From idea to ambitious business: How the Competitive Start Fund helped Examfly take off  

 Turning a good idea into a viable business takes time, hard work and support – this is what Deirdre Lyons, founder and CEO, discovered on her two-year journey with online teaching tool start-up, Examfly. As one of the recent recipients of Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF), Examfly has grown from a good idea into a promising business with big ambitions.

“Ideas on their own only have a limited value; you need the business apparatus to wrap around the idea, and that requires focus, time and help,” explains Deirdre.

Support through Enterprise Ireland’s CSF was a real turning point for the company as it allowed us to refine the product and gave us the time to research and develop the market.” 

Within six to eight months we had a major client signed up and will be launching our platform with a second client this month.

 

Small beginnings to big ambitions

The story of Examfly began, like many start-ups, when Deirdre spotted a gap in the market for a teaching resource to help students with professional tax and accountancy exams. A former lecturer and grinds teacher with the Tax Institute of Ireland, Deirdre could see how people were struggling with the material and how it was taught.

“The people who are studying these subjects are working full-time, generally as trainees of big firms, and they find it hard to fit in study and to test themselves on their knowledge. These are dense and technical areas; we’re also in a time of diminishing attention span, so it’s harder to settle down to this sort of material.

“Our solution is a set of interactive online tools that teach the material using animated videos which provides a punchy, fun and visual way to learn the material. Then we use game-based tools for testing your knowledge, building your confidence in the subject and understanding where you might be struggling.

“These subjects are not just about learning but they’re also about skill acquisition. In other words, unlike school exams where you’d just spit out knowledge that you have taken in, with these exams you have to apply the knowledge in context. Our tools recognise this: they are are quick, interactive, fun and backed by insights from education psychology and technology that furthers the student’s progress rather than diminishing their attention span even further.

“Covid-19 accelerated the move to online learning, but it also revealed that not all online learning is created equally, so we’ve had a lot of engagement from big firms recently. The failure rate in these subjects is as much as 50%. The feedback on Examfly is that it’s more enjoyable, painless and effective to study using our tools than the traditional book and/or talking-head PowerPoint.”

Another advantage is the data that this software gathers. “We use the data we get on progress and potential pain points to give the firms insights about how the students are doing, where their strengths lie and what they might be struggling with. This allows us to adapt the learning journey for the student too, and on a collective basis it helps us improve the learning experience.”

And for Examfly, the sky really is the limit – this software has potential for many other subjects as well as updating skill sets and professional development.

 

The power of support

Deirdre began to develop her idea through research, looking at the psychology of education, and the difference between learning and skill acquisition. Then, to get the time and the support to see if her idea could turn into a viable business, she embarked on Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme in November 2018; this is an early start-up programme that gives innovators six months to explore their idea.

“By the time I finished New Frontiers, I had the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) ready, I received a lot of good feedback and I really felt that the idea had potential. I had left my job so I needed either a big customer or some sort of investment to continue with the idea, as well as the sort of supports offered in the Enterprise Ireland ecosystem.”

“I felt the CSF was a great fit for us, and winning it allowed us to develop the product and the business further. In essence, it gave us time.

While the money and support offered by the CSF was beneficial, Deirdre felt that the application process also helped advance her business. “The application process is very rigorous but it’s also a great exercise in working out your business model. It really interrogates both the idea and the business, and your plan for execution. It forces you to think very ambitiously. The pitching process is hard, because it comes down to being able to express everything you want for your business in a concise but exciting way. You also need to stand over it for the follow-up questions. It’s very good practice for speaking to angel investors, or any other investors further down the line.

“The CSF is a great way to take that next step; the value that you get from this is far more than just the money, it’ll change your confidence level, your ambition. Even if you don’t get it the first time around, your business and your idea will be a lot stronger for having gone through the process.”

Apply for Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund – find the application form and eligibility criteria here.

