Wendy Oke, CEO TeachKloud

TeachKloud – Enabling educators with support from the CSF

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

Wendy Oke, Founder and CEO TeachKloud.

1. Describe your business

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

4. What are the next steps for TeachKloud?

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

 

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

     

    Resetting your business model

    Resetting your business model in response to Covid-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Adapting your business model

    Adapting your business operations in response to Covid-19

    As businesses reset and recover, every aspect of a business’s operations should be examined and analysed to identify efficiencies and better ways of doing things

    Having identified a pathway out of the crisis, made required changes to the business model and developed a cash conservation strategy, businesses need to turn their attention to operational matters if they are to adapt quickly to the changed environment.

    Every aspect of a business’s operations should be examined and analysed to identify efficiencies, better ways of doing things, or things which shouldn’t be done at all. Companies around the world are already engaged in this process and those that delay will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, according to Business Transition Consultant Brendan Binchy.

    He points to a survey of 3,000 CEOs carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit which found that almost all of them are going to implement operational agility measures as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. “That train has already left the station as far as they are concerned,” he says. “Every company should take a quick and hard look through the whole functional side of its business.”

    He offers a checklist of the five core functional areas of the business which require attention – products and services, marketing and sales, finance, people, and systems and processes.

    “They need to take a walk through that checklist and identify areas where they can improve effectiveness and efficiency,” he adds. “For example, when looking at the operational model they should ask if it is possible to morph to online, or if product and service delivery modes can be changed.”

    On products and services, he advises careful management of stock levels as a starting point. 

    “New product development should also be reviewed, you have to look at the cost to bring it to market and how quickly it can generate new revenues streams or if you need to do it at all at the moment.” says Binchy

    Similarly, expansion plans should be subject to reappraisal and put on hold if not justified by a clear payback. Supplier relationships are also important, and discussions should be held with a view to reducing costs and achieving efficiencies.

    “With international supply chains, some companies are moving away from “just in time” policies to making sure there is “enough in time” to meet demand,” Binchy adds. “There is risk associated with internationalisation, and companies could consider moving to a portfolio of multiple suppliers to deal with this.”

    Other considerations relate to the production process itself. “If the company is starting up again, what needs to happen in the production flow? Does everyone need protective screening measures? Will you sub-contract some things out which had been done internally?”

    Turning to marketing and sales, he recommends a selective appraisal of investment, but with targeted reductions based on return on investment rather than wholesale cuts which could cut off the market cycle.

    Another area to look at is pricing strategy and the potential impact of discounting. Care should be taken to avoid a situation where discounts lead to volume increases which in turn may cause problems in the production process and perhaps divert resources from more profitable lines. It’s a classic case of weighing up the price volume trade off.

    The finance function should become more fully integrated into the management of the business, he advises. “The finance team should be a core part of the overall management team. This means you will know all the things you need to know about the business and its finances as they happen, rather than find out about them in a report two or three months later.”

    Binchy says communication is vital when dealing with people in your business. “You have to remember that you’re dealing with human beings and you should support them in the same way as you support your customers. When you are faced with implementing inevitable pay rationalisation measures you should segment your employees carefully to ensure that those people who are adding most value are rewarded appropriately.”

    The final item on the checklist is systems and processes. Along with people, these are the underlying enablers of the business and every element should be assessed to ensure it is delivering value to the business either in terms of revenue generation, service improvement, or efficiency and productivity gains. Regardless of how good a process can appear there is always a better way, Binchy notes.

    Businesses seeking to adapt and modify their operations to meet the changed environment created in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic can avail of support in the form of Enterprise Ireland Lean Business Continuity Voucher and the Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant.

    The Financial Planning Grant is worth up to €5,000 to pay up to 100% of the costs of an approved financial  consultant to work with the company on the development of a business and financial  plan, while the Lean Business Continuity Voucher is worth €2,500 and can be used for training or advisory services to help them identify and implement the measures needed to ensure they can continue to operate during the current period.

    Where additional finance is required to fund new initiatives Binchy points to the Enterprise Ireland Sustaining Enterprise Fund which offers funding of up to €800,000 to eligible companies. There is also a fund for smaller companies which offers funding of up to €25,000 and €50,000 depending on the size of the business.

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

    businesswoman

    Covid-19 Business Supports

    From 5,000 to 800,000, Enterprise Ireland has a range of funding supports to help you recover

    Enterprise Ireland has put in place a suite of funding supports to help Irish companies adjust to the immediate and future challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. These supports are designed to help businesses stabilise and adapt to the evolving situation, in preparation for getting back on the road to recovery.

