Neil Cooney

Market Watch – A view from Canada

Market Watch Canada Neil Cooney

Key Takeaways

• The public health response to Covid-19 in Canada was well informed by previously having dealt with the challenges caused by an outbreak of SARS in the early 2000s.
• There were some challenges, and the Canadian government has been swift and efficient in offering support to businesses and citizens across the country.
• Canada, like many jurisdictions, is seeing a resurgence of cases and borders are currently closed to mainstream traffic.
• Remote working has seen many industries pivot to a new way of doing business.
• Many sectors are moving apace and there is opportunity for Irish companies.

Along with almost every country in the world, Canada has felt the effects of the pandemic, but Neil Cooney, Enterprise Ireland Country Manager Canada, says while a second wave is also taking its toll, there are some positive signs of growth.

“The challenges of Covid-19 are significant and as a result, the Canadian government has committed extraordinary support to citizens and businesses during 2020 as economic activity is considered to be approximately 5% below February levels,” he says. “However the economy has seen four straight months of growth, as restrictions have been modified to support more of the economy coming back online.”

“Of course, like many other jurisdictions, Canada is seeing a resurgence of cases, particularly in its main metropolitan areas – and borders are currently closed for most travellers. So those doing business need to look carefully at the limited set of exceptions which may apply (for critical infrastructure or in healthcare) – while most workers in government, banking, technology and professional services sectors continue to work from home.”

Aside from the challenges of not being able to visit the market, meet customers and attend trade events, Cooney says another effect of Covid-19 has been that some pending projects were paused as companies reacted to the uncertainty, but this is beginning to change.

“We have seen projects reignite in recent months as business priorities have shifted from crisis management or remote working challenges to an acceleration in digitalization and providing better experiences for customers and employees,” he says.

“Pivoting to virtual has been an area of opportunity for many of the leading trade events and while they vary in format and cost, these events have reduced the barriers for Irish companies interested in learning more about trends and opportunities in Canada – which has always been challenging to do on a coast to coast basis as it is the world’s second largest country.”

The move to remote working and distributed teams has pushed businesses to openly consider solutions from providers, which they will engage with online from start to finish.
And according to Cooney, the manufacturing sector and supply chains generally have done well in overcoming the hurdles posed by the current global crisis.

“Like many markets, the challenges of Covid-19 have accelerated change in many areas with companies and industries adopting new technologies,” he says. “This has represented an opportunity for Irish companies which offer innovative solutions in areas such as cybersecurity, remote working enablement and digital health.

“And Canada recently announced investment of 10 billion (CAD) in infrastructure projects -through the Canadian Investment Bank – in energy, agricultural irrigation, connectivity, zero-emission buses, early construction works and buildings’ energy efficiency.”

He says with the impact of the crisis on the energy sector, there has been an opportunity to focus investment on environmental mitigation of orphan wells, developing renewable energy and charting a cleaner, more efficient energy future.

And the construction sector has continued its buoyant level of activity with an increasing focus on modular housing deployment and environmentally superior building technologies currently in demand.

“In addition, Canada has continued to invest significantly in its public infrastructure, including a recent announcement supporting broadband provision– which at $1.75 billion represents the largest one-time federal investment in broadband.”

Home to several world class clusters including the world’s third largest aerospace hub in Montreal, Canada is North America’s second largest financial services and technology cluster, leading capability in Artificial Intelligence technologies, and has a burgeoning technology sector.

Toronto has the highest cluster of AI start-ups in the world and Montréal boasts the highest density of researchers and students of deep learning in the world. This has highlighted an opportunity for EI Canada to join the conversation with focus on Irish AI capable clients.

But while virtual meetings have made it easier for companies outside Canada to explore new commercial relationships, there are certain factors which need to be considered.

“Companies approaching the market often have to think region by region in sourcing distribution, identifying partners, winning customers and setting-up beachhead sales operations,” says Cooney. “And while doing this in-person has always been a challenge given the scale of the territory, the current reliance on virtual meetings has created more of a ‘level playing field’ for companies outside Canada exploring new commercial relationships.

“But it is officially a bilingual country which means many products and services must offer English and French to participate in procurement or Request for Proposal processes. To this end, Enterprise Ireland has recently opened an office in Montreal to assist Irish companies in doing business in the region.

“And while Canada is often seen as an excellent proving ground and valuable reference site for the wider North America market, it is crucial to display knowledge and responsiveness to the distinct needs of Canadian customers, local regulatory requirements and differences in business practice – something which definitely applies to the complex, multi-stakeholder buying processes we see in the Healthcare and Telco sectors.”

However, the country manager says that Canadians prefer to work with companies which already have an established presence in the market.

“Demonstrating local presence can be an important way to gain trust and to reassure potential customers of the availability of your on-going support,” he says. “Canada is a welcoming country when it comes to entrepreneurs, investors, and talent, including from Ireland, and is as a result attracting significant business to tech hubs such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. And during Covid-19, this may mean establishing a virtual presence and hiring locally in-market – which is readily possible given the ease of set-up in Canada.”

To learn more about the steps companies can take to address the impact of Covid-19 visit our business supports page.