 

 

 

Supporting Regional Development Critical To Future Jobs Growth

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New African Dawn: Launch of the Continental Free Trade Agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish tech and expertise to help drive global offshore wind growth

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

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

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

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

Cluster Launch and Irish Capability

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

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

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

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

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

Cluster initiatives

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Market Watch – A view from Manchester

Key Takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Sustaining Enterprise Fund helped Oishii Foods reimagine their business

“Enterprise Ireland offers advice to businesses, as well as hard data. They help build roadmaps that allow you to plan ahead. They are a very valuable partner to have.”


Ciara Troy, Founder, Oishii Foods

 

Key Takeouts

    • Oishii Foods is an Irish producer of healthy and convenient Asian-inspired cuisine. Their retail business was hard-hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • As a result of interrupted business, Oishii began to reimagine their business strategy. During this time, they were informed of Enterprise Ireland’s Sustaining Enterprise Fund.
    • Oishii Foods, with the help of their finance mentor and business advisor, were able to qualify for SEF, giving them the ability not only to survive this crisis, but to plan for an even bigger future.

    Case Study: Oishii Foods

    Ciara Troy is the founder of Oishii Foods, a Dublin-based producer of Japanese and Asian-inspired cuisine. Until 2020, they specialised selling large quantities of sushi directly to retail outlets. In March, when COVID-19 reached Ireland, everything changed.

    “Suddenly, stores were closed and the demand for fresh sushi just wasn’t there anymore,” says Troy. “Consumer needs were changing, so we had to shift our focus.”

    When the country first went into lockdown, food production at Oishii Foods was reduced to one main nationwide account which was the only constant during this challenging time. The company applied all the Covid guidelines & remained operating from their approved food premises in Smithfield. With lockdown restrictions and new social distancing measures in place, the business was forced to reevaluate operations. Instead of gathering all of their employees in the factory together, the staff began to work in shifts, through the night as well as during the day. The Oishii team also looked for new ways to distribute their product. Since consumers were not visiting food shops for sushi, they decided to bring the sushi directly to consumers. Using Deliveroo, Oishii kept their brand on consumers’ radar. However, Troy says the team always knew this would not be their long term solution.

    Change of Plans

    Once it became apparent that the global pandemic would transform business as they knew it—for much longer than just the initial lockdown—Troy says her team began to brainstorm more permanent solutions to their immediate problems.

    “We knew it would be important to pivot the business in a meaningful way—a way that would see us into the future.” Troy said.

    Unlike some businesses, transferring the business to an online retailer wasn’t an option for Oishii. Their Japanese food products are fresh and perishable, which means they need to go from production to consumer in rapid succession. Door-to-door sales was not a viable strategy for growth, either, especially because of the extra waste it incurs. Oishii is working toward Origin Green membership, which centres on environmental sustainability and green practices. This commitment to reduced waste is at the heart of the business and was, of course, taken into consideration as the team looked to future plans. The most pressing question: How would the business survive this transition with sales suffering as they were?

     

    Outside Help

    Troy says that, thanks to an ongoing relationship with Enterprise Ireland, Oishii Foods was appointed a Business Advisor, who was a strong support for the company.

    “Our advisor explained the various support mechanisms that were available to us,” says Troy. “This person-to-person contact was crucial.” Troy said.

    Enterprise Ireland assigned Oishii Foods a strategic & finance mentor. Working closely with the Oishii team, reports and forecasting were executed and advice was given on everything from operations to marketing. The goal was to ensure stability. During this time, the finance mentor and business advisor passed along details about the Sustaining Enterprise Fund. They recommended that Troy consider the benefits of such a generous grant and how it might enable Oishii Foods to bridge the gap as they worked to reposition the business.

    “Troy recalled, “We went over the details of the SEF and, although it did involve some work on our part, it was very much worth it. This grant will be a game changer for our business.”