     

    The Business Financial Planning Grant

    The Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant is designed to help companies develop a robust financial plan and secure their viability in the short to medium term. The grant, worth up to €5,000, can be used by companies to pay up to 100% of the cost of engaging an approved financial consultant to prepare a plan which can encompass the documentation required to support applications for finance from banks or other providers such as Enterprise Ireland.

    The plan will establish the company’s current financial position; examine the negative Covid-19 impacts on the business; establish where the company wants to be in three years’ time; identify a series of actions to be undertaken by the company to mitigate the effects of the current crisis; provide a framework to manage costs and identify funding gaps; and enable management to identify the finance required to sustain the business through the crisis and beyond.

    The plan should also include a complete set of financial forecasts for three years.

    Eligibility: The grant is open to all Enterprise Ireland clients as well as companies employing 10 or more in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sectors.

    How to apply: Contact our  Covid-19 Business Response Unit at businessresponse@enterprise-ireland.com or your Enterprise Ireland Development Advisor.

     

    Sustaining Enterprise Fund – funding of up to €800,000

    Aimed at giving manufacturing and internationally traded businesses the liquidity and cash resources required to make it through the Covid-19 crisis, the Sustaining Enterprise Fund offers funding of up to €800,000 to eligible companies.

    The purpose of the funding is to support the implementation of a Sustaining Enterprise Project Plan which will lead to the eventual stabilisation of the business and a return to viability. The Sustaining Enterprise Project Plan must outline the company’s liquidity needs and explain how the funding will remedy its immediate problems.

    Businesses can use the Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant to pay for the development of the Sustaining Enterprise Project Plan.

    Subject to an annual administration fee of 4% (with 0% fee for the first six months) there is a three-year grace period for repayments on funding, which must be repaid in full by the end of year 5, and the achievement of the objectives originally set by the company

    Eligibility: To be eligible for the fund, companies must have experienced a reduction in actual or projected turnover or profit of 15% or more, and/or a significant increase in costs as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

    In addition, eligible applicants must be unable to raise sufficient capital from the market (or other sources) to meet the funding needs of a Sustaining Enterprise Project Plan.

    Companies are not eligible if they were already in financial difficulty on 31 December 2019 or were experiencing difficulties for reasons not related to Covid-19.

    How to apply: For further information, contact your Enterprise Ireland Development Advisor or the Covid-19 Business Response Unit at businessresponse@enterprise-ireland.com

     

    Sustaining Enterprise Fund – Small enterprise

    Similar to the main Sustaining Enterprise Fund, this scheme provides financial assistance to smaller manufacturing or internationally traded services companies for a three to six-month period to support business continuity. Eligibility criteria are the same as for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, and the assistance is to be used to support the implementation of a Business Continuity Project Plan. Companies eligible for this scheme are also eligible for the larger scheme.

    Companies can avail of the Business Financial Planning Grant to pay for the development of their Business Continuity Project Plan.

    The scheme offers repayable funding of up to €25,000 to companies with turnover of less than €1.5m and up to €50,000 to companies with annual turnover of €1.5m–€5m.

    As with the main scheme, there is a 4% annual administration fee and a three-year grace period on repayment. No administration charges are levied for the first 6 months and the advance can be repaid early if the company prefers to do that. Funding must be repaid in full by the end of year 5, subject to the achievement of the objectives set out in the Continuity Plan.

    Eligibility: Companies are not eligible if they were already in financial difficulty on 31 December 2019 or were experiencing difficulties for reasons not related to Covid-19.

    To discuss eligibility criteria or any other aspect of the scheme, contact your Enterprise Ireland Development Advisor.

    If you are not an Enterprise Ireland client or do not know who your Development Advisor is, you should first contact the Business Response Unit at businessresponse@enterprise-ireland.com

    How to apply: You can apply via the Enterprise Ireland Online Application System.

     

    Lean Business Continuity Voucher

    The new Lean Business Continuity Voucher helps enterprises to identify and implement the measures needed to ensure that they can continue to operate safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    It offers eligible companies up to €2,500 in training or advisory services from approved providers. The services may take the form of management advice or training of management or staff within the company and must be related to the continued operation of the businesses during the current pandemic. It is expected that the services will be delivered online in most cases.

    Project should focus on one or more of these categories;

    • Review of business strategy in light of changing marketplace/supply-chains & customer needs;
    • Introduction of new business practices in order to increase productivity (especially LEAN/Flow);
    • Development of processes for risk assessment and analysis for Business Continuity;
    • Development of working practices for staff safety based on government guidelines;
    • Development of strategy for or investigation of feasibility of doing business online (excluding website development or online marketing costs)

    A listing of approved service providers can be found in the Enterprise Ireland Service Provider Directory.

