How Competitive Start Fund approval helped Nasal Medical lead the way in drug-free allergy prevention and relief

How Competitive Start Fund approval helped Nasal Medical lead the way in drug-free allergy prevention and relief

Martin O’Connell, founder, Nasal Medical

“Getting the Competitive Start Fund (CSF) approval validated what we were trying to do and gave us the confidence to grow.

Martin O’Connell, founder, Nasal Medical.

Key Takeouts:

  • 25% of Europeans suffer from a nose, chest or sinus allergy, a figure set to rise to 50% within a decade.
  • With support from Enterprise Ireland, including a Competitive Start Fund (CSF) investment in 2016, Nasal Medical’s Allergy Filter has revolutionised the drug-free allergy-prevention market.
  • Nasal Medical has a presence in the UK and will launch in the US in October. The company is working on a contract with one of the largest pharma companies in India and is exploring other markets in Europe with help from Enterprise Ireland.

Case Study: Nasal Medical

According to Allergy Ireland, about 25% of Europeans suffer from some sort of nose, chest or sinus allergy, a figure that’s set to rise to 50% within the next decade. While medical products can offer some relief, finding a long-term drug-free way to alleviate symptoms is high on the wish list of sufferers. With the help of several supports from Enterprise Ireland, including a Competitive Start Fund (CSF) investment in 2016, Nasal Medical has revolutionised the drug-free allergy-prevention market with its discreet and effective Allergy Filter.

“The ‘light bulb moment’ came through an unfortunate event on my family’s farm in Kerry,” explains founder Martin O’Connell, “when our cattle contracted tuberculosis I knew that I had to come up with a solution to prevent a reoccurrence, and from this, the concept for Nasal Medical, and a filter for humans, was born.”

How Nasal Medical secured CSF support“Nasal Medical specialises in anatomically designed nasal products to aid comfortable and effective breathing. Covering five target markets including pollution, allergies, sleeping disorders (mild sleep apnea and snoring), congestion and performance endurance, we address a myriad of major global problems – alleviating sleep disorders, protecting against the inhalation of seasonal allergies and contaminated air and enhancing athletic performance.

“We have launched two products so far, the Discreet Snoring Aid and the Allergy Nasal Filter, while the Travel Nasal Filter, Sports Aid, Pollution Filter and Snore Watch App will be launched in early 2020.”

The products are currently sold online, as well as in pharmacies in Ireland. “Google and eBay have been really helpful; we’re also recently selling through Amazon,” Martin explains. “We have a presence in the UK and will be expanding this soon along with our launch in the US in October. We’re also working on a contract with one of the largest pharma companies in India. In addition, we’re exploring other markets in Europe, with the help of Enterprise Ireland.”

 

How Nasal Medical secured CSF support

Martin and the team first approached Enterprise Ireland after developing a product prototype. From there, he was introduced to a development advisor in the High Potential Start-Ups (HPSU) unit, who helped the company to secure a feasibility grant and mentor in 2014, followed by a CSF investment in 2016.

“Aside from the funding, which has helped us in key areas of our business, the support and mentorship we have received as clients of Enterprise Ireland has been invaluable to us. They have opened doors for us, and connected us with people we could only dream of talking to.

The team in Enterprise Ireland has supported us every step of the way. We benefitted from advice and help from development advisors in the HPSU team and have also worked with the Eastpoint-based Market Research Centre, as well as overseas market advisors who took us to another level in export growth development.”

 

More than just funding

“The mentor Enterprise Ireland provided had huge experience in our sector, as well as great contacts. He was able to offer us first-hand advice and guidance and played an integral role in making sure that our patent protection and regulatory affairs were in order.

Following this, we were introduced to the team at SteriPack. Without them and without Enterprise Ireland, we probably wouldn’t be in existence today. The manufacturing side of the business was an obstacle for us, but the team at SteriPack were there to help us throughout the whole process. We have also received huge support from Eamonn Sayers in the Guinness Enterprise Centre, Chanelle, Lady McCoy, Pat Mullen of MSD Accountants, Dr. Paul Carson and John O’Dea.”

Being awarded the CSF in 2016 was a big turning point for the company. “Getting the CSF investment validated what we were trying to do and gave us the confidence to grow. The CSF also helped to get our product ready-to-sell, in terms of packaging, literature and finance for our first order.

