MD of Wellola Sonia Neary

Wellola aims to revolutionise the healthcare communication industry in Ireland and the UK

“Female entrepreneurs are frequently juggling growing a business and rearing a family in parallel. They often require additional supports in order to realise their vision” 

Wellola co-founder and MD, Sonia Neary

Case Study: Wellola Patient Portal Software Solutions

At a time when healthcare is never far from the news headlines both in Ireland and the UK, the race is well and truly on to find solutions that save money, streamline services, and ultimately make healthcare more accessible and cost-effective for patients. Leading the way is an innovative Irish start-up company, Wellola, whose founders believe only the sickest of the sick should be hospitalised and that the future of healthcare is preventative, community-based and supported by digital tools.

Wellola’s co-founder is Sonia Neary, a physiotherapist who worked in clinical practice for 15 years, gaining unique insights into the needs of patients and practitioners in today’s digital age. Sonia received funding and support to realise her vision from Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund, which will open another call on March 24th 2020.

 

Wellola supports hospitals and clinics to communicate efficiently with patients

Winning the Irish Medical and Surgical Trade Association Integrated Care award in 2019, Wellola aims to revolutionise the way clinics and hospitals care for, and communicate with, their patients. Wellola currently serves clinics in the allied healthcare space (occupational therapists, psychologists, speech and language therapists, and more), the majority of whom are mental healthcare professionals.

“Our patient portal system enables your patients to schedule to see you in person or online, depending on your settings”. explains Sonia. “GDPR-compliant messaging is a key feature of our software. This can be useful when sharing protected health information, saving on correspondence costs or as a therapy adjunct; for example, to support patients who mightn’t be able to put into words verbally what they want to say – both counsellors and speech and language therapists have mentioned this as a useful aid.”

“Put simply, we’re centralising patient communication in one platform, branded to our customers’ use…” 

“..different patients have different needs and, ultimately, it’s about giving clinics the tools to offer a more equitable, accessible and rounded care package. Accessing advice and care via smartphone can be invaluable in facilitating marginalised patients, including ethnic minorities, travelers and socially disadvantaged groups.”

Wellola benefitsNot only does the Wellola system allow for a more seamless experience for the patient, but it also has the potential to generate huge savings for  the healthcare industry by making it easier for patients to self-manage (make, reschedule and cancel) appointments. Nearly half a million outpatient appointments were missed in Ireland in 2017 – a significant figure in such an overstretched healthcare system and the financial implications of which are catastrophic.

“Much of this is to do with miscommunication – letters not reaching patients on time, patients not being able to get in contact with clinics via telephone to reschedule and so on,” says Sonia. “The current system is cumbersome, slow and costly – ultimately, our aim is to disrupt the way communication and scheduling is done in the healthcare industry and to make it more efficient and streamlined. Wellola could offer cost savings of €1 for every appointment letter, bill, receipt or other correspondence that doesn’t need to be posted. Almost €100 is saved for every appointment that is attended to as opposed to missed (as a direct result of the auto-reminder system) or re-filled via our real-time self-scheduling system.”

This ambition to modernise healthcare communication has translated into a slight shift in the company’s business model, as Sonia explains: “Wellola is currently being used by over 150 clinics on the ground level in the UK and Ireland and next month sees us launch our first large scale mental healthcare network and NHS trust in the UK. Our system can be deployed in both business to business (works from clinic website) and business to enterprise settings (works from professional body or hospital site).  So whereas before we were looking at the individual clinic level, the enterprise solution version of Wellola is much more scalable; with one contract we can reach a couple of hundred or even a thousand clinicians.