    Eligibility: The Lean Business Continuity Voucher is open to small, medium or large client companies of Enterprise Ireland or Údarás na Gaeltachta.

    For more information, contact your development advisor or email the Lean & Operational Excellence team in Enterprise Ireland at: businesscontinuityvoucher@enterprise-ireland.com

    How to apply: Companies can apply for the Lean Business Continuity Voucher scheme via the Enterprise Ireland Online Application System.

      Watch financial expert, Brendan Binchy and Enterprise Ireland’s finance team in our Accessing Liquidity & Managing Cashflow webinar.

      Managing Cashflow

      Managing Cashflow in a Crisis

      As managers reset the business for recovery, companies need to adopt a lean culture where expenditure is minimised and every cost is questioned.

      One of the greatest risks facing many businesses in the current environment is running out of cash. A company that can’t pay its bills, regardless of how profitable it is, will quickly go out of business. Cash conservation is therefore key to survival.

      While in the medium to longer term companies will have to look at reengineering their business and operational models in order to meet challenges presented by the post-Covid-19 world, the short term is going to see a focus on cash according to Business Financial Consultant Brendan Binchy.

      “There is much more urgency relating to cash now,” he says. “And there are many things a business can do to manage its cash. Almost everyone out there is availing of debt payment deferrals, for example. They are trying to hit the pause button on cash going out wherever they can so that they can preserve the status quo as much as possible. They are also looking at other areas like aged debtors. You almost have to look at it like a company threatened in a pre-receivership condition.”

      Binchy recommends a structured approach to cash conservation and this starts with the balance sheet. “The profit and loss account is a record of a business over a period of time, but the balance sheet gives a snapshot of the business at a particular moment in time.”

      Companies should pay particular attention to their gearing, he advises. This is the ratio of debt to equity on the balance sheet. “The lower it is the better, but losses will erode equity and increase the gearing ratio,” Binchy continues.

      A healthy gearing ratio will allow companies to borrow judiciously in order to bolster their cash position. “This can be very helpful, but companies need to be aware of the associated debt service costs.”

      The next step is to look at asset funding, where they may be scope for some reverse engineering. “Businesses frequently purchase assets for cash during good times,” Binchy notes. “They could be re-financed now with bank debt and this will improve the cash position. Generally speaking, the asset lifetime and the funding cycle should be the same. It is important to remember that trade debt, like invoice financing, is for working capital not capital expenditure.”

      The sales lead to cash cycle is the next area for examining.

      “It takes time for marketing effort to translate into sales leads, buying decisions, billing, and cash collection”, Binchy explains.

       “This can be quite protracted, and companies need to look for ways to get to close sales quickly and speed up invoicing.”

      The supply chain should also come in for attention to slow the outward flow of cash. “Companies should identify strategic supplier relationships, tighten stock management overall, improve workflows, and negotiate new arrangements such as stockholding facilities with key suppliers. Talking to key suppliers and developing strategic partnerships is a very good ongoing strategy for companies. The more they do it the better.”

      And then there are what Binchy calls the common-sense measures.

      “Defer capital expenditure and other spending decisions wherever possible,” he advises. “Companies need to adopt a mean and lean culture where expenditure is minimised, and every cost is questioned. But this must come from the top down and everyone must share the pain and to be seen to share it.” 

      Once those actions have been taken, it is time to put together a budget plan. “Having these measures in place means you already have your fingers on the pulse and you can make a budget plan to take you from where the business was before the crisis to what’s likely to happen afterwards. The most important thing about the plan is that it should be iterative. You’re not going to get everything right first time around. The plan gives you a framework to forecast and plan for what might happen. You can adjust it weekly and monthly rather than having to build new plans all the time.”

      And businesses don’t have to do this on their own. Binchy recommends the Enterprise Ireland Lean Business Continuity Voucher as a good starting point. This offers eligible companies up to €2,500 in training or advisory services to help them identify and implement the measures needed to ensure they can continue to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic.

      There is also the Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant, which is worth up to €5,000, and can be used by companies to pay up to 100% of the cost of engaging an approved financial consultant to assist them prepare a financial plan, understand their immediate financial position, manage costs and identify their funding requirement.

      When it comes to cash for the business, Binchy points to the Temporary Covid-19 Wage Subsidy which he says has been very helpful to businesses throughout the country.

      Sources of working capital and loan finance include the €450 million Covid-19 Working Capital Loan Fund and the €200 million Future Growth Loan Scheme fund available through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland. Businesses which have difficulty accessing bank finance can apply for funding of up to €800,000 from the Enterprise Ireland Sustaining Enterprise Funds. There is also a fund for smaller companies which offers funding of up to €25,000 and €50,000 depending on the size of the business.

