scientific in 1995 and from the get-go knew it couldn’t be a service business. If you really want to be big, you have to have products, that’s how you’ll scale, that’s how you’ll be exponential.”

Building a company with an expert offering

Two decades of learning the tricks of the trade from leading multinationals allowed Life Scientific to pinpoint precisely where it was strong, and where it could add the most value. “We knew that if we’d built the capability around regulation — a new field at the time — we could not just understand it, but know more than anyone else about a very complex, strategic area of the industry.”

Mitchell was always drawn to complexity. It’s what led her to challenge her team to reverse engineer the Coca-Cola recipe; to prove that they could not only take apart and recreate it but that they could take a fresh view with their product offering. In proving the point, they showed that they could offer farmers an identical product at a lower cost, and get it to them sooner being first to market.

Mitchell is quick to point out that it wasn’t just about capability; it was also about humility. “There’s a phenomenal level of innovation and professionalism in our industry, and it’s a privilege to be in it. So why would we think we could do anything better than the multinationals?”

Changing the rule book

Challenging the status quo meant more than having an impressive story to tell, it meant calling for the rules of the game to be changed, rules that to date, had been largely written by and for the big multinationals. The world is new; we have capabilities here we didn’t have before. We have an LC-MS [liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry] system that wouldn’t fit a room when I was growing up, that was almost prohibitive for a multinational or a university to have. Now, they sit on benchtops, and we can’t keep up with the capability. We had to take a fresh view.”

With a value proposition that was impossible to contest, doors that were to-date slammed shut began to open. The multinationals could no longer deny the science or the methods, and the business side of things started to make sense. “They could see we were much more nimble, flexible, fast, and entrepreneurial. So we’ve got some very good contracts, and that allowed me to pivot the model.”

Yet even with new contracts in place, Life Scientific felt the squeeze from the regulators. With the weight of a global brand and status behind them, the multinationals would attempt to get Life Scientific’s products withdrawn. “Multinationals are very clever, and they don’t want us really, we’re competitors.”

With an identical product and a transparent business came a sort of freedom; an ability to operate by different rules. “Regulatory submissions are complex. Knowing how to communicate, giving them a sense of who you are, your integrity, that you want the best, that you believe in your role as being a competitive choice for the farmer. So we thought if we put in the identical product, they don’t have to do any evaluation. If we can get them to accept an identical item molecularly, aren’t we simplifying things?”

Life Scientific ended its beginnings as a contract research organisation, offering services in product development and regulation, becoming an independent product company. “We got our first product authorised in France in 2012 and have gone from €2 million in revenue to €60 million today.”

Not the average day-to-day

Mitchell is proud of her EY Entrepreneur of the Year nomination and hopes that in entering the competition, she can raise the profile of Life Scientific and the innovative science they have developed.

During these turbulent times, the company is lucky to be mostly unaffected by COVID-19. They are operating in a space with one selling season, and thankfully, that had come and gone by the time the pandemic hit. Mitchell tells us that it has given companies like Life Scientific the opportunity to be appreciated once again. “The link between science and nutritious, sustainable food got lost. But now it’s becoming valued again.” But she feels that culturally, the company is suffering and will continue to suffer until they can operate together again. “Normally, I just look at somebody, and we have 10 ideas. Now I can’t see them, and for the new people coming in, who would normally absorb the energy and mimic what they’re seeing, that’s gone.”

Partnering for a successful future

Mitchell continues to look confidently towards the future. Her focus is on nurturing close relationships with company partners: the customers, suppliers and regulators with whom she speaks daily. Keeping these relationships blooming allows her to set and realise big goals, work with the best, move fast and scale.

“In the next five years, we’ll be at €250 million. We’ll be building capability, relationships and new markets. It’s quite a visible roadmap.”

Life Scientific will build important relationships in the area of big distribution to open up new markets; specifically, North and South America, though with different strategic approaches.

“We work with the best which will allow us to realise South America, which is rapidly growing and hugely exciting for us.”

For distribution companies in the already-established North American region, Life Scientific is offering the technology and putting the choice of operating or failing in the distributor’s hands. “We’re offering mirror images of the multinationals’ latest and greatest products to do with them what they will, working on their side to empower them in the face of big multinational suppliers.”

Supported by Enterprise Ireland at each step

Along the road to success, Mitchell says that the support she received from EI has been indispensable. “They gave us our first R&D grant, they’ve helped us and believed in us since 2006.”

As well as financial grants, Mitchell took part in EI’s Leadership 4 Growth Programme and International Selling Programme, which she says equipped her with the knowledge she needed at the time. “The programmes have been hugely influential, connecting with people who are at the top of their game can set you upright.”

