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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The impact of Covid-19 was severe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about the SEF supports here

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

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

 

Tom Delahunty, Global Operations Director, Wisetek

Key Takeouts

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

    Case Study: Wisetek

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

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

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

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

     

    Looking for Solutions

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

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

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

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

     

    A Positive Relationship Pays Off

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

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

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

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

     

    Focusing on the Future

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Find out more about the SEF supports here

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    How the Irish construction sector responds to the rapid change and set of deep-seated implications for international markets will be crucial as the sector now looks to reset and recover, in the wake of Covid-19.

    This webinar was hosted by John Hunt, Senior Market Advisor for Construction at Enterprise Ireland, with insights from:

    • Mr Robert Troy T.D. – Minister of State at Dept. of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

    • Professor Roger Flanagan – Professor of Construction Management, University of Reading

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    Watch the webinar here.

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