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Competing for the future at International Markets Week

Competing for the Future

Developing foreign markets can be daunting even for companies that are highly successful in their home market, the audience heard at Competing for the Future, a panel discussion organised as part of Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week programme.

“When you go abroad to foreign markets you are starting at ground zero, which is not an easy place to be,” said Harry Hughes, CEO of Mayo-based safety clothing and equipment company Portwest.  “It just takes time and you have to stay with it.”

Hughes has helped grow what was once a small family business with a turnover of €100,000 in 1978 into a €205 million a year business employing 3,000 staff. The UK was Portwest’s first export market and remains an important one, accounting for 40% of its sales, he said. However, by taking on new markets one at a time, the company now sells into 120 countries worldwide.


Top export insights from International Markets Week

He was joined onstage by Vivian Farrell, CEO of Shannon-based Modular Automation, a 32 year-old company that delivers advanced technological solutions to customers such as Johnson & Johnson, Boston Scientific, Stryker, and Medtronic.

Working with their manufacturing sites in Ireland provided Modular Automation with an entry point into the US market, which has transformed the business over the past five years, enabling it to double staff numbers to 150, Farrell said.

Delegates also heard from John Brophy, business development manager of PM Group, a leading project delivery company that works in engineering, architecture, and construction management.

The now 45 year-old company began developing export markets in earnest during the last recession. Today, while PM Group remains headquartered in Ireland, it has 17 offices around the world.


Fulfil your export potential

Complacency can make companies fail to fulfil their export potential, delegates heard. “We were probably very slow learners in the beginning, in that we were 25 years selling in Britain and had reached maturity in that market before, 15 years ago, we started looking into Europe,” said Hughes.

Portwest has taken a “one step at a time” approach to new markets since then, starting with the Netherlands, and then France. “There are only two ways to get sales, you can either buy them by purchasing a company in the market, or you can go out and build them yourself,” he said. Either way it costs money.

Modular Automation was able to leverage its multinational clients here and follow them overseas. International markets are now “hugely important in terms of reaching our ambitions for growth,” said Farrell.

“We’re investing heavily in R&D and innovation in Ireland and we see that as a catalyst for growth, in particular in the US.”

Read about Enterprise Ireland’s R&D and innovation supports

Three years ago, the company opened an office in Florida, both to service the sister sites of clients in Ireland and as a base to develop new customers. “That is our strategy for growth and it is working for us. But it’s only achievable if we do a good job for multinationals in Ireland, and critical to that is R&D and innovation.”

In 2007, PM group was faced with a diminishing home market. At the time, it had offices in Ireland, the UK, Russia and Poland, but the majority of its work was based in Ireland.

“In order to diversify, we had to look out, and mainland Europe was a very accessible market,” said Brophy. “We focused initially on Belgium, which was a massive market for many of our customers.”


Target opportunities in the Eurozone

Irish companies should view the eurozone as “a continuation of the domestic market,” said fellow panellist Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland. Doing so may require a “mindset shift” but having role model companies such as Portwest, Modular Automation and PM Group helps encourage other companies, she said.

That includes steps companies are taking in response to Brexit, such as Portwest’s decision to acquire 140,000 sq ft of warehousing in Poland, reducing its warehousing space in Britain. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of Brexit, such a move makes good business sense, said Hughes.

PM Group has also taken action to mitigate the risk of Brexit. It has responded by growing its footprint in the UK, acquiring a company there and adding two new offices, in Manchester and Edinburgh – “because no matter what, the UK is a big country and you need to have a regional presence,” he said.

It has also diversified into more sectors, including chemical and petrochemical, which the recent acquisition will help it to service. “So we have widened what we can do,” he said.


Act now in response to Brexit

Over the past year, companies have moved into action mode in response to Brexit, said Sinnamon. “Companies are beginning to invest in innovation and competitiveness to look at new markets. We are seeing a big increase in the level of demand for participation in trade missions and market study visits,” she said.

Mistakes will happen. In Portwest’s case, a key hire made in Ireland and relocated to Europe turned out not to be the right solution. “Now we employ French people in France, Germans in Germany, and so on. The boots on the ground need to be local,” said Hughes.

Innovation is key. “You really have to find a way to differentiate yourself from the competition. You can’t go in there and say ‘We’re here, isn’t that good enough?’,” said Brophy.

Julie Sinnamon agreed. “You are not going to conquer the world with me-too products. You have to have something that differentiates you,” she said, pointing to Enterprise Ireland’s Market Discovery Fund as a way of helping with costs, and its Agile Innovation Fund as a fast-track way of getting R&D support to ensure a product is fit for purpose in new market.

Above all, see the eurozone as a local market, delegates at International Markets Week were told. “We have the same currency and the same laws and there are no borders,” said Hughes. “You need to see it as a local market and get out there and invest.”


Languages Connect logo

The importance of multilingualism

The drive for new markets shines a light on the importance of multilingualism. Julie Sinnamon, CEO Enterprise Ireland outlines why language matters.

Ireland’s small, open economy depends heavily on being able to trade internationally. The global dominance of the English language has worked to our advantage but with Irish companies looking to export into even more diverse markets, the need to acquire more languages has never been more important.

Recognising the cultural value of communicating in the buyer’s local language and developing a workforce with foreign language expertise can improve relationships and increase efficiency when entering new markets.

Learn how Enterprise Ireland can support your business with the Market Discovery Fund


T.E. Laboratories maximising commercial benefit of IP

“Enterprise Ireland’s IP Strategy programme has made a fantastic impact. It’s going to change the landscape of how we handle IP.”

Breda Moore, Technical Director, T. E. Laboratories

Key Takeouts:

  • T.E. Laboratories is evolving from primarily providing environmental and oil analysis services in the Irish market to developing novel, game-changing analytical sensors and instruments for customers worldwide.
  • Enterprise Ireland’s IP Plus Strategy programme and Lean Plus programme have had a dramatic impact on the company’s approach to product development and IP protection.
  • T.E. Laboratories is now moving to commercialise a range of new environmental analysis products, initially targeting the US market.