 

How support from Enterprise Ireland has helped

It’s a fast-moving industry, and certainly there’s a keen race to be innovative and ahead of the pack. “The move towards digitization in the healthcare industry in Europe is palpable– which is great and about time. Current care models are unsustainable; our resources are limited. So what remains for us to do? Digitize and automate our processes where we can, leverage digital tools to enable and support care-giving humans to do what they do best. The key is to use a software partner who not only offers a slick communications tool, but also has the necessary endorsements, compliance and safety standards in place. We’ve had huge support from the Enterprise Ireland network in terms of implementing many of these key elements. Getting the right advice and help is key to early traction and growth.”

Wellola MD Sonia NearySonia and co-founder Dr. Greg Martin have decades of experience in healthcare, which gives them a unique insight into the needs of the industry. But while they can see what the industry needs, they have not always had the business experience to realise that vision.

Enterprise Ireland has given us fabulous networking and learning opportunities, as well as vital start-up funding. We actually met our now CTO and co-founder, Criostoir O’Codlatain Lachtna, during Phase 2 of New Frontiers at the Synergy Centre two years ago. We’ve received invaluable help and advice from experienced mentors such as Alan Costello, Conor Carmody and Martin Murray who ran the INNOVATE programme I participated in at Dublin BIC (we enjoyed it so much, we now have our offices onsite at the Guinness Enterprise Centre!).

“I couldn’t underestimate the support and learnings gleaned from my peers and mentors on these accelerator programmes. Enterprise Ireland staff have always been of instrumental support; I was given access to the wonderful Anne Marie Carroll, my Enterprise Ireland Development Advisor as a Competitive Start Fund client, and now Damien McCarney as a High Potential Start-Up client. We also were able to avail of the Market Research Centre and their knowledgeable team, who gave us access to several detailed reports on our industry and its trends. Business acumen wouldn’t have been part of my original clinical training, so to have such a vast range of opportunities where I could hone my skills about the legals, marketing, sales, the pitfalls to avoid, lean business models, product/market fits, GDP, and more has been superb.”

“I’m an equalist, which is why I’m hugely in favor of Enterprise Ireland’s remit to balance the scales in favor of diversity and gender diversity. We know that, in business, greater diversity lends itself to greater innovation and commercial success for both the company and the economy as a whole.” 

I was invited to be part of a panel of women recently to discuss the issues that face women entrepreneurs. Many were saying they didn’t want to be singled out as a woman, but the truth is that we have different needs, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that and support those needs. For instance, I had the idea for Wellola, but held onto a steady clinical job far longer than I intended, simply because I wanted a family and it was just too challenging from a maternity leave (there is minimal support for the self-employed) and childcare perspective. Female entrepreneurs are frequently juggling growing a business and rearing a family in parallel. They often require additional supports in order to realise their vision.”

Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF) for Female Entrepreneurs is open for applications on 7th July 2020. Under this CSF, up to €50,000 in equity funding is available to eligible early stage start-up companies. Learn more here.

Inside Innovation Show – Hibergene

Inside Innovation brings you the stories of Ireland’s leading innovators and changemakers. Across the series we will cover a whole range of topics from innovating in a crisis, to looking at the future of many business areas. We go behind the stories, to understand what drives these innovators and what the innovation success factors are, from capability building, to culture and leadership.

The podcast is hosted by innovation expert Aidan McCullen.

The second episode is part of a series ‘Innovating in a Crisis’. In a rapid response to Covid-19, Hibergene Diagnostics launched a new Covid-19 test, that delivers positive results in just 30 minutes. Gary Keating, CTO of Hibergene talks capability building, agility, speed and collaboration, all important factors in the company’s success in innovation.

Patrick Torrekens, Head of the Enterprise Ireland BeNeLux

Market Watch – Benelux

 

Overview

  • The BeNeLux countries (Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) are working hard to return to normal business practise.

  • Health and safety remain a prime concern so remote working and virtual meetings will continue to be in place for some time to come.

  • Continued communication with clients is vital.

  • Opportunities are available in the biopharma, digital connectivity, and biotech sectors.

Like the rest of Europe, the BeNeLux countries are working hard to return to some level of normality after Covid-19. And Patrick Torrekens, Head of the Enterprise Ireland BeNeLux team, says despite the fact that remote working remains in place, business is beginning to pick up in the region.

