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.

     

    Aerospace & Aviation

    Market Watch Industry Bulletin – Aerospace & Aviation

    Aerospace and Aviation

     

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

    Read the full report here.

    Global Ambition – Industry Insights: Retail webinar


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

    This Retail webinar discusses:

    • The global opportunity for online retail, both now and longer term

    • Routes to market and regional differences

    • Implications for Irish brands and how to capitalise on the online opportunities

    Hosted by Enterprise Ireland’s Allyson Stephen with expert insights from

    • Frank van den Berg, CEO of InfinityBlue Marketplace

    • Michael Walsh, Marketing Director of Dubarry of Ireland

    Watch the webinar here.

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Find out more about the SEF supports here

    Global Ambition – Industry Insights: Construction webinar


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

    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

    • Mr Richard Joyce, Managing Director Europe, Linesight

    Watch the webinar here.

    Innovating for Recovery: CW Applied Technology

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Find out more about the SEF supports here

    How Rennicks are looking to the future with support from the Sustaining Enterprise Fund

    Covid-19 was an obstacle, but, thanks to Enterprise Ireland, it hasn’t thrown us completely off our desired path. The Sustaining Enterprise Fund has given us peace of mind and the stability to pursue the future we had planned for our business.”

    Dolores Cantwell, Director of Finance & Operations, Rennicks Group Ltd.

    Key Takeouts

    • Established more than 40 years ago, Rennicks Group Ltd. is an Irish company specialising in retro reflective products for the licence plate and traffic sign markets. The global pandemic halted factory operations, drastically impacting the company’s revenue stream.
    • Director of Finance & Operations, Dolores Cantwell, contacted Enterprise Ireland about applying for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, who partnered with them to prepare documents for the financial assessment.
    • Funding from Enterprise Ireland has allowed Rennicks to meet its existing financial commitments and continue administrative operations, supporting the business as it plans for recovery and beyond.

    Case Study: Rennicks

    Rennicks is a Dublin-based company servicing the vehicle licence plate and road infrastructure markets in the United Kingdom and South Africa. The business has existed since 1976, but was the subject of a management buy-out in 2017. Director of Finance & Operations, Dolores Cantwell, says they were on an upward trajectory at the start of 2020, with solid numbers reported for the first quarter of the year, before the global lockdown landed.

    “When Covid-19 hit we were worried,” says Cantwell. “Initially, it looked like there would be a complete shutdown with no revenue stream for at least four months. It was an extremely concerning prospect.”

    Rennicks’ primary business involves a light manufacturing process, which means the business relies on its factory operations. The lockdown in Ireland prevented employees from working. The factory closed and all staff were sent home. Cantwell says their administrative team was forced to quickly adapt to a remote work style. The company was also forced to immediately assess its cost outlays, resulting in a combination of lay-offs and pay reductions across the organisation.

     

    Searching for solutions

    Thankfully, Rennicks has always maintained good relationships with its supply chain partners, which gave them some time, but they still had commitments to fulfill. After the initial shock of a global pandemic and a total halt in production, the team took stock and realized they would need to look outside of their existing resources for financial support if they were going to successfully ride out the storm.

    “We saw the information about the Sustaining Enterprise Fund and contacted Enterprise Ireland,” says Cantwell. “The two team members they sent us were superb.”

    She says Enterprise Ireland worked with Rennicks to gather and reformat its financial information for the SEF assessment. The team calmly worked through the numbers, showing an enthusiasm for the business that bolstered Rennicks and gave the team the confidence to move forward. Admittedly, Cantwell says, she expected red tape and political hurdles when applying for funding, but this wasn’t the case at all. Instead, she says they found a group of engaged, forward-thinking people at Enterprise Ireland, eager to support their business.

    “The team at Enterprise Ireland couldn’t have been more responsive, open, and encouraging,” Cantwell says. “It was a breath of fresh air.”

     

    Looking toward the future

    Despite the global pandemic, Rennicks was able to continue a small portion of its distribution business. The supply chain was disrupted by lockdown and the company’s revenues still dropped 60%, but funding allowed them to meet their commitments and work toward recovery. Thanks to the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, Rennicks had the working capital to continue administrative operations during lockdown, allowing it to focus on its future. Currently, the business is working on a push into new markets, and is developing value-added propositions for its existing market in the UK. Cantwell says they did everything they could to support their customers during a difficult time.

     

    “Our business has been built on providing quality products and excellent customer service,” she says. “During lockdown, it was our key priority to maintain contact with our customers.”

    Cantwell’s advice for other companies impacted by Covid-19; Focus on the fundamentals, but be prepared to be flexible and to adapt to the changing situation. She believes if you continue to give excellent customer service, keep your eye on your goal, and are adaptable in your approach, you’ll eventually make it through.

    “Business will come back,” Cantwell says. “In the interim, it’s important to stay customer-focused. Try not to get side-tracked. And do make use of the supports that are available.

     

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

    Automotive supply chain and purchasing strategy changes in the Covid era

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

     

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

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

                  

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

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

                  

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

     

    The African opportunity for Irish firms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Vast opportunities in Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Enterprise Ireland supports

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Providing role models 

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

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

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

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

    National Women’s Enterprise Day was just the mechanism.

    Showcasing success – and support

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Covid can’t stop it

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

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

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

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

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

    Exploring overseas markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Women’s success is Ireland’s success

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

    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.