Case Study: T.E. Laboratories

T.E. Laboratories Ltd, based in Tullow, Co Carlow, started life in 1991 carrying out fuel analysis. It still does; but the company is now entering new territories, with future growth set to be driven by hi-tech product launches, based on novel intellectual property (IP) developed in-house or via technology transfer from international partners.

“We have enjoyed iterative growth from the start, becoming an accredited environmental laboratory and a chemical manufacturer as well as Ireland’s only specialised oil analysis laboratory,” explains Technical Director, Breda Moore. Clients include multinational pharmaceutical and other manufacturers as well as local authorities, utilities and fleet operators.

“Specialist analytical and chemical manufacturing services are set to remain important pillars of our business. But our future growth projections are based on the company evolving as a leader in developing advanced sensors and analysers for environmental and oil applications.

“Moving into a purpose-built building, in 2010, with a dedicated R&D laboratory for new product development, was a key milestone. Our focus changed from doing more of the same to being quite expansive about product development, looking at things that we might have previously considered too big a challenge, either financially or knowledge wise, with the aim of producing a significant number of new products in a relatively short time.”

T.E. Laboratories now employs 50 people, including seven full-time researchers in the R&D lab, which is the engine room for new product development. The lab is 75% funded through EU collaborative research projects (such as Horizon 2020 and Framework programmes), allowing this relatively small company to punch above its weight in innovation terms.

Protecting intellectual property

Now, with R&D projects delivering tangible results, the challenge of maximising the return from this output has come sharply into focus.  

“We are starting to generate significant levels of IP both internally and in collaborative projects. As these products get closer to market, thinking strategically about their commercialisation becomes important, making us realise that, up to now, we hadn’t given IP enough attention,” explains Moore. 

For T.E. Laboratories, then, the recent launch of Enterprise Ireland’s new IP Strategy programme was perfectly timed. The pilot programme provides companies with financial support towards the cost of engaging an external IP advisor to help them develop an IP strategy to secure the maximum return from their RD&I activities, and, in the process, strengthen their in-house IP management capabilities.

“Through the IP Plus Strategy programme, we’re putting in place a formal process to cover the IP that we’ve already generated so that we can leverage maximum benefit from it, and we’re also looking at the IP we’re starting to produce to identify the best strategy for protecting that,” says Moore.

“For example, we’ve reviewed all the default agreements in our European projects to see how they can be improved, and we’ve examined how we can capture IP in our labs and where we can derive a commercial advantage. It’s all about putting procedures in place to handle IP in a consistent way; whereas before it was very reactive.

“The advice we’ve received from the IP attorney has made a fantastic impact in a short space of time. We can see that we have an awful lot more to do, but the IP Plus Strategy programme is going to change the landscape of how we handle IP.”

New product development

Among TelLab’s developing IP portfolio are a new breed of environmental sensors, which Moore describes as “game changers”.

“We believe we are leading the field in low-cost environmental sensors with our Aqua Monitrix device, which offers real-time, remote monitoring of water quality,” she explains. “We see massive potential in the US market.”

One of TelLab’s Aqua Monitrix prototypes is currently competing in a nitrogen sensor challenge, coordinated by the US Environmental Protection Agency.  If it can meet performance goals during onsite testing, the prize for TelLab will include an order of 200 units and a performance verification report.

“It’s an exciting time for us,” Moore says. “I believe this product range will change the company by an order of magnitude.”

Intertwining a focus on Lean and IP

Dovetailing with the focus on IP protection, T.E. Laboratories recently completed Enterprise Ireland’s Lean Start programme and is now working through Lean Plus to achieve increased competitiveness and productivity across operations.

“We’re particularly interested in applying Lean to our new product development activities. This will enable us to bring products that are successful at the research phase to the market as efficiently as possible. We will cut out unnecessary steps, concentrating on features that add actual value to the end user, and designing with Lean manufacturing in mind,” explains Moore.

“For us, the Lean and IP Strategy programmes are going to cross over significantly in some areas, and we see that as having a hugely beneficial impact,” she adds.

“As we bring these products to international markets, we will continue to use Enterprise Ireland’s global network of offices, and we anticipate significant benefits arising from the IP Plus Strategy and the Lean Plus programmes.”

Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation supports here.

Channel sales

Channelling Success with Channel Strategy

Máire P. Walsh, SVP Digital Technologies at Enterprise Ireland’s Silicon Valley office, explains how an effective channel sales strategy can give Irish companies a wide international reach.

The business plans of start-up companies often focus on direct sales, aiming to sell as many products and solutions to as many consumers and end users as possible. The right channel sales strategy can, however, give Irish companies of all sizes and stages of maturity a wider reach, helping them to grow more quickly than a business plan that relies on direct sales alone. A successful channel strategy enables Irish exporters with unique technologies to harness sales opportunities at scale, driving business results in the US market and beyond.

Enterprise Ireland recently held a Sales and Channel Strategy Seminar in Dublin, which featured US industry thought leaders and senior executives, and was designed to advise and guide high performing Irish start-ups to expand into the US through the channel ecosystem. World-class experts on sales planning and channel strategy shared tips and success stories, while the event showcased a number of Irish companies that are already capitalising on the potential of the channel ecosystem to drive rapid growth.

Irish companies can apply insights shared by the event’s global speakers to use a smart channel sales strategy to quickly grow their business.

A “Best Practices in Channel” panel featured Kevin Morata, Global Channel Strategy at Dell EMC, Gerard Sheridan, Global OEM Sales Director at DataStax, and Kurt Hoppe, Global Head of Innovation at GM. The panel discussed how true collaboration is key to building successful relationships with channel partners. Companies should be aware that not all channel partners are created equal. With 20% of partners driving 80% of sales, Irish companies should allocate more time and resources to partners that will help to maximize business results. One tip for building trust is to feed leads to new channel partners at the beginning. That will allow them to gain experience in selling your product while developing a strong understanding of your value proposition.