“Just like many people across the world, I have been working from home for the past few months and here in the BeNeLux countries, remote working, particularly for the services industry, is still the recommended norm as part of the three countries’ re-entry strategy,” he says.

“However, more and more production facilities, construction sites, engineering plants and office buildings are gearing towards full capacity and the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam are fully operational with authorities doing everything to maintain the flow of goods in and out of the three countries.”

Torrekens says health and safety remain the prime concern and the necessary measures have been taken to ensure social distancing on the work floor, on public transport and in public places. While industry heads and Government are doing everything they can to get everything up and running once more.

“Things are not back to normal as yet, but the Dutch, Belgians and Luxemburgish, are keen to see business pick up again as quickly as possible,” he says. “When we are talking to buyers in our markets, we still hear that their focus is on adapting to the new reality on making their supply chain, and other critical processes, Covid compliant.

“So any solution which helps them to achieve Covid compliance gets their full attention and that is why it’s so important to stay closely connected to your clients as they are also turning to their existing client base for inspiration and support at the moment. But BeNeLux decision makers are not currently looking at new investment projects so expect a delay in the sales cycle, be patient and stay connected with your in-market contacts.”

But despite the delay in returning to normal, he says business is definitely moving in certain sectors and some markets remain buoyant.

“There are opportunities and exceptions to be found, particularly in the sectors of high relevance for trade with Ireland,” says Torrekens. “The BeNeLux region is a hot spot for pharma and biotech research and innovation and it is expected that multinationals such as Johnson and Johnson, with research facilities in the Antwerp region, will invest in new laboratories for vaccine production and other virus related research.

“So it is encouraging to see that some Irish companies are already preparing to play a part in this by strengthening their teams in markets.”

The past few months have clearly pointed at the strategic need for digital infrastructure and the Netherlands, in particular, is a frontrunner in digital connectivity and continues to invest in its infrastructure.

The Enterprise Ireland regional manager says communication is vital during these strange times, so Irish companies must do all they can to stay in touch with their clients.

“An interesting fact to mention is that the Netherlands has witnessed the highest global growth rate of virtual meetings held over digital platforms in the past weeks,” he says.
“So rest assured that if your contacts are not available for face to face meetings, they are definitely open, and accustomed, to online sessions. And please remember that the travel restrictions which are currently in place in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg should not prevent you from reaching out to existing clients and new prospects.

“Finally Belgians and Dutch and Luxemburgish people have massively turned to online commerce and businesses have adapted their sales channels to accommodate this. This has given an extra boost to businesses in IT, and professional service but also in transport and logistics.

“Ultimately, your solution will stand out if you have a strong value proposition which gives you a good chance to win more business in this region. And our teams stand ready to support you with advice and hands on support, so do get in touch, virtually for now, but hopefully face to face soon.”

Get key insights on doing business in BeNeLux and the supports available from Enterprise Ireland.

Wendy Oke, CEO TeachKloud

TeachKloud – Enabling educators with support from the CSF

“Getting the Competitive Start Fund helped TeachKloud to upgrade our product, hire key personnel and raise further funding.”

Wendy Oke, Founder and CEO TeachKloud.

1. Describe your business

The TeachKloud Early Learning Management System is a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solution accessible using internet browsers from any location, that enables educators to streamline all aspects related to managing their business, comply with regulations and communicate with parents.

 

2. How did getting the Competitive Start Fund (CSF) progress your business?

Getting CSF helped the team at TeachKloud upgrade the product, hire key personnel, onboard staff and raise further funding.

 

3. What are your top tips to other businesses interested in applying for the CSF?

Get in contact with Enterprise Ireland as soon as possible, they are incredibly helpful and will guide you through the process. That may be giving you advice on developing a solid plan, talking to customers or just on how to submit your CSF application.