     

    The Future of Oishii Foods

    Oishii Foods was approved as an SEF recipient. Troy says they plan to use the funding to strengthen the backbone of the business. She hopes to evaluate and improve processes, fill gaps in their management team, and, most importantly, expand the business by securing high-spec premises that will allow major growth over the next five years. She expects most of the grant money will go towards fit-out and capital expenditure for their new location.

    “This is really exciting,” says Troy. “This business was my first baby! We have been inching our way forward. COVID forced us to stop and consider what our strategy would be and where we would go next.”

    “This is really exciting,” says Troy. “This business was my first baby! We have been inching our way forward. COVID forced us to stop and consider what our strategy would be and where we would go next.”

    As a result of the global crisis, the Oishii team was able to pause and solidify their vision. They also began to identify and reach out to new customers, discovering possibilities for new retail accounts. In the past, Oishii has been strong in the “food-to-go” space. Troy says they hope to extend the brand into the wider chilled convenience category. If they can achieve fresh, longer-life options suitable for central distribution, she believes they will have opportunities for export, too. Most importantly, Troy wants Oishii Foods to stay true to its roots as a local business focussed on making fresh, quality products for consumers to enjoy.

     

    The Benefits of Support

    Looking back, Troy says this year was full of challenges, but she has found so much support in her industry, the wider business community, and from Enterprise Ireland.

    “I have an entrepreneurial spirit and am very resilient, but I was relieved when we were approved for funding from Enterprise Ireland,” she says. “They believed in our business, which gave us new confidence in ourselves.”

    Troy says she and her team have felt reinvigorated by Enterprise Ireland’s support, pointing out that running a small business can often feel like being out at sea. She and the whole Oishii team found comfort in having a larger enterprise to rely on for advice, support, and funding. As a result, she says they are ready to bring their business to the next level.

    Click here to learn more about applying for the SEF. Contact your Development Advisor or our Business Response Unit to find out more.

    Neil Cooney

    Market Watch – A view from Canada

    Market Watch Canada Neil Cooney

    Key Takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Webinars – Brexit Customs Briefing Series

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

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

    Register Below:

    How the Sustaining Enterprise Fund enabled Wisetek to innovate for future success

    “Enterprise Ireland offers advice to businesses, as well as hard data. They help build roadmaps that allow you to plan ahead. They are a very valuable partner to have.”

     

    Tom Delahunty, Global Operations Director, Wisetek

    Key Takeouts

      • Wisetek, a global leader in IT asset disposition, reuse, and manufacturing services was deemed an essential business during the global pandemic of 2020. In some ways, this was positive, but it also made it hard to cut costs in a time of financial insecurity. Like many businesses, they were facing new challenges.
      • As long-term Enterprise Ireland partners, Wisetek reached out to express interest in the Sustaining Enterprise Fund. They worked together with Enterprise Ireland to organise documentation and successfully applied for funding.
      • Wisetek was able to use this additional capital to maintain important R&D programmes, enabling them to innovate for future success. Rather than falling behind or simply treading water, Wisetek is adapting and evolving.

      Case Study: Wisetek

      Tom Delahunty is the Global Operations Director for Wisetek, a global leader in IT asset disposition, reuse, and manufacturing services. They offer a circular economy approach to IT by managing the supply, distribution, destruction, and recycling of data and equipment. With customers and facilities dotted around the globe, Delahunty says news of business disruptions due to Covid-19 started to reach their team in February.

      “Every day, you would make a plan for what was next,” says Delahunty. “And then the next day, everything would change.

      He says the team scrambled in those early weeks of the pandemic to figure out where they stood and plan for an uncertain future. Wisetek was deemed an essential business. Delahunty says this was both a blessing and a curse. To keep things running, the business maintained some physical presence in all of their facilities, which meant it was hard to keep costs down. Much of their focus shifted from business operations to keeping customers and staff safe. Following health guidelines of local governments also meant a large portion of their staff began to work from home.

