Start-Up Showcase class of 2020: Proving again the ambition and resilience of Ireland’s entrepreneurs

Starting a business is a difficult process at any time, but in 2020, it proved especially challenging, thanks to the uncertainty and difficulties created by the Covid-19 pandemic. But Irish entrepreneurs are nothing if not brave and ambitious, and 2020 was merely a year to show just how resilient and resourceful they are.

In fact, despite having to overcome issues such as remote working and lockdowns, many new start-ups found opportunity within the Covid-19 crisis, either by pivoting their business or finding solutions to problems faced by people and countries dealing with the pandemic. To support their level of bravery and true global ambition, Enterprise Ireland approved more than €48 million in funding for new start-up companies and other start-up projects impacted by the pandemic in 2020. This figure included investment in 125 founding teams, supporting 80 companies through its High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) fund and 45 through its Competitive Start Fund (CSF) programme.

The achievements of these start-ups were celebrated at this year’s Start-Up Showcase, which took place virtually on Wednesday 24th February and was officially launched by An Taoiseach Michéal Martin. Participants at the event included all of the HPSU and the CSF companies and a representative from each of the 13 New Frontiers programmes supported by Enterprise Ireland.

“Most of the 125 companies at Showcase came through over the last 11 months, so the message is that we’re very much still open for business,” says Jenny Melia, Enterprise Ireland Divisional Manager, HPSU. 

“The four main areas that we see are ICT, life sciences, fintech and food. In the last year we have adjusted to working remotely and living remotely, and many companies have been finding solutions to aid our new living and working needs, or pivoting their existing offerings to cater for this new need.”

Funding proved difficult for new start-ups in 2020; recognising this, Enterprise Ireland provided support to existing start-up projects through the Sustainable Enterprise Fund for HPSUs, and invested earlier into some new start-ups. “There is risk involved, but we decided to go in earlier into some projects and help them deliver on their technical and commercial milestones,” explains Jenny. “Because of Covid-19, we might see that a company has had its clinical trials postponed or perhaps a company trialling a software product had to put the test on the long finger. In these cases, if the ingredients were right, we might invest a little earlier than usual. Another important aspect for us was to keep founding teams together because companies have had to work so hard to get the right talent in place and the last thing you want is to see those teams start to fragment.”

 

Stand-out projects

Every company featured at Showcase is fulfilling a very real need, and has the potential to globally impact their sector. “One of the most exciting is a company called Novus Diagnostics,” says Jenny. “The two founders came through DCU and have developed a rapid test for sepsis – about 11 million people die worldwide every year from sepsis, and every hour that’s missed in the diagnosis pushed up the mortality rate. As well as securing HPSU funding, the team has won EU funding, which is very competitive.

“Another interesting company that has come through is Iamus Technologies, which has developed a smart robot for chicken breeding houses. The robot moves through the houses and measures the environment, the temperature, noting if any of the chicks are sick and alerting anything suspicious in real time. If anything goes wrong, it can spread very quickly in these environments, so having that alert in real time is really valuable. I think this is a great example of the strength we have in the agritech sector.”

 

Supporting female and regional entrepreneurs

Of particular interest is the promotion of women in business, and in 2020, almost 24% of the 80 new HPSUs supported by Enterprise Ireland are led by female entrepreneurs. And, 42% of the CSF projects awarded last year were led by female founders in sectors as diverse as climate change, fintech and edtech – proving that female entrepreneurship is incredibly strong in Ireland.

Our experience over the years has shown us that it’s not just about the funding but it’s also about the networking and capability development,”

“Alongside our female focus in the CSF, we set up a development programme called Innovate, where the female founders are networking and learning from each other, as well as learning from female entrepreneurs that have gone before them. We have found that this programme, alongside the funding and any other mentoring, has helped us to help the companies become investment-ready faster.”

Another area of interest is to promote regional development by ensuring entrepreneurs all over the country receive the support their need. “We work closely with the four business incubation centres around Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) to ensure the companies from around Ireland are not just getting the funding support but they’re also getting the hands-on support in terms of building out the company. Balanced regional development is one of the key priorities for us at Enterprise Ireland.”