 

4. What are the next steps for TeachKloud?

TeachKloud is hyper-focused on product development to ensure customer success, team growth and scaling into the UK market over the next six months.

 

Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund – All Sectors opens on 7th July 2020 – See other founders discuss CSF or Click here to apply

     

    Ciara O'Toole, Country Manager, Italy

    Market Watch – Italy

    Overview

    • Italy was severely impacted by Covid-19 and had no protocol to follow as it was the first to experience a total lockdown.

    • It has started to recover and has begun to open up its borders

    • Construction sites are open and medical device companies are in production mode.

    • Opportunities are also available in the health, ICT agriculture and energy sectors.

      Europe and the rest of the world watched in horror as Italy succumbed to the ravages of Covid-19 and tried to figure out a way to keep its citizens safe and its economy from collapse.

      And while the effects of the pandemic definitely left its mark on the country, it has started to open up and the recovery plan has been put into action.

      Country manager, Ciara O’Toole says it was a very difficult period for Italy, but the situation now seems to be under control and while there are still some challenges ahead, plans are underway to open up the country in stages.

      “Italy was the original global epicentre of the pandemic and it quickly became a country of unwelcome firsts,” she says. “As Italians saw the healthcare emergency escalate, they also had to process the shock of being the first country in the world to be put on a full lockdown.

      “There was no frame of reference to follow so Italy quickly became the global frame of reference. However, after a couple of months of hardship, it is now preparing to open its borders to the rest of Europe and from June 3rd, entry into Europe from the countries of the European Union, including countries in the Schengen region and Switzerland, will be permissible without a two week quarantine.

      “And the plan is to open borders fully to global travel from 15th of June with flight and medical protocols in place.”

      O’Toole, who is responsible for leading the Milan based Enterprise Ireland team to support sales activities for Irish companies in Italy, says although the country is still working within in some restrictions, it is beginning to open up and there are opportunities to be had.

      “Remote working will remain in place in the country for the foreseeable future across sectors which have this possibility,” she says. “But with respect to logistics, the supply chain to Italy was not severely interrupted.”

      “Construction sites have been open since early May and medical device companies are back to work. Tourism is also starting to open up, including in the hard hit north and airlines are returning to flight with medical protocols being adapted by EU airlines.”

      “Also the ecommerce sector is extremely active and there are many exciting opportunities on the horizon in various sectors including construction, health, ICT agriculture and energy.”

      Like the rest of the world, remote working is still on the agenda for the foreseeable future, but O’Toole says there is plenty of business happening in Italy and things will continue to improve in the coming weeks and months.

      “Virtual client meetings are the modus operandi at the moment which will ensure progression of business,” she says. “But we have had many positive news stories in recent weeks from client companies.”

      “Italy is a world leader in the construction of major infrastructures, and it is home to leading aerospace technologies as well as being a leading producer in many significant global sectors.”

      “So, although the country has endured a lot of trauma in the last few months, it is a resilient nation with an indomitable spirit and while commerce has undoubtedly been interrupted, there is a real determination to get back to business.”

      Get key insights on doing business in Italy and the supports available from Enterprise Ireland.

      Inside Innovation Show – Combilift

      Inside Innovation brings you the stories of Ireland’s leading innovators and changemakers. Across the series we will cover a whole range of topics from innovating in a crisis, to looking at the future of many business areas. We go behind the stories, to understand what drives these innovators and what the innovation success factors are, from capability building, to culture and leadership.

      The podcast is hosted by innovation expert Aidan McCullen.

      Episode 1 – Interview with Martin McVicar, CEO & Founder of Combilift

      The first episode is part of a series ‘Innovating in a Crisis’. An Irish innovator who innovated in the Covid-19 crisis is CEO and Founder of Combilift, Martin McVicar. The Irish engineering firm leveraged the innovation skills that make it a world leader in forklift trucks, to solve a global shortage of the ventilators required to fight Covid-19.