Tiffany Wagner, Global Head of Sales Planning at SAP, described how a successful strategy must focus on your value proposition, rather than on the features and functions of your solution. At SAP, design thinking is key to well-orchestrated enterprise sales planning programs. All enterprise sales require a “3 x 3” influence model – three decision makers and three influencers must contribute to the process.

Insights were shared by Irish companies, including AltoCloud, Channel Mechanics and PlanNet21 Communications, that have scaled by partnering with the channel ecosystem. Kenneth Fox, Channel Mechanics CEO, described the three points of the channel triangle:  vendors, distributors and partners. The Channel Mechanics solution sits at the centre of the triangle, providing automation that runs the entire ecosystem.

Barry O’Sullivan, AltoCloud CEO, described how his company was formed with the channel in mind. Leveraging the business and personal relationships of partners has allowed AltoCloud to build a strong partner channel. One tip for Irish exporters is to have a ‘corporate vendor resources’ presence in the US and not attempt to drive it from Ireland.

When launching as an ambitious company almost 20 years ago, PlanNet21 Communications convinced partners to accept them into their channel program. The strategy has delivered revenues close to €50m, with the company on a mission to hit €100m within the next two years. Denise Tormey, co-founder of PlanNet21 Communications, described the strategy that drove their success, “Trust is hard won. We manage communication face-to-face, over the phone and by mail, to build those interpersonal relationships. We listen. We respond in a timely manner. We ask ‘Why?’ We care. We are true partners.”

The insight echoed the guidance of many of the day’s Irish and US speakers. A foundation of trust must be established to build effective relationships. Otherwise channel partner alliances are destined to fall flat and fail to deliver the growth promised. For channel strategy support, contact Enterprise Ireland’s Strategic Marketing Review program, which acts as a mechanism to review and develop your market development strategy overseas.

This article was originally published in the Sunday Independent.

Setting up shop stateside: How to establish a US business entity

If you are an Irish company setting up in the United States, taking time to organise operations properly is essential.

Going Global USA: Learn your Legals is a concise and yet comprehensive guide to the most important elements you should consider, covering how to manage taxation, visas and immigration, and trade and customs. In this deep dive, learn how best to approach establishing a US business entity.

How to establish a US business entity

Setting up in the US without adequate research and planning exposes your company to the risks of litigation and state and federal taxation penalties.

To qualify to do business in the United States, you must, at the very least, have a registered branch office in the country. Choosing the branch office option can, however, make the parent company in Ireland a more visible target for lawsuits and legal claims, and liable for US federal, state, and local income taxes.

Form a distinct US legal entity

It is more prudent, and in the long run more cost-effective, to form a distinct US legal entity, be it either a US business corporation, known as a C-Corp, or a US limited liability company (LLC).

A C-Corp is similar in structure to an Irish limited company and is usually a better option than an LLC for overseas businesses. While there are tax advantages to forming an LLC, they apply to individual shareholders rather than shareholding parent companies. As C-Corp shareholders are perceived to be more ‘separate’ from the everyday activities of the company, C-Corp owners tend to be less exposed to litigation, and to have more limited liability.

Remember, however, that C-Corp profits can be taxed twice, under the US ‘double taxation’ system.  Firstly, at federal and at state level, a C-Corp is assessed for corporate income tax on profits. Then, if the company chooses to distribute earnings, shareholders will pay capital gains tax on dividend income.

On the plus side, C-Corps are familiar entities to both customers and institutional investors, are scalable, and can be made public. And as most early stage companies reinvest profits to fund growth, when dividends are not issued, double taxation is not a major concern.

US location, location, location

Wherever you plan to do business in the United States, it is probably best to set up in the State of Delaware, where legislature deservedly enjoys a reputation for having America’s most business-friendly laws.

Delaware is one of only five US states with a separate non-jury Court of Chancery, with judges focused solely on business law. The Chancery Court is also unlikely to interfere in arrangements where signed corporate agreements are already in place.

Unlike in other states, shareholders and directors of Delaware-registered corporations do not have to be Delaware residents. In addition, Delaware corporate law applies to Delaware corporations no matter where they actually operate, or where their physical headquarters are located.

Delaware also offers favourable taxation laws. The state does not tax royalty payments and non-residents are not liable for personal income tax, including capital gains tax on dividend income.

While it may cost less to register a business in other states, potential short-term savings should be off-set against the long-term legal certainties that the Delaware legislature provides.

As easy as ABC Delaware: How to form a C-Corp or LLC

There are four steps to forming a C-Corp or an LLC in Delaware.

  • Firstly, check online that your preferred choice is available and decide on a business name for your corporation or LLC.
  • Secondly, appoint a registered agent to receive service of process and other correspondence on behalf of your company. If you have a Delaware address (which must be more than a PO box number), you can do it yourself. Otherwise, you can appoint an attorney or an accountant as a registered agent, or you can use a registered agent service company, which will charge you as little as $50 for their services.
  • Thirdly, file a Delaware Certificate of Corporation that includes the name of the corporation, the name and address of its registered agent, the purpose of the corporation, and the total number of shares that the corporation is authorised to issue. The fee for filing this documentation is $89 (at time of writing), if all your information is contained on one page. Otherwise, an extra $9 is charged for each additional page.
  • Lastly, you must remain ‘in good standing’, which requires you to file an annual report and pay a franchise tax. That part is crucial. If a Delaware corporation loses its good standing, it loses its limited liability shield, and the corporation’s creditors can make claims on shareholders’ personal assets.

Franchise tax is not based on income. It is based on overall share value and is assessed using two methods: the authorised share capital method and assumed par value capital method.