Jenny says that the intensity of this engagement is paying off; this is reflected in 2020’s figures, with a 50/50 split between new projects based in and outside Dublin in 2020. This reflects higher numbers in the West than in 2019, and more than double the numbers in the South.

 

Support from start to finish

Representatives from the New Frontiers national entrepreneurship programme also took part in the Showcase, reflecting the highly connective nature of Ireland’s start-up scene. Some companies complete New Frontiers and progress to CSF or directly to HPSU; others might be growing more slowly and will engage with our colleagues in the LEOs as they begin to build out their business,” says Jenny.

Both the CSF and the HPSU maintain strong links with Ireland’s network of LEOs and the New Frontiers programme to recognise new companies with great ideas as they emerge, getting ready to support them as they grow their idea into an innovative and thriving business. For entrepreneurs, knowing that this support is available from start to finish is encouraging, especially as we continue to navigate through the difficult economic environment created by Covid-19 and Brexit in 2021.

 

New Frontiers: Turning great ideas into promising businesses

Great ideas are in the Irish DNA, but turning these ideas into viable businesses takes time, ambition, hard work and support.

To help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into promising businesses, Ireland has built up a solid network of supports for early stage start-ups, with a high level of connectivity to ensure that businesses can access the right support at the right time.

Many entrepreneurs begin their business journey at the Local Enterprise Office (LEO), which offers a wide range of experience, skills and services.

Typical supports offered by the LEOs include training and mentoring programmes, access to financial support and microfinance loans, general business advice and help with business planning.  and with 31 LEOs nationwide, entrepreneurs don’t have to travel far to find business support.

The LEOs are also the front door into other support services such as the local authorities, Enterprise Ireland and State agencies, including the Department of Social Protection, Skillnets, Education and Training Boards, Microfinance Ireland, Revenue and Fáilte Ireland.

The beauty of the structure is that it’s inter-connected,” explains Teri Smith, manager at Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) division. 

“At the HPSU, we would communicate with the LEOs and other starter programmes like New Frontiers, so a suitable business can very readily come onto our radar if they’re going through those channels, which allows us to transition them at the right time.” 

“From an Enterprise Ireland point of view, a lot of entrepreneurs would have started out with LEO supports or New Frontiers; when they have their business plan, their prototype and their market opportunities mapped out, and ready to raise seed investment, that’s generally when they transition to Enterprise Ireland.”

 

New Frontiers

The highly regarded New Frontiers programme is a popular starting point for many entrepreneurs. Like the LEO supports, New Frontiers is available nationwide and is delivered on behalf of Enterprise Ireland by Institutes of Technology and Technological Universities in 16 locations around Ireland. Since Enterprise Ireland began managing the programme in 2012, 4,700 individuals have participated in New Frontiers, with 1,430 going on to the immersive Phase 2 of the programme.

“New Frontiers is a good starting point,” says Teri. “Phase 1 can be done while you’re still in your day job, so you don’t have to go ‘all in’ to progress your idea and see if it has the potential to turn into a business.” 

The programme is aimed at early-stage entrepreneurs with business ideas from across all sectors including food & consumer products; information & communication technology; engineering & electronics; medical devices; biotechnology; pharma, digital media; cleantech/renewable energy;

They could also be developing new solutions that would have export potential, or an innovative alternative to what is mainstream in the marketplace. Entrepreneurs would have to have qualified that there is market potential for their product in order to be eligible for a place on the programme.

New Frontiers is delivered in three phases. Currently offered online due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation, Phase I consists of weekend and evening workshops to research and test the market potential of the idea. By the end of this phase, participants should have a good idea as to whether their idea can become a viable business – and be confident enough to leave their job or take a career break to immerse themselves in their fledgling business.

Entrepreneurs who have successfully completed Phase 1 can apply for Phase 2, which is a full-time intensive programme that focuses on developing and validating the business proposition. Participants are supported throughout this phase with workshops, mentoring, regular milestone reviews, a free co-working space and guidance from the programme team.

In addition, a tax-free stipend of €15,000 is paid directly to the entrepreneur over a six-month period, along with web hosting and support worth $15,000 from Amazon.  No equity is taken in your business in exchange for this support package.

Upon successful completed of Phase 2, participants can also apply For Phase 3, which focuses on bringing the product/service to market and preparing to acquire further funding.