      Market Watch Industry Bulletin – Automotive

      The spread of the coronavirus led to an unprecedented collapse of many important car markets in terms of producers, their suppliers and the distribution channels across the globe . Work came to a standstill in almost all countries. But as severe as the slump was initially, the return of production is currently giving the industry hope. A large number of vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers were able to resume operations, albeit only to a limited extent. In addition, stabilization strategies and aid packages have been developed in recent months.

      In this latest industry bulletin, Enterprise Ireland has primarily surveyed leading market experts and industry leaders, and collected their views, gathering specific recommendations for companies, to stabilize, reset and recover from the current situation.

      Read the full report here.

      Industry Bulletin – Agritech & Machinery Dealership view


      Reporting from across world markets, Enterprise Ireland’s Agritech Market Advisors have compiled this buyer sentiment update consisting of case studies from importers, distributors and leading dealerships of agricultural equipment.

      As part of our Market Watch series, we have interviewed 23 companies to provide first-hand updates of the situation on the ground in key regions across the world.

      Read the full report.

      Resetting your business model

      Resetting your business model in response to Covid-19

      In preparing for tomorrow’s world, businesses need to reset their business model to remain relevant to their customers in the new environment

      The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world and transformed the environment and operating rules for business. Last year’s winning formulas have become failed propositions almost overnight, and many of yesterday’s compelling products and services are obsolete in the context of tomorrow’s needs.

      This requires businesses to take a long, hard look at their business models in order to remain relevant to their customers in the new environment. They will need to reassess what they sell, who they sell it to, and how they make money from that. They will also have to examine why people buy from them and how that translates into profitability.

      According to Business Financial Consultant Brendan Binchy, companies need to focus on four key areas when seeking to reset their business models:

      • Their current product offering and how can it be developed, changed, or delivered differently
      • Who their customers will be in future, both current and new, and if there is a need to drop some existing ones
      • The reasons customers buy from them, their new value proposition, and how they will do something unique; and
      • How they will make money – lower input costs, production efficiencies, premium price or volume increases.

      When looking at the product offering, Binchy advises companies to ask the hard questions. “Have you got any inherent future proofing protection for your product or service? What is unique about it? What is its lifecycle in the market? How much of your revenue is dependent on it? What are most profitable products?”

      The answers to these questions will help decide what products to retain or drop, as well as inform new product development efforts.

      Customers should be subject to a similar analysis, he advises. “Who uses your products? What are their demographics? Who are your most profitable customers? Where are they? What defines your ideal customer and where can you find more of them? Why are you still dealing with unprofitable customers?”

      This will assist in defining target customers. “Businesses should categorise customers into groups according to their profitability and different attributes, and then select which ones they want to deal with in future. This may lead them to stop dealing with some of them. Companies shouldn’t be afraid to fire customers who don’t value what you do.”

      The next step is to establish why these customers will buy from the business. “Go out and ask your customers,” Binchy advises. “Bring them in and talk to them about it. Find out the defining attributes of your most important customers and find ways of meeting their expectations. This will help you pick the right people to work for; people who value what you do. If a multinational has been buying from you for the past 10 years, you must be doing something right. Find out what that is and build on it.”

      Making money is the other and perhaps most critically important part of the jigsaw. This will require the business to look at the key business model drivers of products and services, marketing and sales, and finance, in terms of profitability, cashflow and return on investment. “They are the what, the who and the how of the business model,” Binchy explains. 

      “The enablers are your people and systems and processes that support the business. You can’t grow a business without all three drivers, being robust and in balance with each other. You can have great customers and products, but you won’t have a business if you’re not making money.” says Binchy

      An analysis of those drivers, along with the enablers, will give you a clear view of the revenue and cost bases of the business, and will help identify how the pathway to profitability can be bridged. “A business might look at reducing materials, labour or other operational costs. It can also look at production efficiencies or seek to increase prices if it can be positioned in a premium segment of the market.”