       

        Hear from financial expert, Brendan Binchy and Enterprise Ireland’s finance team in our Accessing Liquidity & Managing Cashflow webinar.

        Market Watch Germany – Webinar – Managing and supporting channel partners

         

        Enterprise Ireland’s offices in Germany have launched a series of Webinars: Market Watch Germany. Every Wednesday at 14:00 BST/15:00 CET a new theme will be addressed to help Irish companies exporting to Germany navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by Covid 19.

        Managing and Supporting Channel Partners in the German market’ is the fourth installment of Market Watch Germany webinar series. The purpose of this webinar is to help Irish companies exporting to Germany navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by Covid-19.

        Panellists:

        Brian English an Engineer and Marketer with over 30 years international sales and routes-to-market experience.

        Dr. Andrea Seidel, with a wealth of experience in business development and strategic partnership.

        Paul Browne from Enterprise Ireland’s Client Management Development & Client Skills department.

        Financial planning to accelerate your recovery

        The global economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is unlike any seen before in history in terms of the rapidity of its onset and its scale. It has been variously referred to as a black swan event or as a perfect storm, and for individual businesses worldwide its effects have included state- mandated shutdowns, a near total collapse in demand and, for the lucky, an enforced shift to new ways of working and business models.

        As Ireland begins its first tentative steps towards a return to something approaching normality, businesses too must start planning their pathway to recovery and beyond. According to Business Transition Consultant Brendan Binchy, the first step for business owners is to analyse the company’s current position and develop a vision for the future.

        He advises people not to panic. “It’s not a question of asking if the crisis will impact on the business and worrying about that,” he says. “It is self-evident that it will impact. You have to be proactive, not reactive. You might know how it will affect the business this year, but what about next year? Where do you want to be then? You need a to have vision for that. And from there you can work out what to do and what not to do and what you need to change.”

        There are also actions which need to be taken immediately to stabilise the business. In Binchy’s view, these actions require businesses to examine and reset their business models, develop and implement very tight cash management strategies, and adapt and modify their operations to meet the new conditions in which they find themselves.

        “You have to look at where you are financially, ask where your customers are coming from and why they buy from you, and if it is possible to recalibrate the business, to come up with a new model which will see it through the current period,” he advises.

        That might be termed the firefighting or survival phase. The next stage is to plan for recovery and beyond. While planning in such times of massive uncertainty may seem an impossible or even futile task, Binchy believes it is worthwhile and an absolute necessity.

        But the plan must be flexible and adaptive in order to deal with sudden changes in a highly dynamic environment. “We have to accept that what we think will happen may not come about. But if you don’t have a flight plan, you have no way of getting to your destination. When you’re up in the air you need to know where you’re going. You may get knocked off course from time to time and you will need to adjust the plan in response.”

        Even the process of putting the plan together can be helpful, he notes. “It is cathartic and helps clarify things.”

        This clarity comes from the examination of the business and its environment. Questions Binchy puts include:

        • Is your industry shut down or is it still working?
        • Are there opportunities there?
        • What has been the impact of the crisis on customers?
        • Do they still have money?
        • Do they still need your products or services?
        • Are there customers you no longer need?
        • What has been the impact on competitors?

        Fortunately, there is help out there both to develop plans and implement them.

        He points to the Enterprise Ireland Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant as a very important support. The grant, worth up to €5,000, can be used by companies to pay up to 100% of the cost of engaging an approved financial consultant. The consultant will work with the company to prepare a robust financial and business plan that identifies the funding needs and the potential sources of this funding.  

        Another valuable support Binchy advises businesses to take note of is the Lean Business Continuity Voucher, which offers eligible companies up to €2,500 in vouchers for training or advisory services to help them identify and implement the measures needed to ensure they can continue to operate safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.

        Support for the implementation of the plan is there in the form of the Enterprise Ireland Sustaining Enterprise Fund, which offers funding of up to €800,000. Very importantly, no repayments are required for the first three years of the five-year term of the advance and there is an annual administration fee of just 4%, making it a very attractive source of finance.

        Smaller businesses can also apply for advances of up to €50,000 depending on their size under the Sustaining Enterprise Fund – Small Enterprise scheme.

        “Businesses can also look to shareholders to put in new capital or go to the banks,”, Binchy concludes. “The important thing is to develop a plan and have the finance in place to implement it.”

         

        Watch our webinar addressing the critical challenges facing Covid-19 impacted businesses – Accessing liquidity and managing cashflow.

        Get advice from financial expert, Brendan Binchy on how best to navigate these issues and hear from Enterprise Ireland’s finance team on the financial supports available from Enterprise Ireland.