Many New Frontiers participants have progressed on to Enterprise Ireland supports such as the Competitive Start Fund and the High Potential Start-Up Fund; these include Wellola, Video Sherpa, Swyft Energy, Snapfix, Examfly, LiveCosts, Positive Carbon and Safecility. And from there, great things can be achieved.

For instance, Immersive VR Education in Waterford, one of the 2016 participants, raised €6.75 million following a successful IPO in 2018. In 2020, Cork ed-tech company and New Frontiers graduate TeachKloud raised €750,000, with investment led by Frontline Ventures and ed-tech investor Sean Tai. And in terms of creating employment, 2017 participants Xerotech has established an R&D centre in Claregalway with space for 40 engineers.

The highly connected nature of Ireland’s supports for early-stage entrepreneurs means that the sky really is the limit for ambitious innovators. Great ideas with huge potential are quickly identified and given the right support to bring them as far as possible, furthering our island’s reputation as a hotbed of promising start-ups.

For more information on New Frontiers, including a calendar of starting dates across the country, visit www.newfrontiers.ie

The New UK – Succeeding in a Changing Market

The UK Market is evolving. Irish companies are demonstrating incredible resilience in adapting to a changing landscape and are now looking to the future. Join our webinar on February 11th at 9am ‘The New UK: Succeeding in a Changing Market’.

During this webinar we will be joined by a panel of guests to explore changes underway in the UK and Ireland’s unique relationship with this major market on our doorstep. Panellists include:

  • Julie Sinnamon, CEO Enterprise Ireland
  • Adrian O’Neill, Ambassador of Ireland to the United Kingdom
  • Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
  • Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region

The CEO of Simon-Kucher & Partners, a leading global consultancy specialising in top-line growth strategies, will share his insights on how to succeed in this new world and profit levers to consider.

The webinar will also see CEOs from a range of Irish companies including Dublin AerospaceEI ElectronicsVRAIEPS, and Gifts Direct/The Irish Store, sharing their UK growth strategies – inspiring others with growth ambition.

Register to view our on-demand webinar.

Supporting Regional Development Critical To Future Jobs Growth

 

Resilience is a word we became used to in 2020 and it is an apt term to describe how Irish business responded to the dual challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the end of the Brexit transition period.

For thousands of businesses across Ireland, and their staff, it has been a tough, challenging year marked by disruption and uncertainty. But what has been remarkable is how Irish businesses have responded to the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.

At Enterprise Ireland we work closely with the Irish manufacturing, export and internationally traded services sector.  We invest in established companies and start-ups, we assist companies to begin exporting or expand into new markets and we back research and development projects creating future jobs.

This week we launched our annual review for 2020.  The good news is that the companies we are proud to support employ more than 220,000 in Ireland.  Despite the challenges faced in last year, nearly 16,500 new jobs were created, closely mirroring the 2019 outturn.

However, job losses were significantly higher than in previous years, resulting in a net reduction of 872 jobs across the companies we support.

There is no sugar coating the fact that it was a tough year for business.  However, behind these statistics are individual stories of companies taking brave decisions to change their business model, reimagine their product offering and find new ways of doing business and connecting with customers to trade through the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.

Enterprise Ireland has worked with these companies throughout the year to ensure viable companies have the liquidity, supports and advice they need to trade, and importantly, to sustain jobs.

Enterprise Ireland supported companies have a key role in the Irish economy.  65% of employment is outside the Dublin region and these indigenous Irish companies, many of which are world leaders in their field, are critical to delivering balanced regional economic development.

Powering the Regions is Enterprise Ireland’s strategy for regional development.  It outlines specific plans for each region in the country, drawing on their existing enterprise base, their connections with third level institutions and their unique potential for growth.

The strategy is backed significant funding.  This time last year more than €40m was allocated, in a competitive call, to 26 projects fostering regional entrepreneurship and job creation.

These included the Future Mobility Campus Ireland, based in Clare, which explores the potential of autonomous, connected and electric vehicles, UCDNova’s Ag Tech innovation centre in Kildare and the Clermont Hub in Wicklow which focuses on content creation and draws on the region’s established film and audio/visual track record.  The 26 projects were supported under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, which has seen €100m invested in similar projects since 2017.