It is important to take professional advice to avoid paying more franchise tax than is necessary. If you authorise a large number of shares but only issue a small portion of them, or if the shares have no par value, you could end up with a franchise tax bill for tens of thousands of dollars. A corporation with 5,000 or fewer authorised shares, will pay at least the minimum franchise tax fee of $175 annually.

Foreign qualifications

If your US company is conducting business in any state other than the state in which it is incorporated (for example, outside Delaware), it will most likely also need to register in each additional state, in a process known as ‘foreign qualification’.

As the rules for foreign qualification vary from state to state, consult with a business lawyer or, at the very least, conduct some research on the state’s Department of State website. Foreign qualification involves additional paperwork and expense. A Delaware corporation applying to do business in New York will spend at least $334 to obtain all required certification.

Note that, whether you file a foreign qualification or not, a company deemed to be doing business in a particular state will be subject to state income taxes in that state. However, there are states, such as Texas, where generous tax-free allowances mean that most small businesses pay little or no state income tax.

Talk to your Enterprise Ireland advisor to get advice on setting up your company’s presence in the United States or read more in Going Global USA: Learn your Legals

How investing in growth paid off for SF Engineering

Visit almost any leading food company around the world and you are quite likely to find production line technology supplied by Irish firm SF Engineering.

Since its establishment in 1983, SF Engineering has been responsible for more than €250 million worth of food processing projects in 63 countries across Europe, North and South America, Russia, the Middle East, and Australia.

Central to the company’s success during that time has been its commitment to innovation and unwavering customer focus.

“We started off in the fish industry,” says CEO and founder, Seamus Farrell. “After that, we moved into the red meat sector and the broader food industry. This wasn’t part of a grand plan. It sort of happened accidently.”

It was a natural evolution, however, given the impact the company had already had on the fish sector. “What we did for the fish industry was futuristic,” he says. “At the time, it cost around €25 per tonne to process fish. We reduced that price to €4 per tonne by automating the process. That was our first big kill and set us up for future growth. After that, we moved into the Scottish and Scandinavian fish sectors – that was quite a natural move for us. We have never been export shy.”

Today, SF Engineering designs, manufactures and installs high-quality food production lines. Specific product lines include conveyors, packing solutions, platforms, weighing equipment, fat analysis, quality control, hygiene equipment, lifting and tipping equipment.

“Our process design expertise enables us to deliver highly efficient food production lines that reduce costs, increase capacity and require less maintenance”, says Farrell. “Our food technology experience covers a range of sectors, including meat, poultry, fish, bakery, dairy, fruit and veg, ready meals and pet food. We are experts in the precision engineering of complex engineering systems for the food sector and we provide a trustworthy support service to our clients who operate around the clock throughout the year.”

Expansion into international markets began in earnest in the late 1990s and this saw the company form a number of key strategic alliances with global partners. “We have formed great partnerships with companies, firstly the main one being Ishida, then following on from that CEIA,  Marelec and Eagle”, says Farrell. “They have been very important to us. They allow us to combine our complementary strengths in different areas to supply turnkey solutions to the global food industry.”

These partnerships have been an important source of new business referrals, but the company is active on international markets winning new orders. “You have to keep driving on,” says Farrell. “We have consistently invested in R&D over the years, with support from Enterprise Ireland and others. Back in 2009, when Irish businesses were severely challenged by the recession, we made a decision to invest in growth.”

That decision saw the acquisition of Opal FPS in St Ives, Cambridgeshire. “That helped us to grow our sales in the UK. It has also Brexit-proofed our business.”

Another key decision around that time was the opening of a new base in Prague, where the company’s Global Installation Team is based. The relationship with the Czech Republic dates back to the late 1990s.

“In the late 1990s and early 2000s we found that we were losing people to the building boom,” says Farrell. “That led to us employing a lot of people from the Czech Republic. We found them to be very good stainless steel fabricators. Without those guys we wouldn’t have been able to expand internationally as quickly as we did. The Global Installation Team is in transit, with all the team travelling around the world from project to project.”

Farrell is grateful to Enterprise Ireland and the other bodies which supported the company in its growth and development over the years. “They believed in the company and supported us, and that was very important.”

He believes export success begets further export success. “Having supplied all these blue chip companies around the world gives us the confidence to go out and win more business,” he says.

“We are also very lucky to come from a country with a very strong food industry, which has travelled well globally and has established a reputation for high quality. Our core values are to be as professional and competitive as possible. We are never going to be the cheapest, but we will add the most value and deliver the best and fastest return on investment to our customers. We are large enough to compete around the world but small enough to be flexible when it comes to delivering solutions for customers. We understand that retailers and consumers want more affordable, safer food on supermarket shelves, and they want very good quality. We provide the solutions that enable our customers to meet that demand.”

These core values have seen SF Engineering expand to employ 110 people in Ireland, the UK and Prague, with business growing strongly year on year. “We will have sales of €20 million this year,” Farrell concludes.

Learn how Enterprise Ireland enables companies to access R&D funding with our innovation supports.

Meditec US hospital supply chain

How Meditec conquered the US hospital supply chain

Breaking into the US market isn’t always easy but with the right supports, infrastructure, attitude, and product, it is achievable.

Alan Sullivan, Managing Director of Meditec Medical, addressed the Enterprise Ireland knowledge event aimed at helping Irish manufacturers to navigate the US supply chain.

His company has enjoyed tremendous success in the US thanks to the Mediflex, a specialised mattress for clinical use, which prevents pressure sores. While the innovative product is now used in hospitals across the region, initial entry was made with the help of a planned introduction from Enterprise Ireland.

“Enterprise Ireland brings US companies to Ireland to showcase what our businesses do. One day we were told that Boston Children’s Hospital were in – the holy grail for suppliers,” he explained.

Opportunity knocks for Meditec Medical

“Dave Walsh, the hospital’s Director of Supply Chain Administration, came into our office and we showed him around. He said there and then: ‘When can you trial this?’