“There’s a bit of work involved in applying, but that work will stand to you in the future – it will help you to develop a robust business plan, a detailed presentation, and iron out any issues, such as applying for patent protection and getting your finances and projections together. It will also help you to create a clear vision of your company for the future.”

 

Advice for companies planning to apply for future CSF calls

  • Martin’s advice is to get your business plan in place: “Know exactly where the money will be assigned within the business and make sure key areas are prioritised.”
  • Next: “Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve with the money, and where you want the company to be in five years’ time. If you don’t have much financial experience, you should speak with an accountant who will assist with the financial projections and P&Ls in the business plan.”
  • And: “Seek advice from someone who has been through the CSF process before.”

Enterprise Ireland is launching a new Competitive Start Fund – All Sectors call on Tuesday 7th July 2020. Aiming to support early stage start-ups, this CSF is open to early stage companies in manufacturing and internationally traded services.

Learn more about the Competitive Start Fund.

MD of Wellola Sonia Neary

Wellola aims to revolutionise the healthcare communication industry in Ireland and the UK

“Female entrepreneurs are frequently juggling growing a business and rearing a family in parallel. They often require additional supports in order to realise their vision” 

Wellola co-founder and MD, Sonia Neary

Case Study: Wellola Patient Portal Software Solutions

At a time when healthcare is never far from the news headlines both in Ireland and the UK, the race is well and truly on to find solutions that save money, streamline services, and ultimately make healthcare more accessible and cost-effective for patients. Leading the way is an innovative Irish start-up company, Wellola, whose founders believe only the sickest of the sick should be hospitalised and that the future of healthcare is preventative, community-based and supported by digital tools.

Wellola’s co-founder is Sonia Neary, a physiotherapist who worked in clinical practice for 15 years, gaining unique insights into the needs of patients and practitioners in today’s digital age. Sonia received funding and support to realise her vision from Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund, which will open another call on March 24th 2020.

 

Wellola supports hospitals and clinics to communicate efficiently with patients

Winning the Irish Medical and Surgical Trade Association Integrated Care award in 2019, Wellola aims to revolutionise the way clinics and hospitals care for, and communicate with, their patients. Wellola currently serves clinics in the allied healthcare space (occupational therapists, psychologists, speech and language therapists, and more), the majority of whom are mental healthcare professionals.

“Our patient portal system enables your patients to schedule to see you in person or online, depending on your settings”. explains Sonia. “GDPR-compliant messaging is a key feature of our software. This can be useful when sharing protected health information, saving on correspondence costs or as a therapy adjunct; for example, to support patients who mightn’t be able to put into words verbally what they want to say – both counsellors and speech and language therapists have mentioned this as a useful aid.”

“Put simply, we’re centralising patient communication in one platform, branded to our customers’ use…” 

“..different patients have different needs and, ultimately, it’s about giving clinics the tools to offer a more equitable, accessible and rounded care package. Accessing advice and care via smartphone can be invaluable in facilitating marginalised patients, including ethnic minorities, travelers and socially disadvantaged groups.”

Wellola benefitsNot only does the Wellola system allow for a more seamless experience for the patient, but it also has the potential to generate huge savings for  the healthcare industry by making it easier for patients to self-manage (make, reschedule and cancel) appointments. Nearly half a million outpatient appointments were missed in Ireland in 2017 – a significant figure in such an overstretched healthcare system and the financial implications of which are catastrophic.

“Much of this is to do with miscommunication – letters not reaching patients on time, patients not being able to get in contact with clinics via telephone to reschedule and so on,” says Sonia. “The current system is cumbersome, slow and costly – ultimately, our aim is to disrupt the way communication and scheduling is done in the healthcare industry and to make it more efficient and streamlined. Wellola could offer cost savings of €1 for every appointment letter, bill, receipt or other correspondence that doesn’t need to be posted. Almost €100 is saved for every appointment that is attended to as opposed to missed (as a direct result of the auto-reminder system) or re-filled via our real-time self-scheduling system.”