Given the potential impact of Brexit, particularly in the Border region, 11 similar projects designed to cluster expertise and innovation were supported with €17m in support under the Border Enterprise Development Fund in 2020.

These were strategic initiatives, closely linked to government regional policy, with a medium to long-term focus on supporting regional enterprise.

However, due to Covid-19, Enterprise Ireland moved last year to provide more agile interventions to regional businesses assist them to reset and recover.

Ensuring that viable companies had the access to finance was an important necessity.  Through the government-backed ‘Sustaining Enterprise Scheme’ Enterprise Ireland allocated €124m last year to support more than 400 companies employing more than 10,000 people.  The majority of this funding went to regionally based companies.

Similarly, €8.2m in funding for 95 enterprise centres, which are critical to the start-up ecosystem and future job growth regionally, was made available in September.

Retail business across Ireland also benefitted from the Online Retail Scheme which saw 330 retailers allocated €11.8m in funding to enhance their online offering, reach new customers and increase sales.

Through a mix of strategic funding aimed at long-term enterprise development and more agile funding supports Enterprise Ireland has helped to sustain jobs throughout Ireland in 2020.  We’ve also supported those sectors, such as cleantech, construction and life sciences which continued to grow and create jobs last year.

The pandemic will have lasting effects including how we work and where we work.  Many of these long-term changes can complement strong local and regional economies.  A key element of the Powering The Regions strategy was the potential of remote working and co-working hubs that Enterprise Ireland is committed to developing with our partners.  That potential has been accelerated by the changing work patterns evidenced in the past year. Now, more than ever, having a strategic approach to enterprise development is vital, and Enterprise Ireland looks forward to the role it can play as we recover and build for the future.

By Mark Christal, Manager, Regions and Entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland.

New African Dawn: Launch of the Continental Free Trade Agreement

A new year usually brings with it hope, optimism and new resolutions. The first two weeks of 2021 have however been fraught with the on-going pandemic, Britain’s exit from the EU and increased protectionism and populism around the globe. In marked contrast with this tone, one continent is pushing forward with hope, optimism and new resolutions.

The first of January 2021 saw the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This milestone agreement strives for greater trade cooperation on the continent. The aim is to bring together 1.3 billion people in a $3.4-trillion economic bloc that will be the largest free trade area since the establishment of the World Trade Organization. This agreement comes into force, with support from 54 of the 55 countries recognised by the African Union (Eritrea being the sole exception) is a hugely positive move.

The Agreement establishing the AfCFTA was signed in March 2018 and of the 54 Member States of the African Union that have signed, 30 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

The main objectives of the AfCFTA are to create a single market for goods and services, facilitate the movement of persons, promote industrial development and sustainable and inclusive socio-economic growth, and resolve the issue of multiple memberships, in accordance with the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The agreement lays a solid foundation for the establishment of a Continental Common Market.

AfCFTA presents a significant opportunity to boost intra-regional trade as well as increase Africa’s negotiating position on the international stage. Intra-African trade has always been relatively low. In 2019, only 15% of Africa’s $560-billion worth of imports came from the continent – compare this with a figure of 68% in the European Union (UNCTAD).

In addition, many African nations have struggled to develop better-enabling environments for attracting investment and it should follow that this agreement will help to make the continent an increasingly attractive location for foreign companies seeking to penetrate its huge market potential.

This landmark agreement is off the starting block but there is much to be negotiated to reach the desired goal of #OneAfricanMarket.

Under AfCFTA trading, with an aim to eliminate export tariffs on 97% of goods traded on the continent, tariffs on various commodities where rules of origin have been agreed will be drastically reduced and businesses of all sizes will have access to a much bigger market than they used to before. Non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade will also be addressed and a mechanism for reporting of NTBs has been put in place (www.tradebarriers.africa).

In parallel to the AfCFTA, the African Union has also introduced the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons.

Though it will be years before the AfCFTA is fully implemented, the significant steps that have been taken to get the agreement to this point should not be underestimated, particularly in the current difficult global environment. Increasing prosperity on the African continent will ensure that it continues to be a continent of great interest to Irish exporters.

Enterprise Ireland has been assisting Irish companies to navigate the Sub-Saharan African market through our office in Johannesburg, along with an established and growing network of industry specialists across the continent. Contact us to learn more about the opportunities for your business in this growing export destination.