“We went to Boston with the sample and presented, then started talking about the innovative stain-resistant cover, and the traction started to build from there.”

From the start, Alan was keenly aware that opportunity only knocks once, which drove the company’s rigorous preparation ahead of every visit.

“I have one chance and I have to get that right.

“Before going into the US market, there are certain things you need to be ready for. The last thing you want to do is to go into a big seller and for them to ask, ‘do you have X in place?’ and for the answer to be ‘no’, or to have not even considered an answer,” he said.

“We got our product tested in the east coast of America for compliance with fire regulation. Because we were already looking for our FDA approval, we already had those wheels in motion.”

Securing a long-term relationship

There can be several boxes to tick, he explained, and no value in attempting to cut corners. Teaming up with local expertise is often a good idea.

“For the FDA approval, we did a lot by ourselves, but we also got a consultant in the US. Importing into the US is very different to importing into Europe. You have to have an importer on record, essentially a company in the States who will keep your records to be referenced by organisations like the FDA.”

“When it comes to customs clearance, you have to get a partner to ensure everything runs smoothly,” he added, noting that delays early in the process can have a disproportionate impact on long-term relationships.

“It’s important that all of the details are nailed down before it leaves Ireland. Don’t promise the order will be there by Tuesday, only for it to get caught in customs.

While an in-market distributor can offer big benefits in terms of access, contacts and local knowledge, Alan insisted that staying clearly visible in discussions was key to the success of the product’s sell-in.

“The main thing about dealing with a distributor is that you can’t just allow them to take the products on and present them,” he said. “I know my products, how to present them, the engineering that goes into it. It’s very hard to relay this to someone with 2,500 products in their portfolio.”

Nailing the process

This hands-on approach served Alan and Meditec extremely well over the course of their developing relationship with Boston Children’s Hospital.

“We sent the product over by flight and I followed it over myself. I met key people from the hospital and we got a chance to iron everything out. Anything we didn’t have in place, we nearly had in place. We got the trial.”

The process, Alan explained, was not simply a test use period – but also an ongoing opportunity to refine the product to suit the buyer’s needs.

“We already had a heel section and the clinicians wanted a head section too. So, we went home, added that and came back.

“Labelling, visibility, everything – we changed and customised it to get it right.

“The clinical aspect of the product stayed the same, but we adjusted the features.”

This detail-oriented approach was precisely what the hospital stakeholders were looking for and was an important element in the eventual success of the trial.

 “I trained up the people on the ground and put my distributor in the position where they could fix any issues,” he explained.

“If they feel like you’re far away and you’re not going to put in the hard yards, they’ll go for the safe option –  like a US multinational. You need to show them.”

Local Enterprise heroes

Following in the footsteps of Local Enterprise heroes

For many companies, becoming an Enterprise Ireland client is a significant step on a journey that started at a regional level. Local Enterprise Offices throughout Ireland provide supports, advice and training to start-up companies and existing micro-enterprises of up to ten employees. It is in this environment that experience is gained and vital lessons are learned which allow companies to prepare for growth and to take their ambition global.

A recipe for successful growth to €21 million annual turnover

It was in 1993 that a young man from Clonakilty got in touch with his Local Enterprise Office (LEO) in West Cork to ask if they could help him turn his business idea into a reality. Diarmuid O’Sullivan wanted to produce traditional churn-made yogurts. He knew how to make yogurts but he didn’t have enough funding to get the venture off the ground.

“I had the idea but not enough money,” Diarmuid recalls. “I heard there was funding available from the Local Enterprise Office, so I contacted them and put in an application. The maximum support they could provide at the time was £50,000 and the LEO in Clonakilty was able to help me put my ideas into a business plan to help secure funding.

“I also received quite a lot of mentoring and coaching. That was all done at concept stage – I hadn’t even identified a production site – but the support meant that I was able to get Irish Yogurts up and running by March 1994.”

Diarmuid’s yogurt-making idea was a recipe for success. His company grew quickly and its products were soon on the shelves of Irish food shops and supermarkets.

“In one of those early years, we grew by about 78.5%. That brought its own challenges, with regard to working capital. The Local Enterprise Office suggested that I move onto Enterprise Ireland, where there were financial supports for fast-growing companies which were creating jobs.

“We hadn’t really focused on exports, not at that stage. That came after we started working with Enterprise Ireland. Our first export customer in the UK was Tesco.”

This progress was recognised in 1998, when Irish Yogurts was named winner of Ireland’s first ever National Enterprise Award. In just a few years, it had gone from being a bright idea with insufficient funding to becoming an award-winning food producer.

Today, Irish Yogurts employs 160 people at its Clonakilty base and sells to every major supermarket chain in the UK and Ireland. Its annual turnover has grown from €300,000 to €21 million, with exports accounting for 30% of their business.

“We appreciate the input of the Local Enterprise Office and Enterprise Ireland, who supported us and our staff every step of the way,” Diarmuid says. “We still work with them and avail of supports and advice. Enterprise Ireland is very much a part of our team.”

A roll of honour

Irish Yogurts is one of hundreds of companies from every corner of Ireland that have transferred from Local Enterprise Office support to become Enterprise Ireland clients. Last year, 80 companies made the move. In 2016, the figure was 40. The roll of honour includes 10 other former winners of the National Enterprise Awards:

It is a track record that the Local Enterprise Offices are proud of. Oisín Geoghegan, chair of the network of Local Enterprise Offices, said, “It’s one of our targets to transfer companies to Enterprise Ireland – it’s progression. Companies which transfer into Enterprise Ireland are companies with growth ambitions to be exporting and creating jobs, which is incredibly important, particularly for the regions. So we would see it as an indicator of success when a company moves on to Enterprise Ireland.”

Local expertise supporting global ambition

Engineering services provider Obelisk engaged with their Local Enterprise Office in Cavan, even before they set up the company in 1996. Four years later, Obelisk won the National Enterprise Award.