Currently, as well as working towards adopting Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Lean approach, Mitchell is thinking about what winning the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award would mean. She tells us that it would provide visibility for Life Scientific and for anyone like her who had no expectations at a young age. “I’d be an ambassador for girls like I was: if you see it, you can be it.”

Click here to watch the opening of Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week 2020, featuring Nicola Mitchell.

Enterprise Ireland’s top tips for entering the Finnish and Nordic markets

 

Finland adds appeal to Irish businesses who want to scale, and develop a presence within their sector overseas.

If you are considering doing business in Finland, the ten tips below will help aid you entering the market, as will our Nordics Team – located in both Stockholm & Copenhagen.

  • Finland has an increasingly elderly population and is constantly looking for healthcare solutions, new talent & the creation of new jobs.
  • The highest areas for growth and innovation in Finland are, Healthcare, marine industry, bioeconomy, energy, cleantech and environmental solutions
  • Finland is almost 1,200 km long and only contains 5.5 million people, most of whom are in the South. Most headquarters are in the capital city region of Helsinki, Espoo & Vantaa. Other business hubs are Tampere and Turku.
  • Finland has a high level of English, but don’t be fooled – this isn’t because Finnish is similar to English. Finnish is one of the hardest languages to learn in the world so if your product or service needs to be translated you may require a local partner or a team of translators. Swedish is the second official language of Finland, so certain products, such as food items, may require both.

The Nordics are a highly advanced region which rewards high quality and innovative solutions. These countries are familiar with collaboration and partnerships and often look globally to ensure that they have the best innovations on offer.

  1. Nordic business culture is based on equality, efficiency, modesty and punctuality.
  2. The Nordics are a hub for innovation – with more and more unicorns coming from the Nordics every year, the Nordics are home to some of the largest ICT & MedTech hubs in Europe.
  3. Business decisions take longer – generally, the Nordic countries operate on a consensus approach to business decisions and have flat organizational structures.
  4. If you plan on being in the Nordics long term, setting up an office in-market is necessary – as is localizing offerings (e.g. offering in local language)
  5. The Nordics are a detail-oriented market – make sure that you have the required accreditations & certificates and all specs of your product memorised, as you will need answers ready for highly-detailed questions (including any worst-case scenarios).
  6. Wait for an answer – People in the Nordics think carefully about what they are going to say before they say it, giving them their reputation as being ‘reserved’. They are comfortable with long silences and often speak only when there’s something worth saying, meaning you must give them a longer time to respond.
  7. References are required – having customer stories from within the Nordic region or from the U.S. will help gain trust and credibility from potential customers.
  8. Long-lasting Relationships – while it is a long process to build a trusting relationship, Nordic companies are usually in it for ‘the long-haul’ and are unlikely to change provider unless necessary.
  9. Highly Regulated – regulations across all sectors are among the strictest in Europe and often have higher expectations than the European Union in general.
  10. The environmental impact of business – the Nordics is a very environmentally aware market and environmental impact is something that many companies consider when entering new relationships and may set you apart from the competition.

Sweden

  • As the 5th largest country in Europe, Sweden is drastically different in the North and South with different innovation hubs scattered throughout the country. Where is best for your offering is something that should be considered.
  • Many Swedes go on an extended holiday during July, meaning that generally no new business is conducted from the 21st of June (‘Midsommar’) until the middle of August.
  • Planning is essential to Swedes, so make sure to plan to meet before your arrangements for travelling.

Denmark

  • Denmark is home to Medicon Valley the largest Lifesciences hub in Europe – second only to Silicon Valley in the world.
  • Denmark is a world leader in Life sciences, cleantech and digitalization.
  • Denmark is a rich, modern and design-focused country with a highly educated and critical population who are amongst the fastest to adopt new products/technologies
  • The Nordics are known for high levels of employee protection, however, in Denmark, they operate on a ‘flexicurity’ model, where it is relatively easy to hire or fire someone, but they have a high level of social protection.

Norway

  • Norway is not a member of the European Union but is part of the Inner Market through the EEA agreement
  • Norwegians often disregard titles and symbols of power as they operate with flat structures and informal communication.
  • Family comes first so afternoons and Fridays are very difficult to get a meeting as even senior management cuts their days short if they need to pick up children or be with their family.
  • Most of the population is in Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim, with the North of Norway being sparsely populated.
  • Distributors and agents are the most popular entry method into Norway – one must be careful to ensure their distributor can give focus and dedication to your product/service.

Enterprise Ireland is committed to helping Irish firms succeed in global markets and have industry experts on hand, ready to help you access the Nordic markets.

Enterprise Ireland’s top tips for entering the Australian market

Australia has one of the strongest and most open economies in the world

If you are considering doing business in Australia, please explore our top tips to enter the market below and also be sure to reach out to our team in Australia.