Nicola Kelly, Senior Market Advisor, Middle East, Africa & India

Irish tech and expertise to help drive global offshore wind growth

The global energy system is undergoing rapid changes, with renewable energy comprising an ever-increasing share of the electricity grid.

One of the key technologies leading the charge is offshore wind, with the UK leading the global market in 2021. The UK’s ambitious 2030 offshore wind generation targets mark it out as an international leader, with many countries, including Ireland, now following their lead with their own progressive 2030 targets.

Globally, Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently reported a 19% annual growth rate in offshore wind, faster than any other industry.

In response, Enterprise Ireland established an offshore wind cluster to identify and work with the key Irish companies with the capability to support the industry’s growth.  Launched in early 2019, the cluster now numbers over 50 companies. Its members have made substantial progress securing contracts with the UK offshore wind industry, tackling the sector’s most urgent technology challenges and identifying collaboration and innovation opportunities with fellow cluster members.

Cluster Launch and Irish Capability

The cluster was formally launched during the inaugural Enterprise Ireland Offshore Wind Forum in March 2019, which brought together over 120 Irish and UK industry delegates. The forum followed the completion of supply chain mapping exercises undertaken by Enterprise Ireland’s cluster leaders, Darragh Cotter and Liam Curran, in which over 80 Irish companies with the potential to supply the offshore wind industry were identified. Key Irish strengths stand out in the areas of IoT, big data, robotics and wireless communications with Ireland’s strong track record in engineering consultancy—particularly marine, geotechnical and electrical engineering—also identified as a key supply chain offering. The scoping exercises also unearthed Irish companies with the ability to pivot into offshore wind from areas such as onshore wind and vessel services.

“Irish companies offer highly skilled and specialised services to the offshore wind industry,” says Darragh Cotter, Senior Market Advisor in EI’s London office.

“We have to lean into our strengths and box clever. We have a clear understanding of where Irish companies add value. By focusing on existing national skills, we can make strong inroads into the offshore wind industry.”.

While the industry cluster promotes Irish capability to the global industry, the cluster also facilitates collaboration amongst Irish companies. “Companies get to know each other and their respective strengths, they identify areas where they can work together and supplement each other’s offers. Fostering collaboration is vital to the ongoing success of the cluster,” according to Liam Curran, Senior Technologist with Enterprise Ireland.

Enterprise Ireland hopes to hold its next in-person Offshore Wind Forum at the end of 2021 to showcase Irish SME capability to a range of international and domestic stakeholders.

Cluster initiatives

Key to the success of the cluster is a collective understanding of how the industry operates, its procurement practices, key technological trends, and cost reduction drivers. Enterprise Ireland has enacted several initiatives to increase awareness amongst Irish SMEs. Activities have included;

 

  • Offshore wind insights programme: This mentorship programme, run from Enterprise Ireland’s London office, links Irish companies with UK industry experts. The mentors work one-to-one with companies to provide strategic direction.

 

  • Market study visits:Visits to key UK offshore wind hubs to increase member’s industry knowledge and to build important supply chain connections.

 

  • Industry Exhibitions:In October 2020, Enterprise Ireland and eight Irish companies virtually exhibited at Global Offshore Wind, which gathered over 400 speakers and exhibitors from across the industry.

 

Offshore wind cluster companies support over 4,000 jobs in Ireland. Export opportunities, combined with the development of Irish offshore wind, creates a strong regional employment opportunity. “We have seen coastal communities internationally pivot their local marine experience to the Operations and Maintenance phase of a project and Irish coastal communities can do likewise. SSE, for example, have designated Arklow as their O&M base for their Arklow Bank project and anticipate employing 70 people locally” commented Liam Curran.

For now, the immediate focus for the cluster are the established export opportunities in markets like the UK. “Irish companies are increasingly successful internationally. This experience will be crucial to the success of Irish offshore wind and increasing Irish jobs in the sector over the coming decade” noted Darragh Cotter.

Conor O’Donovan: Brexit disruption can be offset by Look for Local campaign

Thousands of Irish companies have been availing of the opportunity to promote their business through the Look for Local campaign, which was launched in November by the Local Enterprise Offices

Backed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in partnership with Enterprise Ireland and the local authorities, the Look for Local campaign aims to highlight small Irish businesses in every sector, asking individuals to support businesses in their locality when looking for goods or services.