This ambition to modernise healthcare communication has translated into a slight shift in the company’s business model, as Sonia explains: “Wellola is currently being used by over 150 clinics on the ground level in the UK and Ireland and next month sees us launch our first large scale mental healthcare network and NHS trust in the UK. Our system can be deployed in both business to business (works from clinic website) and business to enterprise settings (works from professional body or hospital site).  So whereas before we were looking at the individual clinic level, the enterprise solution version of Wellola is much more scalable; with one contract we can reach a couple of hundred or even a thousand clinicians.

 

How support from Enterprise Ireland has helped

It’s a fast-moving industry, and certainly there’s a keen race to be innovative and ahead of the pack. “The move towards digitization in the healthcare industry in Europe is palpable– which is great and about time. Current care models are unsustainable; our resources are limited. So what remains for us to do? Digitize and automate our processes where we can, leverage digital tools to enable and support care-giving humans to do what they do best. The key is to use a software partner who not only offers a slick communications tool, but also has the necessary endorsements, compliance and safety standards in place. We’ve had huge support from the Enterprise Ireland network in terms of implementing many of these key elements. Getting the right advice and help is key to early traction and growth.”

Wellola MD Sonia NearySonia and co-founder Dr. Greg Martin have decades of experience in healthcare, which gives them a unique insight into the needs of the industry. But while they can see what the industry needs, they have not always had the business experience to realise that vision.

Enterprise Ireland has given us fabulous networking and learning opportunities, as well as vital start-up funding. We actually met our now CTO and co-founder, Criostoir O’Codlatain Lachtna, during Phase 2 of New Frontiers at the Synergy Centre two years ago. We’ve received invaluable help and advice from experienced mentors such as Alan Costello, Conor Carmody and Martin Murray who ran the INNOVATE programme I participated in at Dublin BIC (we enjoyed it so much, we now have our offices onsite at the Guinness Enterprise Centre!).

“I couldn’t underestimate the support and learnings gleaned from my peers and mentors on these accelerator programmes. Enterprise Ireland staff have always been of instrumental support; I was given access to the wonderful Anne Marie Carroll, my Enterprise Ireland Development Advisor as a Competitive Start Fund client, and now Damien McCarney as a High Potential Start-Up client. We also were able to avail of the Market Research Centre and their knowledgeable team, who gave us access to several detailed reports on our industry and its trends. Business acumen wouldn’t have been part of my original clinical training, so to have such a vast range of opportunities where I could hone my skills about the legals, marketing, sales, the pitfalls to avoid, lean business models, product/market fits, GDP, and more has been superb.”

“I’m an equalist, which is why I’m hugely in favor of Enterprise Ireland’s remit to balance the scales in favor of diversity and gender diversity. We know that, in business, greater diversity lends itself to greater innovation and commercial success for both the company and the economy as a whole.” 

I was invited to be part of a panel of women recently to discuss the issues that face women entrepreneurs. Many were saying they didn’t want to be singled out as a woman, but the truth is that we have different needs, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that and support those needs. For instance, I had the idea for Wellola, but held onto a steady clinical job far longer than I intended, simply because I wanted a family and it was just too challenging from a maternity leave (there is minimal support for the self-employed) and childcare perspective. Female entrepreneurs are frequently juggling growing a business and rearing a family in parallel. They often require additional supports in order to realise their vision.”

Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF) for Female Entrepreneurs is open for applications on 7th July 2020. Under this CSF, up to €50,000 in equity funding is available to eligible early stage start-up companies. Learn more here.

Inside Innovation Show – Hibergene

Inside Innovation brings you the stories of Ireland’s leading innovators and changemakers. Across the series we will cover a whole range of topics from innovating in a crisis, to looking at the future of many business areas. We go behind the stories, to understand what drives these innovators and what the innovation success factors are, from capability building, to culture and leadership.

The podcast is hosted by innovation expert Aidan McCullen.

The second episode is part of a series ‘Innovating in a Crisis’. In a rapid response to Covid-19, Hibergene Diagnostics launched a new Covid-19 test, that delivers positive results in just 30 minutes. Gary Keating, CTO of Hibergene talks capability building, agility, speed and collaboration, all important factors in the company’s success in innovation.

Garrett Murray

Horizon 2020 – An unmissable opportunity for ambitious Irish innovators

Significant levels of grant support and equity investment are up for grabs under the Horizon 2020 European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator Pilot, and Ireland’s recent success shows that Irish companies have what it takes to win.