Webinars – Brexit Customs Briefing Series

As the Brexit transition period comes to an end on 31 December 2020, Irish businesses trading with the UK will need to operate in a new business environment.

To assist Irish companies with their final preparations, Enterprise Ireland in partnership with the Local Enterprise Offices will host a series of webinar briefings to advise on logistics, freight, customs clearance and the critical steps needed to avoid trading disruption on Jan 1st.

Register Below:

Global Ambition – Industry Insights Agritech 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.

Host and lead Market Advisor for the sector Brian Hourihane is joined by Robbie Walker, European Growth Officer at Alltech to discuss how Agritech and Smart Machinery solutions are promoting sustainable farming across the globe.

 

Watch the webinar here.

Evolve UK – Ready for Brexit: Meeting UK customer expectations

The Evolve UK webinar series highlights the opportunities for Irish companies interested in doing business with the UK.

This webinar discuss how businesses are tackling customer communication and customer care during continued Brexit uncertainty with insights from:

Robert Rowlette, General Manager of Archway Products

Alan Croghan, Financial Director of EasyFix

Evolve UK: Establishing a UK presence

The Evolve UK webinar series highlights the opportunities for Irish companies interested in doing business with the UK.

This webinar examines how the establishment of a UK presence demonstrates long-term commitment to the market, providing customers and partners on the ground with the reassurance that your business is accessible at all times.

Hosted by Enterprise Ireland’s UK Manager, Deirdre McPartlin with insights from Gerry Collins, ECOVIS.

Evolve UK – New UK importing rules with HMRC – Establishing a UK presence webinar

 

The Evolve UK webinar series highlights the opportunities for Irish companies interested in doing business with the UK.

This webinar examines the upcoming rule changes to importing into the UK with insights from

– Deirdre McPartlin, UK Manager at Enterprise Ireland

– Margaret Whitby, Head of Stakeholder Engagement at BPDG

– Claire Wilson, Stakeholder Engagement at HMRC Customs and Borders unit

– Ruth Potter, Partner at Ecovis

– Gerry Collins, Managing Partner at Ecovis

Access key insights from sectoral experts with the Evolve UK webinar series.

Brexit and Intellectual Property – Webinar

The UK’s decision to leave the EU will impact many aspects of business including Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

Our webinar explained the effects of Brexit on the different types of IPR, and discussed practical answers to questions like:

  • Will my existing IP rights be sufficient after Brexit?

  • What changes might I need to make to my IP portfolio?

  • Do my licence and distributor agreements cover the relevant territories?

  • If I am importing or exporting goods, have the IP rights contained in the goods been exhausted in the relevant territory?

  • Will my custom notifications still apply in the UK and EU?

Hosted by national broadcaster and journalist – Jonathan Healy with insights from:

  • Peter MacLachlan and Cherrie Stewart of MacLachlan & Donaldson

  • Joe Doyle, Intellectual Property Manager in Enterprise Ireland

  • Emer O’Byrne of Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit Unit.

Watch here 

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 

Hannah Fraser Nordics

Market Watch – Nordics

“The Nordics is renowned for being one of the most progressive, open, and innovative regions in the world. Made up of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland, it has not traditionally been the first choice for Irish exporters, but nonetheless the region presents opportunity for companies looking to expand their business internationally.

Over the last five years exports to the Nordics from Enterprise Ireland clients have grown 35% and there are now over 450 exporters to these markets. And despite Covid,  despite Covid, Hannah Fraser, Director Nordics Region, says opportunity exist for companies which bring innovation and something different to market.

The region is culturally and geographically close to Ireland and companies here are open to innovation and international partnerships. While negotiations often taken some time, once you secure a client, Nordic customers are committed, reliable and willing to pay a good price for solutions they can see value in.

In addition, Sweden, Norway and Denmark are in the top five countries for non-native English speakers, so language isn’t a barrier like other European markets – all of this adds up to a region which is lucrative and easy to do business in.

However, there is no denying that the pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to industry across the globe and in every sector – and the Nordic region is no different.

The response has differed country to country and while it remains to be seen how these measures will impact the economy in the long run, the Nordic economies were some of the strongest globally at the start of 2020 and look, so far, to be more resilient and set to recover faster than many of their European neighbours.

In the most recent figures, Sweden reported a GDP fall of 8.6% and Denmark of 7.4% during Q2. Norway’s GDP is estimated to have fallen around 7.1% between the months of March to May, while Finland, which undertook some of the stricter measures in the Nordics, reported a GDP fall of only 3.2%.

Irish companies working in the region have been affected in some ways. Travel restrictions, in particular, have proven challenging for staff travelling in and out of the region and also hindered Irish companies’ ability to meet customers, or potential customers, in person, which has affected the pipeline of new business for this year and into 2021.

But these issues are being addressed as firms have ramped up their digital presence to connect with customers in new ways and are now working more closely with local partners and suppliers. In addition, the supply chain across the Nordics is operational and the major construction sites, which many Irish companies are working on, have remained open throughout and business is now moving well in many areas.