  • Australia has one of the strongest, most competitive and open economies in the world. Historically seen as suffering from its remoteness from Europe, today Australia benefits from its strategic location on the doorstep of Asia.
  • As Australia’s economy has developed, it has put a greater emphasis on professional services and technology. Telecoms, financial services, education and scientific and technical services all constitute an increasing share of the Australian economy.
  • The Australian Government is developing a national Technology Investment Roadmap that will drive investment in low emissions technologies to strengthen the economy and support jobs and businesses. This is a key priority on the road to recovery from COVID-19 and provides opportunities for innovative offerings in the energy sector.
  • Australia is the third most popular destination in the world for foreign students enrolled in higher education and has the third-highest number of universities in the world’s top 100.
  • Significant infrastructural investments in telecommunications and transport infrastructure are underway by state and local government.
  • One of the biggest challenges for Irish companies is how to service customers 15,000 km away. In most cases, a local presence should be established, or partner secured, as directly servicing the market from Ireland is difficult in most industries. Companies should be prepared to invest time to come to the market to meet with possible partners before selecting a company which is the best fit.
  • Irish businesses should have little difficulty traversing cultural barriers in Australia.
  • The Australian egalitarian approach to life is reflected in its business culture and can be seen in both corporate structures and communication style. Australians can be quite direct and matter of fact in their tone and prefer if this approach is reciprocated
  • Hiring someone with industry knowledge can be an excellent way to build a presence. Companies should take a hands-on approach to onboarding and supporting their hire as the time difference can leave them isolated from the wider organisation.
  • Avoid visits to market from mid-December to the end of January as these are prime holiday times. Be aware the Australian financial year runs from 1st July to 30th June and therefore many key decisions are made between mid-May and mid-July.
  • Australia’s highly-skilled workforce and business-friendly policies have led to a growing tech ecosystem and is ranked 1st globally for technological readiness.
  • The Asia-Pacific region is the fastest-growing region in the world for financial technology with Sydney and Melbourne acting as financial hubs for the wider Asian-Pacific region. This makes Australia and attractive market for fintech businesses.

For more be sure to check out our Going Global Guide 

Key questions to ask at your UK Market Advisor meeting

Enterprise Ireland is playing a key role in supporting ambitious companies seeking opportunities in the UK.

If you are considering doing business in the UK, please be sure to reach out to our team in London.

  • What are the associations and organisations I should be speaking to in the UK?
  • Who are the key stakeholders in my sector in the UK?
  • What are the major considerations for buyers in my sector in the UK beyond price?
  • How do I need to present my company in the UK to challenge domestic competition in the market?
  • Who are the potential competitors for my business in the market? How strong is their foothold in the market?
  • What are the differences between how my sector operates in Ireland vs the UK?
  • What is the post-Brexit outlook in the sector?
  • How are Irish companies viewed in the UK?
  • What are the benefits of a UK based office? virtual or physical?
  • What do I need to do to set up a UK registered company?
  • What are the key sources of UK market information in my sector?
  • What supports can Enterprise Ireland UK provide in the market?

For more, please reach out to the MA here and be sure to check out our Going Global Guide

Key questions to ask at your Singaporean Market Advisor meeting

Singapore, the gateway to SE Asia, is the regional business hub for ASEAN and the wider Asia Pacific region, providing stability and highly educated workforce, making it the perfect location to create a base.

If you are considering doing business in Singapore, please be sure to explore our top tips to enter the market below and also be sure to reach out to our team in Singapore

  • What are the core sectors and what sectors should I avoid?
  • Will I need a local partner company?
  • What kind of obstacles should I expect when entering Singapore?
  • What local competitors are active in this market?
  • What social norms should I be cognizant of when engaging in meetings with local people?
  • Will I need to set up an office in the region?
  • Will I need to hire local staff?
  • Can I relocate Irish staff in this region?

For more, please reach out to the Singapore region MA here and be sure to check out our Going Global Guide 

If you would like to know what to prepare ahead of your first MA call, click the graphic below

Enterprise Ireland’s top tips for entering the Singaporean market

Singapore, the gateway to SE Asia, is the regional business hub for ASEAN and the wider Asia Pacific region, providing stability and highly educated workforce, making it the perfect location to create a base.