The EIC Accelerator Pilot supports high risk, high potential SMEs and innovators to help them develop and bring to market innovative products, services and business models that could drive economic growth.

In the most recent call, eight Irish companies secured a total of more than €31m placing Ireland second, jointly with France and Denmark, in terms of the number of companies awarded funding.

“The March call results have been particularly good for Irish companies,” says Garrett Murray, National Director for Horizon 2020 at Enterprise Ireland. “The success is a testament to the research and innovation capability of Irish companies and the vibrancy of our high potential start-up and commercialisation eco-system.”

Among the successful Irish companies were five whose innovations related to coronavirus. One of these, Aquila Bioscience, has developed revolutionary decontamination technology that helps protect people from dangerous pathogens and other viral infections.

“We are delighted to receive funding from EIC which allows us to substantially scale up production and deliver this technology more quickly to workers in Ireland and across the globe,” says Lokesh Joshi.

 

Support for applicants

With multiple EIC calls during the year there are ongoing opportunities for companies to pitch for a slice of the lucrative support, but, says Murray, it’s important for companies to realise that it is a very competitive process.

“We recommend that companies considering applying for EIC Accelerator support contact Enterprise Ireland first. Our team of National Contact Points are experts on the programme and work with companies to bring them through the process step by step including reviewing drafts of their application before submission.

“Applicants need to think clearly about how they are going to articulate three things in their application: the excellence of their innovation; how their product or service is going to impact in the market; and how they are going to implement their strategy to scale their business. These are the three major criteria on which the applications are judged,” explains Murray.

If companies are successful at stage 1 they are called to interview in Brussels (currently via digital communications).

“Our team do mock interviews with the companies, putting them through their paces in exactly the same way as they will experience in Brussels, to give them the opportunity to refine their pitch.”

Companies can apply for grant support only, a mix of grant and equity, or initially a grant with the option for later discussion with the Commission in relation to equity.

“We always advise ambitious companies to seriously consider applying for equity particularly in the current environment where the availability of venture capital is reduced,” says Murray. “Getting equity from the Commission provides leverage to get more private sector funding.”

 

More than financial support

As well as financial support, successful EIC Accelerator applicants get coaching and mentoring, provided through the Enterprise Ireland team.

“The Commission regards that as a very important part of the process. It’s not just about awarding a grant or investing by way of equity but also helping companies develop their strategy.”

Kite Medical was awarded a grant in the most recent call. The company has developed a system for the detection of kidney reflux.

“This funding from the European Commission will allow Kite Medical to further develop the KITE system to progress into a clinical study. The funding will also support an additional six jobs at the company and establish our market launch strategy. The project outcomes will facilitate fund raising to support our commercialisation plan,” says Joan Fitzpatrick, Kite Medical’s CEO.

 

Future calls

There continues to be many opportunities for Irish enterprises and researchers under the EIC and across the Horizon 2020 Programme, including calls for proposals under the European Green Deal, worth around €1bn that will be issued in the autumn.

The next EIC Accelerator call for applications will be in October and will have a focus on female entrepreneurship where, should the first-round evaluation show that a minimum of 25 per cent of companies selected for the final-stage interviews are not led by women, additional interviews will be planned.

“We are particularly encouraging female-led companies to apply for the call in October. There are a lot of great female entrepreneurs in Ireland and this is a great opportunity for female-led companies to get additional funding,” says Murray.

SMEs of all sizes are eligible to apply for EIC Accelerator funding including start-ups, which tend to form the majority of applicants.

“There’s no disadvantage to being a very small company. The Commission considers how quickly a company is going to scale and whether EIC support will help accelerate that and get the innovation to market faster,” says Murray. 

“The only disadvantage that companies can have is if they’re not ambitious enough.”

 

For more information about support under Horizon 2020 please contact h2020support@enterprise-ireland.com

 

 

Industry Bulletin – Agritech & Machinery Dealership view


Reporting from across world markets, Enterprise Ireland’s Agritech Market Advisors have compiled this buyer sentiment update consisting of case studies from importers, distributors and leading dealerships of agricultural equipment.

As part of our Market Watch series, we have interviewed 23 companies to provide first-hand updates of the situation on the ground in key regions across the world.

Read the full report.