      “As an IT company, our culture suited the shift,” Delahunty says. “The transfer was seamless from a technological perspective, but we had to overcome the same communication challenges as every other business.

       

      Looking for Solutions

      Once Wisetek reconfigured operations to suit lockdowns and Covid safety guidelines, management began to work on a financial review. At the beginning of the crisis, the company’s new business pipeline was essentially put on hold. They did not lose many existing customers, but projects were delayed. Still, some customers remained active and Delahunty says the team felt fortunate to have even a reduced level of business coming in. Despite Wisetek’s “glass half full” perspective, it became clear that revenue was down and, in order to future-proof their operation, they would need to start looking for alternative sources of capital.

      “Initially,” says Delahunty, “asking for help wasn’t our first port of call. Before anything else, we had to stabilize our business and make tough decisions about reducing costs.

      Around this time, Enterprise Ireland announced the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, which Delahunty says drew attention immediately. Wisetek has a longstanding relationship with Enterprise Ireland, starting with their days as a High-Potential Start-Up. The two entities have maintained open lines of communication and Wisetek did not hesitate to reach out to their DA for information and advice during a difficult time. They began to work closely with Enterprise Ireland to make the SEF application. They had their cash projections ready to go, so Delahunty says it was merely a case of collating existing information into the correct format.

      “Delahunty says, “I’ll admit, there’s a bit of work in the process, but we couldn’t have spent our time more productively. SEF has awarded us significant and important funding.”

       

      A Positive Relationship Pays Off

      Being granted the SEF gave Wisetek the working capital to not only maintain operations, but also to invest in the company’s future. Delahunty says that without this assistance from Enterprise Ireland, the business might have faced further reductions, including the halt of internal development programmes. Thanks to this funding, they were able to keep their Research & Development arm up and running.

      “Enterprise Ireland gave us confidence in our existing balances to support the business and, as a result, we have continued to develop and grow,” says Delahunty.

      The  funding from Enterprise Ireland enabled Wisetek to launch new programmes that would otherwise have been considered discretionary. Now, these initiatives are paying dividends. Delahunty says that, over the years, the relationship between Wisetek and Enterprise Ireland has afforded their company not just capital, but also education, confidence, and networking capabilities.

      “Enterprise Ireland offers advice to businesses, as well as hard data,” says Delahunty. “They help build roadmaps that allow you to plan ahead. They are a very valuable partner to have.

       

      Focusing on the Future

      Delahunty says he believes the events of 2020 will ultimately afford Wisetek with new business. His team has learned a lot about the importance of adaptability. He says the most important take-aways have been to keep strategies agile, reach out for help when you need it, and do your best to find opportunity amidst crisis. In business, he says, it’s important to innovate and provide solutions, even in a challenging climate.

      “What happened in 2020 is unfortunate, but Ireland has weathered worse storms. We will make the best of it and keep evolving. If you’re not growing, you’re going backwards.

      Click here to learn more about applying for the SEF. Contact your Development Advisor or our Business Response Unit to find out more.

       

      Evolve UK Podcast – Retail – in conversation with Validify’s CEO

      Enterprise Ireland’s Evolve UK podcast series shares market insights to help Irish businesses identify opportunities across the UK.

      Allyson Stephen, Enterprise Ireland UK’s Market Advisor for Consumer Retail, sat down with Fergal O’Mullane, CEO of UK retail tech platform Validify, to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the platform and where the sector might be in the coming months.

       

       

       

       

      Evolve UK Podcast – Digital Technologies – meet the team

      Enterprise Ireland’s Evolve UK podcast series shares market insights to help Irish businesses identify opportunities across the UK.

      Every month, we will be bringing you our ‘Meet the Team’ podcast segment. In these episodes, you will get to know our sector teams on a personable level and find out more about the clients and sub-sectors they work with.

      This episode introduces our Digital Technologies team of Padraic Geraghty and Sarah McNabb.