      The remaining question is how to finance the transition between the old and the reset business models. “The money and support are there to help companies bridge between the two. We just have to hope the transition period between them is going to be as short as possible,” Binchy adds. “The Enterprise Ireland Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant is there to help businesses start the journey. It offers a 100% grant up to the value of €5,000 to fund the cost of a financial consultant to prepare a financial plan that shows exactly how the company intends to reset and adapt its business model as it emerges from lockdown. The Lean Business Continuity scheme offers vouchers worth up to €2,500 to fund the cost of training and advisory services.”

      He points to the €450 million Covid-19 Working Capital Loan scheme and the €200 million Future Growth Loan Scheme available through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland as potential sources of loan finance for companies.

      In addition, there are the Enterprise Ireland Sustaining Enterprise Funds which offer funding up to €800,000 to fund the implementation of stabilisation and viability plans. Smaller businesses can also apply for funding of up to €25,000 or €50,000, depending on the size of the business.

      Both schemes feature repayment moratoriums for the first three years, a very important consideration according to Binchy. “That is very attractive when the company doesn’t have repayment capacity for the moment. They can’t go to the banks if they are in that position. Businesses have to dance very carefully when seeking funding, and these schemes certainly help with that.”

      Learn more about the Enterprise Ireland supports available in our Accessing Liquidity & Managing Cashflow webinar

      Food for thought: How small businesses are getting the better of Covid-19

      Those in the food and drink industry speak to journalist Clodagh Dooley about how they’ve adapted to the crisis and their future goals

      “All food and drink start-up businesses have no doubt been impacted in some way because of the pandemic,” says Louis Eivers, Development Advisor of ‘High Potential Food and Drink Start-ups’ at Enterprise Ireland. “But what has been astounding is the fact that a lot of these entrepreneurs, particularly those on our Food Works Programme, have kept a positive attitude throughout these challenging times. They’ve even managed to grow from the crisis.”

      Food Works – run by Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and Teagasc – is Ireland’s only dedicated accelerator for food and drink businesses. Each of the three agencies involved with Food Works plays a specific role in taking Irish food to global markets. Enterprise Ireland supports business funding development and this year, offered up to €35,000 in funding for participating food and drink companies. Bord Bia helps with the consumer and market aspects, while Teagasc focuses on the technical side, product development and manufacturing.

      The programme brings each of these agencies’ complementary skills together in the one place, as well as providing business advisors of varying expertise, to help companies with their start-up goals.

      “It’s a one-stop-shop for start-up food and drink companies,” says Louis. “We typically take on 6-10 companies each year, so it can be competitive to get on the programme. We look for those early-stage companies, that are less than five years old and require support, keeping HPSU (High Potential Start-Up) criteria in mind.”

       

      Adapting virtually

      And high potential is definitely what this year’s participant companies have shown since the 2020 programme launched in March – despite the disruption of coronavirus.

      Craig Grattan, founder of Sweet Potato Pizza Company, says the pandemic has actually been beneficial for his product – a healthier, but equally as tasty, pizza that has a sweet potato base. “March saw a 42% jump in sales from February. In a situation where a lot of companies will unfortunately not see the light of day again, it’s been incredible to see this increase in sales.

      “The Food Works Programme definitely has a part to play in that too, as the level of work we have done already over three months has been brilliant. In previous years, mentoring sessions would have been done face-to-face, now it’s all online so we have access to our business advisors instantly.” says Grattan

      Louis Eivers of Enterprise Ireland, says that, despite being initially sceptical about moving the programme solely online, companies are, in fact, getting more support than ever. “Now, advisors that would usually travel to Ireland from the likes of the UK or Germany, are able to dedicate more time to the entrepreneurs online.”

       

      Venturing forward

      Sinéad Crowther, Founder and CEO of Soothing Solutions – unique products which offer all of the benefits a hard-throat lozenge would give, but without the choking hazard – says without Food Works, her company would have made “little to no progress”.