“The campaign is tapping into the deep well of goodwill towards local businesses that exists in communities throughout Ireland,” says Conor O’Donovan, head of global marketing and corporate communications at Enterprise Ireland. “Local companies across a range of sectors are featured on the Local Enterprise LookforLocal website.

“It is supported by national and local advertising and marketing,” he adds.

“We want to try and encourage more consumers and businesses to look local if they require goods or services in the period ahead.”

He advises any small business which wants to be featured on the LookforLocal website to contact their local LEO to make arrangements.

“More than 4,200 businesses are benefiting from the campaign which has generated excellent traction online after just a few weeks.”

The campaign is of particular relevance to companies which have pivoted and changed their business models during the year in response to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Since January, the LEOs have approved over 11,000 Trading Online Vouchers for small Irish businesses, helping them to establish an online trading presence, or adapt it, under the National Digital Strategy.

In addition, 330 retailers have been approved for €11.8m in funding as part of the government’s Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme, which is administered by Enterprise Ireland. The scheme is targeted at retailers which are looking to enhance their current online presence.

An online presence is also increasingly important for exporters. “A trend we’ve been seeing is that international buyers will search online before making contact with a potential supplier. It’s essential that Irish exporters have strong online visibility.”

Many small local exporting companies will now have to contend with the additional disruption caused by Brexit.

A key Brexit mitigation strategy for exporting firms is market diversification and the Enterprise Ireland Irish Advantage website offers them a shop window to buyers across the world to aid them in its execution.

Exporters and potential exporters interested in being promoted on the Irish Advantage website should contact Enterprise Ireland or their Local Enterprise Office,” he said.

O’Donovan also advises businesses to visit Enterprise Ireland’s Prepare for Brexit website.

“The site is full of resources and information to help businesses get ready for Brexit.

“On January 1 the UK will become a third country as far as trade with the EU is concerned. The Brexit Readiness Checker will take you through all the essential steps to take, including customs,” he says.

“Revenue has estimated that customs declarations will increase from 1.2 million a year at present to 20 million a year. There has been a massive uptick in visits to the site in recent months. The message is getting through that being better-informed means being better prepared and that makes for better outcomes.”

Irish companies are, by and large, retaining their existing overseas contracts, but new contracts are down this year as a result of Covid-19.

“Exporters can’t jump on planes or trains or go to trade shows, so we are facilitating them to connect with new buyers online and encouraging them to avail of funding, advisory and innovation supports available from both Enterprise Ireland and LEOs”, he said.

And there is a high degree of awareness of those supports. “That was one of the very encouraging findings of some recent Department of Finance research,” says O’Donovan.

“Almost 90pc of SMEs are aware of Enterprise Ireland supports and initiatives while over 80pc are aware of what’s available from the LEOs. That awareness will be of critical importance as we strive to help Irish companies become more innovative, competitive and diversified in order to succeed and take advantage of the opportunities that will arise in the coming year and beyond.”

Market Watch – A view from Manchester

Key Takeaways

• The UK is the largest export market for Enterprise Ireland clients
• The North West of England has been growing at a faster rate than London in recent years.
• The Manchester office for Enterprise Ireland opened in 2019 and is providing support for many Irish firms operating into and in the region.
• Despite Covid and Brexit, business is still moving.
• There are opportunities for Irish companies in many areas including construction, healthcare, digital technology, and life sciences
• Irish companies may also achieve contracts with local authorities

As our closest neighbour, the UK has long been a crucial trading partner for Ireland and as one of the fastest growing regions of the country, the North West of England was the obvious choice for Enterprise Ireland to open up a second UK office last year.

Headed up by Laura Brocklebank and her colleague Kevin Fennelly, the Manchester branch focuses on opportunities for Irish clients in manufacturing – covering areas such as pharmaceutical and food and drink as well as paper, print and packaging. It is also leading on UK local authorities with major spending budgets across infrastructure, transport, healthcare and more.

“The UK is the largest export market for Enterprise Ireland clients, which, despite the challenges of Brexit, grew 2% to €7.9 billion in 2019, with all non-food sectors recording growth of 6%,” says the senior marketing advisor.”