        Anne Lanigan Enterprise Ireland

        Market Watch – A view from Europe

        Key Takeaways

        • Business in Europe has been severely impacted by Covid-19, but many countries are now beginning to re-open and are determined to get industry and business moving again
        • Movement of products is improving while movement of people is still a challenge.
        • Opportunities are likely to emerge for example in digitisation across industries; or in the healthcare sector for non-Covid related health issues.
        • Preparation and planning is vital.
        • Enterprise Ireland offices around the region are on hand to offer support.

        There is no doubt that Europe has been heavily hit by the effects of the current pandemic, but regional director Anne Lanigan says many countries are beginning to move into recovery phase and countries across the Eurozone are determined to get their industries and businesses moving again. There is a general acceptance in Europe that we need to learn to live, as safely as possible, with the virus. Construction and manufacturing industries are gearing up while observing social distancing and using personal protective equipment; digital technology and office based businesses are for the most part still working remotely but increasingly effectively and in a number of countries e.g. in France and the Netherlands some services like hairdressing have re-opened under strict guidelines.

        “The numbers speak for themselves in terms of infections and fatalities, but most countries have passed their peak and are moving into exiting confinement and reopening – all at slightly different stages,” she says. “But there is alot of similarity in terms of the timing of countries coming out of lockdown at this point and what this is really saying is that Europe is opening up again.”

        Lanigan says while we are inclined to look at when schools, shops, and social outlets open, what is really important to the restarting of economies is when industry is recommencing.

        “Whether or not you can get a haircut isn’t relevant to most of our clients, what is really vital is the restarting of construction and manufacture and the returning to work in businesses. Of course movement of people and products is crucial to this” she says. “Movement of product is definitely improving but movement of people, particularly across borders, is still an issue which of course affects our clients.

        “Each country is different and even regions within countries can be at different stages and have different restrictions, so it’s important to get up to date and accurate information from your partners, customers and logistics providers.  For example most countries will have a requirement to use face masks in certain circumstances, and social distancing rules will differ between countries. So don’t assume that the Irish rules will work – it’s important to know the specifics of the country you are working in.” Enterprise Ireland offices across the Eurozone can also help clients with this.” Irish companies with personnel on the ground in Europe are in a lot of cases eligible for state support from the country they are operating in and again our offices can offer advice and direction on this.

        Thankfully many Enterprise Ireland client companies have maintained business in the Eurozone throughout the crisis and some have won new business. However while some clients have continued to do business in a similar fashion to pre-Covid days, most will need to get used to new requirements and many may also need to diversify.

        “Our clients will need to be creative in adjusting to the new normal” says Lanigan. “Digitisation will form a large part of this. Localising (not just translating) websites is more important than ever – ensuring that websites are easily found, are easy to navigate and provide all the necessary information in a clear format. Social media is also getting a lot of traction at the moment, so making sure to be ‘out there’ in terms of social media, will help to raise a company’s profile.”

        “As countries open up, travel will continue to be restricted so if companies can digitise their maintenance and servicing by providing online videos or some kind of instruction online or via a webinar in a sophisticated and professional manner, this will help them to hold on to business. Online shopping functionality may also be an important capability to add for some businesses.

        Understanding how each country works is vital for Irish exporters, but the regional director says keeping in touch is even more important.

        “Communicating with customers is still crucial whether business has slowed, stopped or continued during the current crisis,” she advises. “The communication lines must be kept open – and ear-to-ear or ideally face-to-face on a virtual platform is much better than an email. So virtual meetings, webinars and virtual distributor forums will all help to maintain communication and build strong relationships.

        “This will keep businesses up to speed on what is happening in the markets and what is happening with their customers and so position them to adjust more quickly and in the right direction to maximise potential.

        In every crisis there is opportunity and the current pandemic is no different with several sectors set to do well out of the situation. Lanigan says “Every industry is now seeing digital transformation at an accelerated pace and there are opportunities for businesses who digitise fast and opportunities for businesses who offer digital and tech solutions.”

        “Our clients and Irish people are typically good at spotting opportunities,” says Lanigan. “I would encourage companies to look at how they can pivot in the current crisis – anything which reduces human contact and allows remote operations will have opportunities i.e. digitisation. 

        “Another area likely to surge is non-Covid related healthcare. In most countries routine treatments have been put on hold or much reduced in order to deal with Covid 19 cases. As things move back to normal, there is likely to be a big demand for other med tech and pharma products. Now is the time to prepare for that.”