      “Everything in food development for start-ups simply shut down. Food Works has been our lifeline. The programme has opened doors for us and we have been able to scale up our manufacturing capacity with a team of experts that we could not have afforded to pay, had we been approaching them without the programme.” says Crowther

      Sinéad’s goals for the future are to have the company’s products rolled out across Ireland in the next 12 months and look to start exporting to their identified channels the following year.

      Craig says his business goal is to also expand. He wants his Sweet Potato Pizza, which is currently available in 43 stores including SuperValu, to be available nationwide, in Europe and in America. “Whatever your business goals are, the different levels of ambition are met by the levels of expertise from advisers,” he says of the Food Works Programme.

      Sinéad says that Food Works will play a huge part in their business plan. “The programme is critical in guiding us, as we build and develop our brand identity.”

      But one of the most important things Sinéad has learned from the whole experience so far? “We have learned to venture forward, no matter what the circumstances.”

      Learn how your food business can develop and accelerate its growth with the Food Works program.

       

      Bean & Goose founders

      The sweet taste of success

      When the Covid-19 crisis hit, Irish chocolate company, Bean & Goose, made the most of the lockdown

      “The lockdown began right before Easter, which is one of our biggest times of the year,” says Natalie Keane, co-owner of Bean & Goose. “We had finished making and packing our Easter products and we were just about to start shipping them out to our retail customers. But in about two days, we lost about 95% of our customers and our Easter products were sadly left on the shelves.”

      Set up in 2016 by sisters Natalie and Karen Keane in Co Wexford, Bean & Goose specialises in making craft chocolate bars, truffles, and chocolate gifts such as their Tasting Club, a subscription service which sends out two bars of chocolate, a once-off bar and one from the core range. They started selling to markets around Dublin until they began getting orders from retail outlets.

      But because they were focused on in-person retail through independent retailers, hotels, and cafés to sell their products, the lockdown came as a shock to their business.

      “We quickly made the decision that we would have to really ramp up our online campaign because the only way to get these products to our customers was through our online store,” says Natalie. “We were lucky that we invested heavily in our digital marketing in the last couple of years so that when we asked our customers to make the transition to buying online, they were very open to doing that.”

      Because of reaching their customers online, the sisters managed to sell out their Easter range, from dark chocolate hares to chocolate goose eggs. In fact, sales figures went up 65% in March, April and May 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. Within two weeks of online sales, they knew that their customers were loyal to them and would likely continue to buy the products this way.

       

      Hard work and support

      Natalie and Karen say that a big reason why their business was able to make the leap online and succeed, was due to their hard work over the last few years marketing and building up a solid customer base. This work was helped by being accepted for Food Works in 2015, an Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and Teagasc backed accelerator programme for food and drink businesses.

      “This was hugely important for us,” says Natalie. “It allowed us to exhibit in bigger markets, secure feasibility funding from Enterprise Ireland, and it really set us up to think of the business as a scalable opportunity. Food Works gave us the roadmap to be able to build the business with the mentoring, advice and contacts they made available to us.”

      While this support has helped them achieve success, it was also great timing which helped them during the lockdown. The drive online actually represented an opportunity they didn’t realise they needed.

      Natalie says, “We are in a transition stage at the moment as we are changing our core range of chocolate bar flavours for the first time in five years, as well as our packaging. We had always planned to do that at this time, but because we used to deal predominantly with retail customers, we believed we would have to scale back a little and maybe even close the store as we transitioned.”

      “Now that we’re trading online for most of our business, we have been able to make the transition and continue trading because our online customers are perfectly fine with the product arriving in the interim packaging and flavours. It’s worked out really well for us.”

      As Bean & Goose have managed to keep their business thriving under the lockdown pressures, they also took part in an initiative to highlight the work of frontline workers during these extraordinary times. They were one of 18 Irish designers and makers to give away their products in a hamper to a nominated hero.