Founder director Colm Murphy said, “We were looking to capitalise on the growth of mobile phone usage by offering installation services for operators. The people in our LEO understood the idea that opportunity was coming down the track. That gave us the confidence that our idea was good and could to grow into something big.

“They had an incubator office which we were able to rent and provided grant aid for early employees. They also provided us with advice about how to set up a company, and other supports such as training and mentoring – there was a lot more to it than financial support.”

The support has been paying off ever since, Colm says. “Last year we turned over €27 million. Employee numbers are between 250 and 300 people. We’ve expanded to include infrastructure solutions for fixed telecoms and the energy sector in Ireland, the UK, and South Africa.

“We want to continue growing. We’re looking for further investment. Over the next two to three years, we’re looking to hit the €100 million mark in sales. Exports are currently a third of our turnover but we expect that to become a 50/50 split.”

So what part did being able to access business expertise and support at a local level play in the company’s success? “Back in 1996-97, we would have found it difficult to kick-off from a zero base,” Colm explains. “We were just a couple of guys with an idea, and sometimes going for funding and that kind of stuff can be daunting. But when you get the kind of support that we did from the Local Enterprise Office, that’s a massive kick start.

“I would recommend that any company should be in touch with their Local Enterprise Office. They’ve always been good at describing the product set they have and how they support you. If you don’t ask, you don’t get and if you’re not engaging with them then you won’t necessarily be aware of new supports that are on offer.”

Reassurance and support

The view that “if you don’t ask then you won’t get” is shared by John Lynch, Chief Technology Officer of Acutrace. The Dublin tech company provides software and hardware which allows companies to control and monitor their energy usage. They count the likes of Google, Twitter and IBM among their customers.

Founded in 2015, Acutrace wasted no time in contacting their Local Enterprise Office in South Dublin. John says, “We reached out to the Local Enterprise Office immediately and they were brilliant. They gave us an employment grants and we managed to employ two engineers under that scheme. Within the first three months, we were exporting to London.

The company was growing quickly and the Local Enterprise Office was instrumental in steering Acutrace towards Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-up (HPSU) programme.

John says, “Once we learned the criteria for the HPSU, we used that as our yardstick to reach for. We knew we had to have significant exports, we knew we had to have a scalable product that would generate employment and we needed to have the magic number of a turnover of €1 million, so it was a good objective to hit and we exceeded the target that year.

“By the end of 2016, we had turned over more than €1.5 million and we were exporting 40% of a product that was created in Ireland to the UK.”

The advice, professional support and reassurance they received has left a lasting impression on John and Acutrace.

He says, “I’m coming off the back of 20 years in the industry and so is my business partner Aidan, but it’s a little bit different when it’s your own enterprise – the risks are higher and there’s an isolation you feel, it can be profound. Then you engage with your Local Enterprise Office and you feel part of something, that you’re being protected or mentored.

“There’s funding and that’s important, but it’s also having that extra bit of confidence that there’s someone else behind you who has your back, that if you are going to create employment, well there’s someone there who’s grateful for that and they’re helping you, and they’re encouraging you.”

“You might be destined for Enterprise Ireland but until you hit that criteria the LEOs will mentor you and steer you in the right direction.”

Working hand in hand

That direction involves advice and supports, which evolve and change to meet the needs of encouraging start-up companies and other micro enterprises of ten or fewer employees, says Oisín Geoghegan.

“We provide a very broad range of supports – initial business advice, information and guidance, training and mentoring, and financial supports such as feasibility, priming or expansion grants. It can include money to employ people or towards marketing costs, business development, and so on.

“We also point entrepreneurs and companies in the direction of other supports that are available, such as the New Frontiers incubation programme and Innovation Vouchers from other agencies such as Failte Ireland, Intreo, Bord Bia and Microfinance Ireland.”

“For companies with strong growth ambitions, we work hand in hand with Enterprise Ireland on their journey and ensure that they make that contact at an appropriate stage so their development continues to be supported.”

Focus on Exports Helped Kirby Triple Turnover

“We’ve achieved growth in three ways, through strengthening our capabilities, going deeper into our chosen sectors, and through geographic expansion.”

Jimmy Kirby, MD Kirby Group Engineering

Key Takeouts:

  • Kirby provides full mechanical and electrical engineering contracting services, as well as specialist voltage design and construction services to clients.
  • Has achieved growth in three ways, through strengthening capabilities, going deeper into chosen sectors and through geographic expansion.
  • Enterprise Ireland has supported Kirby to develop its international operations.

Case Study: Kirby

Developing export markets has helped Kirby treble its business in just seven years.

Founded in 1964, Kirby provides full mechanical and electrical engineering contracting services, as well as specialist high voltage (HV) and medium voltage (MV) design and construction services, to clients across several key sectors. These include data centre, life sciences, industrial manufacturing, commercial, petrochemical, and substations and renewables.

With the support of Enterprise Ireland, Kirby operates in a number of markets including the UK and Northern Europe.

Growing international operations

“In 2008, we began our first overseas work in the UK, initially focusing on the pharmaceutical, industrial manufacturing and power sectors,” says Jimmy Kirby. “Originally, we were invited in by one of our large multinational power sector customers to deliver projects for them; then we successfully expanded into the other sectors.”

Kirby has continued to develop and grow its international operations.

“Over the past seven years, we have almost tripled our turnover, from €58 million in 2010 to €167 million for 2017. To meet our growth targets, we increased employee numbers significantly. We currently directly employ over 700 people.”

Kirby has strengthened its management team too. “Earlier this year we announced a number of key appointments at senior level to support growth and success,” Jimmy Kirby says.

The company has recently announced further expansion in its international operations to include the new geographical area of the Nordics. “Expansion into the Nordics market is proving to be a successful development for us, having secured a data centre project and with more in the pipeline. We have the capability to execute projects in Ireland, UK, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium, and are currently developing the capability to execute projects in Norway, Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg.”