        Lanigan advises companies to be look toward the future, reset and get ready for the recovery. “There is a danger that we just focus on the immediate – we are advising clients to also look at the medium to long term and get plans in place” she says. Future business may be a continuation of current business but with added value or an adjusted value proposition; it may be with a repurposed product pivoting to a different sector; it may be exploiting brand new opportunities created by Covid 19; or it may be replacing global products with ‘made in the eurozone’ products. “We are nearing the end of the stabilise phase and moving into reset but we need our eyes on the recovery – so be prepared, be aware and look forward. Enterprise Ireland’s team across the Eurozone are here to help you reset, recover and build your business.”

        Anne Lanigan is Enterprise Ireland’s Regional Director for Europe. To learn more about the steps companies can take to address the impact of Covid-19 visit our business supports page.

        Supporting great people in difficult times

        Developing employee engagement now will pay dividends long into the future

        Up until the pandemic, the biggest challenge facing many firms was attracting and retaining talent. That hasn’t changed, says Ryan Williams, CEO of Conscia, a training provider which specialises in employee engagement.

        Conscia is the architect of a series of online modules designed to help companies maintain employee engagement throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

        Each provides practical steps to take, plus easy to use templates and frameworks, to help companies maintain their employee value proposition (EVP).

        Those that succeed in doing so will not only optimise productivity throughout this current, difficult time, but will be well placed to capture the opportunities of the post-pandemic surge.

        Those that neglect employee engagement, however, risk damaging their reputation as an employer of choice long into the future. “It’s about asking yourself, how you want your company to be remembered after this pandemic,” says Williams.

        Your EVP is an invaluable retention tool and should be robust enough to support employees in good times and in bad, he points out.

        “The market for talent will be equally as competitive when we come out the other side of this as it was when we went in,” says Williams.

        “Though some sectors will suffer more than others, the fact remains that if you needed a software developer before this, you will still need one after it, so it is important to get the best talent that is out there.”

        The top priority for employers right now is communication.

        By this stage new work practices will be established, either from home or, socially distanced, in the workplace.

        “The novelty of the early stages has well and truly worn off, the buzz of setting up meetings on MS Teams and Zoom has ebbed, and people are starting to feel this will never end. The risk is that employers stop communicating when in fact it is vital to over-communicate now and throughout this process.”

         

        Deliver your communications with confidence

        In a period characterised by uncertainty and anxiety, it’s important to display “honest confidence” he says.

        “Be honest and transparent and deliver your communications with confidence, even if it is bad news, such as, perhaps, having to take a pay cut to get through this. People can cope if they realise there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

        Empathetic leadership is essential.  “You need to communicate your company’s vision and mission with empathy. It’s about understanding that your people are going through challenging times.”

        Weekly ‘all hands’ meetings online are an opportunity to show that everybody is part of what is a communal effort.

        “Be very honest about what you do and don’t know. The rumour mill can be difficult to manage so share the good, the bad and the ugly with honest confidence.”

        Decision making in a time of crisis should be quick and decisive, with resources allocated speedily. Employee polls are a quick and effective tool for effecting change, offering maximum transparency and ‘buy in’.

        Regular, scheduled and consistent communications help keep fear and anxiety at bay. Use video as much as possible. “People want to see their leaders.”

        Be cognisant of the impact not just of your words, but of your tone and body language too. “Lean forward, be expressive, use your hands,” he says.

        As well as large town hall type, and team meetings, make sure to set aside time for one to ones, to check in with people and see how they are doing.

        Recognise and reward output. “Celebrate team wins and individual efforts more than in ordinary times. People are doing fantastic things right now so make time for shout outs in meetings and promote them on your social media too.”

        Fostering ‘water cooler’ moments online helps to replicate the everyday interaction of the traditional workplace. “Don’t lose your social cohesion.”

         

        Building trust and loyalty

        At every step, focus on building trust and loyalty. “Very many companies have spent years building up their culture. Don’t lose it. Find new ways of maintaining it instead.”

        Social distancing will likely continue for some time, as will working from home. “We are all living with uncertainty at present, so ‘What does this mean for me?’ is the key question people have. While you can’t control this, you can help by removing as much of the uncertainty for employees as possible.”

         

        Provide purpose and stay positive

        The current situation provides a great opportunity for learning and development. “This doesn’t have to cost you money,” he points out.

        “It could be online learning opportunities, or a situation where an experienced member of staff helps train up others on a new software tool, such as cucumber. It could be a buddy system, where someone experienced is matched with someone who may be feeling overwhelmed.”

        Spare capacity could be given over to executing planned projects that had previously been put off. “We have one client company, for example, who built an entire logistics platform in eight weeks, a project it had long wanted to do,” says Williams.  

        Such initiatives help provide purpose, an important component in employee engagement.

        Set short term goals for long term results. “Focus on bite sized projects to help people navigate through.”