And the market continued to perform strongly in spite of uncertainty, demonstrating that client companies have remained committed to the UK market and its short/medium-term growth potential.

“Adding to this, the north west of England is a particularly dynamic region which actually grew at a faster rate than London in recent years – in fact, if it were a country, it would be the 12th largest economy in Europe. And this was the key driver for Enterprise Ireland when selecting Manchester to locate its new office last year.”

Brocklebank says the Greater Manchester region alone is the size of the Irish market and the combined authorities of Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region, North of Tyne, Sheffield City Region and Tees Valley have devolved powers which means that decision-making powers and funding are transferred from Westminster to these regions.

“The UK remains a key first export market for Irish industry to enable them to innovate and diversify and for these reasons, many Irish companies look to the North of England to set up a presence in the UK and it is often their first overseas presence,” she says.

“Our Manchester team focuses on opportunities in manufacturing, along with partnerships with UK local authorities who have major spending budgets. We collaborate extensively with our London office and work as one team with our 20 colleagues who are specialists in various sectors including Construction, Life Sciences, Healthcare, Digital Technologies, Cleantech and Renewables – all of which are of strategic importance and opportunity across the region. In effect, we are also the eyes and ears on the ground for our colleagues leading these sectors.

“As the North of England is traditionally the industrial heartlands of the UK, having a base here shows our commitment to the region and we are attuned to the needs of Irish companies, which are active all across the area.”

Accessibility is key and the Irish Sea has long been an important link between the UK and Ireland. So as the Port of Liverpool has submitted a bid to become established as a UK freeport, the regional lead says this could provide an opportunity for Irish companies with relevant smart ports solutions and automated and high-tech solutions which facilitate maritime trade and logistics.

“Ireland’s strong marine and civil engineering companies will be keen to collaborate with UK partners in the North West to help facilitate the necessary infrastructural upgrades required to cater for increased trading and customs realities,” she says.

“In addition, over the past number of years the area has experienced a boom in new building and infrastructure projects and there are many Irish companies leading in the Construction sector – John Sisk & Son have created a major landmark with Manchester’s Circle Square Affinity Living Project, ESS Modular opened their Manchester office in July 2020, having completed a number of projects in Leeds and Oldham, and have a current project with North Manchester General Hospital. And Techrete’s architectural precast concrete cladding can be seen on the iconic One and Two St. Peter’s Square.”

Manchester is also home to a fast-growing £5 billion digital ecosystem and has been officially ranked as the UK’s Top Digital Tech City, while Newcastle became Smart City of the Year 2019 for its innovative approach in using technology to help transform services and improve the lives of residents.

The marketing expert says there is a lot happening in the region which could provide opportunities for Irish firms.

“Digital tech company, Gamma Location Intelligence has recently opened their first overseas office in Manchester as they expand into the UK, having established in Ireland in 1993,” she says. “They have become a market leader in the provision of location intelligence systems and services which drive innovation across many sectors including insurance and retail, focusing heavily on cutting-edge research and development projects, leveraging Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.

“And in October 2020, VRAI, a data driven VR stimulation training for high hazard environments, announced their expansion into the UK with their first overseas office in Gateshead’s PROTO Centre, the UK’s immersive technology cluster.

“There are also opportunities for Irish businesses who can support local authorities in digital transformation, smart cities, connectivity, transport, housing, infrastructure, roads and highways and adult and social care. And a great example of this is SilverCloud which works with Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, providing support for those who may be feeling stressed and anxious due to the current pandemic.”

Of course, there are still some challenges, with uncertainty surrounding both Covid-19 and Brexit but the UK will continue to be an important and attractive market for Irish enterprise.

“Earlier this month, we had a rich and productive meeting with Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region Mayor, Steve Rotherham, to discuss and agree the strongly aligned sectors of which Enterprise Ireland clients have strong supply chain capability,” says Brocklebank. “So we are looking forward to further collaboration and to have deeper engagement across these sectors.

“Enterprise Ireland also warmly welcomes the announcement of a new Consulate General for the North of England and we are looking forward to working together to strengthen Ireland’s presence in the region.”

To learn more about UK opportunities see the Evolve UK page here 

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:

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

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