Preparing for further growth

The business is poised for significant further growth. “Kirby has excellent future prospects due to the strength of our management team, our staff and associated capabilities, our strategy formulation and implementation capability, and our customer value proposition.”

The company has developed an in-house, integrated project execution process called the Kirby Way. “At the core of the Kirby Way is efficient and successful project delivery” explains Jimmy Kirby, Kirby Group Managing Director.

“It involves understanding our clients’ needs, collaboration, building high-performance teams and supporting our clients through every stage of the project,” 

Strengthening its systems and processes is helping too. “Lean practices, such as standardisation, have become important components of our project delivery, bringing significant value to us and our customers,” says Kirby.

Staff members have taken ownership of continuous improvement. “We operate an Innovation Suggestion Scheme with participation encouraged among all of our workforce. This approach allows us to encourage a culture of innovation and continuously generate innovative and lean ideas from our site and office employees. The suggestions are focused around introducing efficiencies into the business through cycle-time reduction.”

Recent project wins include Gemini Data Centre and Substation in Dublin and Kilgallioch Windfarm Substation in the UK. Kirby is currently working on a confidential data centre site in Sweden, a biopharma facility in Meath, and Wembley Park Energy Centre in the UK, among many others.

Three ways to achieve growth

“We have achieved growth in three ways, through strengthening our capabilities, going deeper into our chosen sectors, and through geographic expansion,” Kirby says. “To ensure that there is a continuous pipeline of projects, it is important to track the investment levels in our selected geographies and sectors.”

Working with Enterprise Ireland is helping. “Enterprise Ireland has supported Kirby to develop its international operations over the years in a number of ways. It has done so by providing market research support, local market information and advice on new markets, providing access to its global network of contacts, and hosting networking events and seminars – such as a construction seminar held in Stockholm recently.”

Jimmy Kirby personally participated on Enterprise Ireland’s International Selling Programme in 2010, and went on to do a Masters Degree in DIT afterwards. The company also availed of a Market Access Grant, “which was a valuable support in our internationalisation efforts,” says Kirby.

Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Competitiveness supports here.

Bellurgan Precision beats the challenge of staying competitive

“Enterprise Ireland has been so supportive over the years, it’s not just about money. What they do is open your eyes to opportunities.”

CEO, Stephen Hogg

Key Takeouts:

  • Bellurgan Precision specialises in solving complex design and manufacturing issues, focusing on the medical device and aerospace sectors among others.
  • Competitors in low cost countries meant that Bellurgan must continually add value to their offer in order to stay ahead of the curve.
  • Project support from Enterprise Ireland enabled them to invest in new technologies and training in order to build capabilities and reduce production times.

Case Study: Bellurgan Precision

Components produced by Bellurgan Precision at its state-of-the-art facility on the Cooley Peninsula can be found in a range of high-tech products, ranging from medical devices, aircraft parts, and electronic systems, developed by some of the world’s leading manufacturers.

Having recently celebrated 40 years in business, the family-owned company employs close to 100 people, generating worldwide sales of €12 million, and is targeting annual growth of between 15% and 20% over the next three to four years.

For companies in the sector, remaining competitive is a challenge. Bellurgan’s success is built on a combination of engineering expertise, quality, and an unwavering commitment to customer service. The company’s focus on operational excellence enabled it to add value beyond simply competing on cost, as Bellurgan Precision invests in innovative technologies, processes and skills to get ahead of international competition.

Selling engineering expertise

“We don’t really have a product,” says CEO, Stephen Hogg. “We sell engineering expertise. Our success is built on deep engineering capability and quality standards. We have an excellent team committed to solving complex design to manufacturing problems. When a customer comes and sits down to talk about the product they want us to make for them, they often leave two days later, having found that there are far fewer parts involved than they first thought.”

This is very important in the highly regulated medical devices areas.

“70% of the cost of a product is locked in at the design stage,” Hogg explains. “We help our customers cut out costs at that point. These products have to be approved by the FDA and so do the supply chains. It’s very hard to change the design of a product once it has been approved.”

The company’s principal focus is on the medical devices and aerospace sectors, with many of the world’s top companies on its highly impressive customer list.

“This is largely driven by demographics,” Hogg points out. “The global population is expanding, and there is strong growth in the middle classes, in countries like India and China, which is increasing demand for services such as healthcare and travel.


Competing against low-cost countries

“We are either a Gold partner or number one supplier with all of our customers, who are all global multinationals,” he continues. “Virtually everything we do is exported. Less than 1% is used on domestic market. We might sell products to multinationals based in Ireland, but they will ultimately integrate them into products which are shipped around the world.”

“Remaining competitive is a constant challenge. “We have to compete against low-cost countries, and this means continuously adding value for our customers and investing in new technologies, processes and skills to stay ahead,” says Hogg.

Support from Enterprise Ireland for continuous improvement

Enterprise Ireland has been so supportive over the years,” he adds. “It’s not just about money. What they do is open your eyes to opportunities. They took us on visits to world-class players like the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. We were able to hear world-class clinicians talking about their work and this was a great help to us. Enterprise Ireland also strongly supported our continuous improvement programme – we just couldn’t compete without that.”

One example of that programme was the implementation of lights out manufacturing. This allows a highly sophisticated machine to run 24/7 while only being attended to for one shift a day. The pallets are set up by the operative and automated process takes over after that.

“We have also bought a robotic system to help place parts and that gives us the flexibility to make better use of high-end machines”, Hogg adds. “Enterprise Ireland has also helped us with our investment in these technologies. We have participated in a number of different Enterprise Ireland programmes, with the most recent one being Lean. It impacts everything. The great thing is that it is open to everyone to get involved. Everybody can take part and make suggestions for improvements and solve problems. It changes the way people approach problem-solving. It’s hard to put a value on that.”

Looking to the future, he says that growth will come from existing and new market segments and building strong relationships with customers.