        Finally, stay positive. “Remember, this is different from the financial crisis because it is the same for everybody. From Ireland to China to the US, the base line has lowered for everyone. So, while there is uncertainty, and a need to paint as honest a picture as possible, it’s also important to look to where the opportunities will be post-pandemic.”

         

        To find out more about building employee engagement during the Covid-19 restrictions see here.

        Market Watch Germany – Webinar – Enhance your digital presence for the German market

        Enterprise Ireland’s offices in Germany have launched a series of Webinars: Market Watch Germany. Every Wednesday at 14:00 BST/15:00 CET a new theme will be addressed to help Irish companies exporting to Germany navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by Covid 19.

        The third webinar in the series; Website Optimisation: Enhance your digital presence for the German market, took place on Wednesday 29th April

        The team was joined by consultant Suzanne Dirks, Ed ​Kelly, Creative Director and Emmet Dunne, Managing Director of Digital Agency Kooba providing expertise on:

        • how to leverage your website in terms of layout and localisation

        • how to increase traffic to your website by creating an enhanced user experience

        Finally, Eoin O Siochru from Enterprise Ireland’s Internet Marketing Unit discussed the supports available to Enterprise Ireland client companies to drive these activities.

         

        jenny melia

        Support where it’s most needed for HPSUs

        The innovation and dynamism of Enterprise Ireland-supported high potential start-up (HPSU) firms are vital to future economic growth, and it is absolutely essential that HPSUs that were progressing prior to Covid-19 receive the support they require to get through the Covid-19 crisis.

        “These firms and their founders are the future leaders of the economy and our focus is on ensuring that they have sufficient fuel in the tank and the right resources in place to get through the next three to six months and be ready to take advantage of the upturn when it comes,” says Enterprise Ireland Divisional Manager for HPSUs Jenny Melia.

        HPSUs do face particular challenges in the current environment, mainly due to their early stage of development. “Many of them are not yet revenue generating and are continuing to fundraise to drive business development,” Melia explains. “This can mean that they do not qualify for some of the Covid-19 supports available at the moment. It can also be the case that they haven’t been in business long enough to have built up a relationship with a bank.”

        According to Melia, the three main problems faced by these fast-growing firms relate to cash flow, investment, and talent retention.

        “In a lot of cases sales have just stopped,” she says. “They have no cash coming in from that source and that can turn into a double whammy if investors back off. There is a softening of sentiment in the investment community at the moment and that is presenting problems. Holding onto key skills is another real pain point for a lot of companies. We were nearly at full employment in the economy just a few weeks ago and they had to work very hard to get the right people. They are in danger of losing them now and these skills will be critical to support future growth.”

        Support is available to deal with these issues, however. In the first instance, Melia advises firms to avail of the Enterprise Ireland Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant scheme, with supports of up to €5,000 to help companies prepare financial plans with the assistance of an expert.

        “We are asking start-ups if they have assessed the impact of Covid-19 on their business and if they need assistance and financial support to do that,” she points out. “We are already seeing a great deal of interest in the scheme. This will help start-ups develop a stabilisation plan, which should look at resetting their business plan e.g. reducing the cost base and lengthening the financial runway to tide them through the next 3-6 months and prepare for the upturn including raising new investment.”

        The next step is to work with existing investors and shareholders. “Companies should discuss the possibility of bridging finance with their investors,” says Melia.

        “Enterprise Ireland is also willing to co-invest as part of this investment. That is a new departure for us. Typically, when we invest in a company it’s to fund a growth plan for the next two or three years. In this case, we are absolutely willing to play our part alongside existing funders and investors in ensuring HPSUs get through the current financial crunch. Companies should speak to their Development Advisor about this.” advises Melia.

        There is also the loan scheme from Microfinance Ireland. “This is open to start-ups with fewer than 10 employees, and the amount on offer has been increased from €25,000 to €50,000. The interest rate has been reduced to 4.5%, with a moratorium on interest and repayments for the first six months. I would encourage start-ups to look at the scheme to see if it is suitable for their needs.”

        The Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme is a valuable source of assistance in helping to hold onto talent. “The scheme was initially aimed at firms suffering a reduction in turnover but, recognising the particular circumstances of start-ups, Revenue introduced another criterion, which was a downturn in the level of investment companies had projected. Some companies are not aware of this.”

        Enterprise Ireland is also organising a series of webinars to provide advice and support to HPSUs. “We have a number of former HPSU founders that have come through a number of recessions and downturns and have very valuable advice to offer.”

        Companies should also leverage the advice available through their own networks, she adds. “They should contact their Enterprise Ireland Development Advisor, their investors, business angels, suppliers and customers out in the market and so on. These are the things that entrepreneurs do anyway, and they are more important than ever now. We firmly believe that there will be opportunities out there for firms when the crisis ends, and our focus is on helping our clients to be ready for these opportunities when they arise.”