      “One amazing thing I have noticed through all of this is how very kind and thoughtful people are to each other during this time. So they want to give gifts and there’s no better gift than chocolate. We are definitely selling the right product at the right time!”

      Learn how your food business can develop and accelerate its growth with the Food Works program

      Creating a buzz in the drinks market

      Irish alcoholic beverage brand Beekon Batches are growing as a business and have not let the lockdown be a buzzkill

      “When Covid-19 hit we had to get over our two weeks of thinking ‘do we have any business left, most of our sales were in bars, restaurants and hotels’,” says Karen O’Neill, founder of Beekon Batches. “We quickly got over the shock, pulled ourselves together and hatched a plan! “We couldn’t let it pull us down, so we decided to pivot the business online going direct to consumers whilst also strengthening our retail presence.”

      Entrepreneur Karen alongside her wife and business partner Helen Kennedy are the brains behind Beekon Batches, an Irish-made honey-based, all-natural alcoholic beverage launched just last year. Karen, having been involved in the drinks trade for 20 years, realised people’s attitudes were changing on what they consumed. All-natural products, free from additives and preservatives, were growing in populatiry  and saw the opportunity to create   something new.

      Beekon Batches is a “honey refresher” and is made with the love of all things bees. It’s created from honey infused with natural ingredients such as fresh lime and ginger, and has  an alcohol content of 5%.

      Having  just started on the Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and Teagasc accelerator programme called Food Works, the Covid-19 crisis hit, and  their business hit a proverbial wall  due to having limited retail presence.

      “We are one of the classic, positive pivot online stories as we managed to be successful with our online business and growing our retail footprint.A lot of that is based on the support, the resources and help we received from the Food Works programme.” says Helen

      Helen says, “, When Covid hit, Food Works kicked in with a comprehensive, all encompassing program of support tailored to each participating business.  This was facilitated online right after we went into lockdown.  I have gained invaluable business and management insights across the whole business.”

      Everyone on the programme is going through the same thing together so Helen says that every week everyone goes out to buy a product from another business on the programme. “There is a lovely level of support and comradery there.”

      A hive of activity

      Karen says that from being  anxious at the beginning of the crisis, today she is amazed at how phenomenally well their business has taken off .

      “The combination of our new store listings such as SuperValu & Molloys Off licence stores, our online direct to consumer sales and our existing listings that have continued to support us means that we are delivering double the revenue than we were pre-Covid, ,” says Karen. “Our customers and members of the trade have really rallied around us and our story in particular. That is the fact that we are women with a brand-new product, trying to break down the gender bias in a very male-dominated drinks industry. Consumers too are responding very positively, they are craving something new, particularly at this time and Beekon offers them just this, something different and exciting.

      “Everything we do is different to anything else on offer right now. Our drink is new, our packaging is textured and fun, and the locations where we sell are based on demand. We always ask our community where they want us to stock and we try to make that happen.”

      Because of this support, one of the ways Beekon Batches has been able to give back is by supporting the bees. They do this with their bee pollinator programme. Wherever Beekon is sold, the business tries to do something to help the bees. For example, providing wildflower bee bombs to deploy wildflower seeds, and providing bee hotels where bees can make their nests.

      “Last summer we partnered with Airfield Estate to allow bar and store staff to undertake full immersive bee experiences to heighten the awareness and effect behaviour changes to help support the bees. I think the trade really loves what we do here as it’s meaningful and impactful with its intention.”

      The future looks very bright for Beekon Batches, so what does Karen see for the future of the business?

      Karen says, “We want the drink to be universally sold in Ireland and then internationally. Consumers are becoming more conscious about what they’re consuming these days and about their own influence on sustainability, so another goal is for everyone to buy with this in mind. Our product can be the thing people choose to make a difference in the world and that’s an amazing feeling.”

       

      Learn how your food business can develop and accelerate its growth with the Food Works program