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

Horizon 2020 – MiniStor – supporting the development of clean and efficient energy

“Taking part in a Horizon 2020 project is a good way to progress not only as a researcher but also personally in terms of management skills. I’ve found the whole experience to be very enriching.”

Dr Carlos Ochoa, Co-ordinator of the MiniStor Horizon 2020 project

 

Overview:

  • Tyndall National Institute in Cork is leading an international consortium that is developing an advanced, compact, integrated solar-powered system that stores heat in a novel way.
  • The project is being significantly funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
  • The project is on course to achieve its first milestone of completing a preliminary design by July 2020.

 

MiniStor case study

If two heads are better than one then it goes without saying that multiple research centres, universities and specialist companies working together can achieve more than one. That’s the philosophy that underpins the Horizon 2020 programme. The European Union’s research and innovation instrument has an €80 billion funding pot and is supporting consortia across Europe to transition great ideas from the laboratory to the market.

One of those great ideas is the MiniStor project, the brainchild of Dr Carlos Ochoa of the International Energy Research Centre, which is based at Tyndall National Institute in University College Cork in partnership with Cork City Council.

“In basic terms the MiniStor project is about storing heat from the sun to use later. The heat is captured via renewable energy sources such as solar panels and then stored in special salts, making it much more energy efficient than water-based systems,” explains Ochoa.

The project aims to significantly decrease energy consumption in residential buildings, reducing their overall environmental impact.

 

Building the team

“When I read the Horizon 2020 call for technologies enabling energy-efficient systems and energy-efficient buildings, I made a preliminary sketch of my idea and then we considered what the scope of the project would be and started looking for scientific partners who could help us make the idea a reality,” says Ochoa.

“We needed particular expertise so we began contacting people via websites and LinkedIn to get them interested in the idea. We got help from Enterprise Ireland and the Tyndall European Office to find and contact some key partners.  

“In the end we found 17 other institutions across eight countries who were interested in working with us. Then we were ready to respond to the competitive call.”

 

Applying for Horizon 2020 support

The process of applying for Horizon 2020 support is sometimes perceived as being complex and onerous but, as Dr Ochoa explains, there is plenty of help available.

“It’s true that preparing the application is very time intensive but there are support services available. Nationally, Enterprise Ireland leads the Horizon 2020 support network and their support was excellent in terms of reviewing the main idea to determine if it had some potential; that’s like a reality check. They were also able to give advice on what’s required in the application documentation,” says Ochoa. “I also had a lot of support from within the Tyndall National Institute.”

The application was a success and the project received funding of over 7.5 million, some 87% of its total budget.

“Without Horizon 2020 support this project could not have gone ahead. We may have been able to do something at a much smaller scale but we wouldn’t have had access to the same amount of expertise,” says Ochoa.

 

The experience so far

Ochoa has been a participant in Horizon 2020 projects before but this is his first time as co-ordinator.

“Being the co-ordinator for an international project that has so many participants can be challenging because everyone has their own working style and their particular corporate culture so you have to balance the needs of the partners with the needs of the project. So far it has been working well and we’ve been able to iron out any small issues that have arisen,” says Ochoa.

Now six months into the project the team are closing in on achieving their first milestone – the preliminary design for the MiniStor system.

“It’s not a trivial achievement because all these components have not been combined before.”

Unfortunately the advent of the Covid-19 crisis and ensuing lockdown has impacted on the project. “We have slight delays because we have some demonstration sites, which are actual homes in different countries around Europe. The restrictions are preventing us from entering the houses to do monitoring. So that’s pushing back the timeline for a few months,” says Ochoa.

 

Advice to others

Dr Ochoa is keen to encourage other researchers to apply to Horizon 2020 or its successor Horizon Europe (2021–2027), an ambitious funding programme that will be larger than Horizon 2020 and will begin to roll out next year.

“It’s a good way to progress not only as a researcher but also personally in terms of management skills, which are required if you are aiming for more senior positions. I’ve found the whole experience to be very enriching. Of course it takes a lot of time and effort but it pays off,” says Ochoa.

“My experience of interacting with Enterprise Ireland has been very positive. If you have a question about Horizon 2020 or Horizon Europe they know very well what’s going on and can provide advice, and they are also very ready to give us talks explaining the scope and opportunities presented by EU programmes.”

 

For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact h2020support@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizon2020.ie

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.