         

        Market Watch – How Covid-19 is impacting the Asia Pacific region

        Just as it has affected every corner of the globe, Covid-19 has made its presence felt in the Asia Pacific region. But according to Enterprise Ireland’s regional director for Asia Pacific, Mary Kinnane, while there is no doubt that it has had a disruptive impact on economies, businesses and lives, the level and magnitude of the impact differs by country and even sector.

         

        • While countries have been impacted in different ways, there is no doubt that Covid-19 has disrupted business and lives across the region.
        • Providing solutions for clients and showing commitment is crucial for Irish exporters.
        • Many sectors have been badly hit but there are still signs of growth in a variety of areas including life sciences, health care and education solutions.
        • The region has shown resilience and is likely to be one of the first areas to emerge from Covid-19 restrictions.

         

        China and South Korea were amongst the first countries hit by Covid-19, and life there is slowly but cautiously getting back to normal,” Kinnane says. “More and more businesses are now operating as before with public facilities reopening, while other countries in the region are still undergoing lockdowns and strong containment measures.

        “Adverse economic impact, at least for this year, is evident as seen from the revised GDP growth projections from the IMF earlier this month.  And the world economy is now projected to contract by -3% from the previous year, with growth projections for China at 1.2%, Japan at -5.2%, Korea at -1.2%, ASEAN 5 at -0.6%, and Australia at -6.7%.”

        Although Irish exporters will undoubtedly be affected, Kinnane say showing unwavering, commitment during these challenging times to customers and partners is particularly important.

        “Saving face is an important aspect of business culture in Asia so carefully managing the knock-on effects for your customers and partners is advisable,” she says. “If your business is adversely impacted by Covid-19 and consequently if you cannot fulfil orders, contracts or deadlines, then be clear with your customers and suppliers, but also try to provide alternative options and support. This will be perceived as a measure of your seriousness and commitment for the long term.

        Enterprise Ireland has made available new funding and capacity support programmes to help companies through Covid-19. says Kinnane.

        “We are acutely aware that our support is ever more critical so our network of offices from Beijing to Sydney are providing virtual introductions to buyers and partners, market research on trends and emerging opportunities and challenges along with other in-market business continuity and development supports.says Kinnane

        “We also see that some Irish businesses are taking this time to develop market entry and expansion strategy for some Asian markets with a medium- to long-term view.  We are aiding those businesses to achieve the objective, using our market knowledge, insight and networks in local markets.  Customer targets in ANZ & the ASEAN region are proving quite receptive to remote new enquiries with this being somewhat more challenging in the north of the region where facetime and relationships really matter.”

        While travel restrictions have been problematic for tourism and many businesses have been heavily hit by uncertainty, the regional director says there is increasing attention on the life sciences/healthcare sector with more favourable government policies likely to underpin increased investment in the sector. Cloud based SaaS systems, teleworking tools, and paperless processes are also seeing an increasingly rapid roll-out with opportunities well suited to the innovative and agile solutions provided by many Irish businesses.

        In addition, various Asian companies have announced their intention to develop antibodies or vaccines to combat Covid-19, so Irish businesses with strong expertise in pharma servicing, regulatory consultation, clinical trials and supply chains are actively probing for new and enhanced opportunities in the region.

        “Many companies tended to take a conservative approach relative to their western peers to remote work, “says Kinnane. “But Covid-19 has prompted companies, particularly in China, South Korea and Japan, to re-assess the value of remote-working. And there is now more leniency and openness in corporate culture to embrace the practice with a more strategic and long-term view. Hence, it’s timely that Irish companies now look to the east to capture untapped opportunities. But they may need to be prepared to conduct business for a prolonged period under current conditions and be more creative and resourceful than ever in developing and maintaining customer intimacy.”

        The regional director says it’s projected to be one of the first regions to emerge from the Covid-19 challenge, with economies faring relatively well. So as economic and business activities begin returning to normal, it’s imperative for Irish businesses to provide best-in-class services and products to their existing and potential customers in order to exhibit commitment and capability to perform in times of crisis.

        “Companies are currently reviewing their supply chains so if there are prospective customers and partners that Irish businesses have wanted to work with, this can provide a context to approach or re-approach them,” she advises. 

        “The overarching message from APAC is that of a region demonstrating real resilience with economic fundamentals remaining strong, and the opportunities for world class Irish companies being very compelling.  Our teams, from Beijing to Sydney are fully operational, ensuring a continuity of service with clients and networks and have a range of business supports and funding options to support exporters.”

         

        Learn more about supports available to businesses impacted by Covid-19 at Enterprise Ireland’s business response.