“You have to be out in the market all the time, continuously planting acorns. You can’t just sit back on what you have. It’s all about relationships and we get great support from Enterprise Ireland in terms of trying to attack new markets and new market segments.”

Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Competitiveness supports here.

Smurfit Kappa France

Thinking outside the box: how Smurfit Kappa succeeded in France

Opportunity comes to pass not pause – and right now it’s in France. That’s the message from Terry McGivern, Chief Operating Officer of Smurfit Kappa in France.

McGivern was speaking at Ambition France, an event recently organised by Enterprise Ireland which included a packed programme of talks, presentations and panel discussions. Ambition France featured companies already succeeding in the French market, businesses looking to do so and expert advisors who can help.

With 4,500 employees in 47 operating companies in France alone, Smurfit Kappa’s success in the market is significant. It made its first foray into France in 1990 with the acquisition of two small box plants.  Its first major deal came in 1994 with the acquisition of Cellulose du Pin, which doubled the size of the company.

France was Smurfit’s third export market at the time, after the UK and US, both of which had been chosen for the language, legal and cultural similarities. “France was down to proximity and market size,” McGivern explained.

“Our company had no specific knowledge of France. Our approach was to buy those two small paper mills and see what happens. It was very much a shot in the dark but it allowed the company to understand the market, the players, dynamics and opportunities. And without this initial investment there would not have been the will or the confidence to do the very large cellulose plant acquisition in 1994,” he said.

From 2008 to 2016 the corrugated industry saw zero growth in France, returning to growth only in 2017.

French market in a positive position

“France has come out of the downturn and is in a positive position,” McGivern said. The economic indicators are strong and the population is growing. Consumer confidence is at its highest level in over 15 years and the PMI (purchasing managers’ index) is at its highest level ever.

Those considering France must however recognise that there is not one France, but rather “a number of very different Frances,” said McGivern. These include the increasingly wealthy Atlantic region taking in Nantes, Brittany and Normandy, the traditional economic powerhouse of Northern France centred around Lille, and the Germanic influenced regions of Alsace and Moselle in the north east.

Heading south, Lyons is one of the most dynamic city in France, he said. Moving along the Mediterranean regions of Provence and the Cote d’Azur brings you to the great industry city Tolouse, centred around Airbus, and on to Bordeaux, “the most dynamic city in terms of population growth,” he said. At the centre is Paris and Ile de France.

“Each region is uniquely different and you need to be aware of those differences, their values and approaches to work. Depending on your market opportunity and where you want to set up, it’s important to tap into the local nuances of that region.”

Wherever you go, be prepared for bureaucracy. “It was created in France”, he said. “Things take longer. There is a form, a department and a process for absolutely everything. There is also a sequence of getting said form and submitting it and if you fall foul of the sequence you are right back at the start again.”

Be aware of social etiquette too. “French society is very hierarchical. This surprised me as a Republic but there are very significant differences to our own Republic,” he said, referring to the importance of what Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede calls “the power distance”.

“This is where Ireland and France are at the opposite ends of the spectrum,” said McGivern. “In France, people may disagree with the authority but they respect the authority. In Ireland, we like having a go at whoever is in power and bringing them down a peg if we can.”

Understand French support for unions, he advised. “French society has a very strong attachment to Les Syndicats despite the fact that only a very small proportion of the population are actually in unions.”

UK businesses can find there is “quite a stretch” to be made in terms of employee and industrial relations when they set up in France. “In Ireland, it’s not such a gap because the social partnership model we have had here over the last 20 years is very beneficial for dealing with union issues in France,” he said.

Indeed, “being Irish is a very significant advantage” in France generally, he said, quoting his former boss Dermot Smurfit. “We never invaded anyone. We have no historical baggage and so are rarely greeted with suspicion. Indeed, our cultural baggage is benevolent, associated with music and literature,” said McGivern.

Those planning on setting up operations there should bear the acronym FARM in mind:

F stands for French locals, or at the very least naturalised people. “To succeed in France you cannot have a leadership team made up of non-French people. France is a very proud nation, don’t lose sight of that.”

A is for advice. “Seek it from Enterprise Ireland and from professionals in France who can hold your hand through the bureaucracy,” he said.

R is for resilience. “At 66m people the size of the prize is very significant and growing. France is also our nearest EU neighbour from May 2019. There will be setbacks but double down and stick to your business plan.”

Finally, M is for Macron, France’s reforming new leader. “It’s not so much his policies but the confidence he is giving back to France that is of note. Channel that attitude of possibility and greatness to your own business and you stand ready to succeed in France,” he said.

“Remember, opportunity comes to pass, not pause and there is a great opportunity at this time to be trying to enter into the French market.”

For more information on doing business in France download our Going Global guide to France.

Tips for Success in Germany

Caroline Kelly, sales director at Burnside Autocyl, shares her top pieces of advice for Irish companies keen to tap into the German market.

• Be confident about your product or service before going into the market. We have always been focused on the parameters of our product offering – we make hydraulic cylinders with a bore diameter of 32mm up to 200mm and up to eight metres in length. We offer a wide range of products, but it is still finite at the same time. Get feedback from market experts and existing players in Germany on your product – Enterprise Ireland can help to arrange this.

• You need to convince potential customers in Germany of the three C’s – i.e. that you are capable, competent and committed – and able to interface with them on all levels. Many companies are good at selling, but not so many are good at both selling and supporting clients on a technical level. After-sales service is hugely important as you are looking at a relationship that goes on for years – in our case for the lifespan of the machine incorporating our hydraulic cylinders.

• When you are lucky enough to win German customers, mind them like gemstones. They are hard to win so you don’t want to do anything to lose them. Bad news travels faster than good, so try to exceed what they might expect from suppliers on their own doorstep. Be as good, if not better, than local suppliers in terms of quality and consistency of service.

Learn more about doing business in the Eurozone with the support of Enterprise Ireland.