If you are considering doing business in Singapore, please be sure to explore our top tips to enter the market below and also be sure to reach out to our team in Singapore

  • Singapore’s English dominated business environment and business-friendly legal and tax systems give Irish companies at every stage of development the opportunity to establish a business presence in Singapore at relatively low risk.
  • Singapore’s highly-educated workforce, political stability, excellent air transport links, developed infrastructure, transparency in business operations and Western business practices mean that many companies adopt a “hub and spoke” approach, using Singapore as a base from which to access opportunities in neighbouring markets.
  • Singapore’s business language is English and it is spoken throughout the island among all ethnic groups.
  • Singapore has the highest per capita spend on healthcare in ASEAN, which averages 4% of GDP, and this is expected to increase annually as the Government seeks to invest in quality healthcare infrastructure and services making it an attractive market for medical device and life science companies.
  • Singapore is seeing increased activity in the Life science sector. There are opportunities for client companies currently selling into the pharma and medical device supply chain in Ireland as many of the same global multinationals also have strong presences in Singapore e.g. Roche, Pfizer, GSK.
  • Singapore is a top-three global financial centre and therefore a key market for companies involved in financial services and fintech. Key activities include FX, wealth management, commodities trading, hedge funds & treasury.
  • There are over 210 banks and approx 1200 Financial Institutions registered in Singapore. Notable changes in the financial sector include the liberalisation of the banking market with the awarding of five digital banking licences in December 2020; the launch of the Variable Capital Company as an entity for new investment funds in Singapore, and the embrace of fintech and automation by the sector in enhancing competitiveness and innovation.
  • Punctuality is a sign of respect in Singapore. It is best to inform your Singaporean counterpart if you will be late.
  • Modesty and humility are key values in Singapore, therefore it is important not to “oversell” during initial meetings with Singaporean counterparts.
  • The decision-making process in Singapore is done collectively and up through the hierarchy, and therefore it may take more time than you are used to.
  • Over 200 Irish firms are already active in this market thanks to EI assistance, contact the local MA here.

For more be sure to check out our Going Global Guide 

If you would like to know what to prepare ahead of your first MA call, click the graphic below

Key questions to ask at your Malaysian Market Advisor meeting

As Brexit plans progress, Irish businesses are exploring export options in sectors across the Eurozone markets, the USA and Canada and the APAC region.

Enterprise Ireland is playing a key role in supporting ambitious companies seeking opportunities in Malaysia’s IoT, telecoms and fintech sectors.

If you are considering doing business in Malaysia, please be sure to explore our tips to enter the market below and also be sure to reach out to our dedicated team.

  • When scheduling meetings in Malaysia it is best to do so at least four weeks in advance. Malaysian counterparts will want to know who they will be meeting, and you should provide such details as the titles, positions and responsibilities of all attendees in advance.
  • Due to its predominantly Muslim population, Friday is reserved for prayer and it is advised not to schedule meetings on this day.
  • Schedules are usually loose and flexible and meetings may start late. However, Malaysians generally expect foreign visitors to be punctual.
  • Developing trusting, personal relationships is fundamental to winning long-term business in Malaysia. For this reason, Irish companies must consider setting up a local presence at an early stage or engaging a local partner to manage relationships.
  • Malay-owned companies have historically been given preference in Malaysia by the Government for state contracts. Irish companies may need to consider joint venture structures in some sectors for this reason.
  • If you are planning to do business in Malaysia, it is essential to consult a lawyer. Government restrictions can hamper foreign involvement in several areas, including Government procurement contracts, financial, business and professional services and telecommunications. In most cases, it is imperative to have a local partner, usually a Bumiputera, (a local person) who has the ability to provide locally-based technical support.
  • Kuala Lumpur has the most developed financial sector in the Southeast Asia region, after Singapore. It is known as one of the world’s capitals for Islamic finance. The main opportunity for Irish companies is to deliver efficiencies and add capability to institutions in the form of payments, anti-money laundering, regulatory tech, distributed ledgers and analytics. There is also an opportunity to deliver direct financial services, such as foreign exchange and micro-lending.
  • Malaysia continues to evolve as one of the hubs for medical device manufacturing in the region with over 200 manufacturing companies based in the country. Design and construction projects for high-tech manufacturing facilities for medical instruments and devices is one of the key opportunities for Enterprise Ireland client companies in Malaysia.
  • Malaysia’s telecommunications sector is competitive with the three largest mobile networks operators – Digi, Celcom Axiata and Maxis –holding over 75% of the market. Operators are looking for vendor solutions to strengthen their digital Value Added Services (VAS) suite of services and mobile apps in order to accelerate their transformation as fully-fledged ‘Digital Service’ companies.
  • Over 130 Irish firms are already active in this market thanks to EI assistance, contact the local MA here (hyperlink) and make sure you have read our Key Questions to Prepare ahead of your Market Advisor Meeting (hyperlink) sister article

For more be sure to check out our Going Global Guide 

If you would like to know what to prepare ahead of your first MA call, click the graphic below