Ultimately, the Nordics is a region of huge diversity and opportunities for companies differ from country to country and sector by sector. Well-established opportunities exist for Irish Engineering and Hi-Tech Construction companies, particularly around the construction and fit-out of the hyperscale data centres being built across the region.

There are also some emerging opportunities in areas like Fintech, Lifesciences, Telecoms and Energy and Irish firms have started to capitalise on these. In addition to this, one of the major themes for Nordic companies is around sustainability and building sustainable businesses.

Indeed the region has been at the forefront of sustainability for years and is considered to have some of the most ambitious climate action plans in the world – and this is an area in which Ireland can really learn from. Companies of all sizes here have a focus on building sustainable companies and integrating the UN Sustainable Development Goals into their business models.

This commitment to sustainability drives market demand for Irish products and services which in turn delivers solutions and innovation to areas such as renewable energy, electrification and energy efficiency.

There are a number of Irish companies which have successfully secured contracts in the Nordics in recent months including Mainline Power, CXIndex, Cambrist and XOcean – so the future does look bright for the region. Our team at Enterprise Ireland are on hand to support Irish companies to continue to grow and win business here.”

Get key insights on the supports available from Enterprise Ireland.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building a company with an expert offering

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

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

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

Changing the rule book

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

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

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

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

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

Not the average day-to-day

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

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

Partnering for a successful future

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

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

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

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

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

Supported by Enterprise Ireland at each step

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

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

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

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

Graduate Stories – Flying the flag for Irish businesses in international markets

Steve Keogh is currently in his second year with the International Graduate Programme, working as a Trade Development Executive in the Austin, Texas, office.

The Graduate Programme at Enterprise Ireland has given me the opportunity to see the world while flying the flag for Irish businesses in international markets. My story is slightly different in that I’m 37 years old and ran a family business in Dublin for many years before deciding that I wanted to do something bigger. While studying Business Management I became interested in Enterprise Ireland and went on to complete an International Management Masters in Trinity before joining the Graduate Programme.

I currently work as a Trade Development Executive in the Austin, Texas, office. Everything you do in this role, has a direct influence on Irish companies.  There’s great satisfaction to be had, for example, if I can open an industry for an Irish company. It’s genuinely meaningful work. I worked for years just to make money and there’s no satisfaction in that.

 

Applying for the Graduate Programme

The application process for the Graduate Programme is fairly intense. First you need to write an essay about why you’re good for the role. Then there are online tests to do before a video interview. The group scenarios can seem quite intimidating. In one instance there are five applicants with five individual assessors taking notes and watching your performance as you work through a case study completing tasks and discussing the assignment in front of the group. While it can be intimidating it is worth it for the benefits and experience that the Enterprise Ireland graduate programme provides.

If I were to give one piece of advice to applicants who face the same test it would be that this is not the time to discuss your thesis; this is a test to see how you would act on the ground in the market. Many candidates think that the assessors want to see their knowledge of a topic, when it’s actually a practical test to see what impactful decisions you would make that would help our clients. This test is reflective of the job itself – on any given day, you’ll receive a call from a client looking for contacts or networking opportunities – your job is to connect them with the right person/people, sector knowledge is important but so is practicality. Time is money over here.

If you’re interested in the position, you need to be bold and confident. There’s no room to be timid around ideas, instead be brave enough to voice the ideas that you think would make the most impact. Go in with a positive mental attitude and let your willingness to work hard and do the job show.

In the final interview, you’re given a list of available destinations and you are asked to rank them in order of preference. Austin was my second choice. I hadn’t a clue about Austin before then – when I think of Texas, I think of Dallas – but it’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in.

 

Networking is key

The job itself is intensive. You are representative of Ireland on the ground in a foreign business community. I can’t put a figure on the number of tasks you might be asked to do. It’s literally anything and everything that would help Irish companies win exports in a foreign market. It’s about knowledge and networking – the knowledge of the leading sectors in your market, and the contacts you make through attending shows, events and so on.

 

Making an impact for Irish business

Nothing makes more of an impact than if a company rings up looking for advice on how to get into a sector and you’re able to say ‘you just need to talk to xx over in Houston, he’s connected to all of the major players over there, let me get you on the phone together’ – you’ve just saved them a lot of time and a lot of headaches. And on the flip side you will have lots of people coming to market with a product that mightn’t be suitable – your knowledge of the market could save them time and money if you can direct them to the best market fit for their product.

“Enterprise Ireland gives you the opportunity to do genuinely meaningful work for Irish companies in international markets.” says Steve Keogh.

One of my favorite success story’s features a company from Tipperary called Saint Killians that produces candle units for churches. Their products make it so that when the candle burns down, the wick drops into a water bath underneath for safe extinguishing. About a week after I stepped into this role, they contacted me and asked for help to sell into Texas for the first time. This was my first task and I felt I had something to prove so I got on the phone to every priest from Houston to Dallas and back, and now, if you go to 10th Street in Austin, there’s a church there with a candle unit from a company in Tipperary – and I got it there! That’s the sort of impact you can have for an Irish company and the feeling of being able to point to it and say: “I did that” is extraordinary.

 

To learn how Enterprise Ireland’s Graduate Programme can help you take the next step in your career visit National ProgrammeInternational Programme.