Ciara McDonnell talks to three entrepreneurs about their first year of business, and the lessons they learned along the way.
Broadcaster Jonathan Healy says he set up Healy Consulting, a communications consultancy agency in response to the ever-changing nature of the media agency. The experience, he says, has taught him to be braver in his career.
“I worked for a decade at Newstalk, but there is always uncertainty around presenting radio programmes, so I seized the opportunity to flip to the other side of the coin. I have, at a minimum, another 25 years to run before I retire, so I decided to use my skill set in a different way.
Moving into PR and media training was a natural progression, but I still keep the broadcasting flame lit by working as a contributor to various media organisations, including Newstalk, RTÉ and Cork’s RedFM.
In my previous life, I spent too long wondering whether it was the right thing to do, and whether people would take me seriously, before I actually got on with doing it. Up until last year, I would have considered myself a ‘lifelong employee’, and would have been terrified about going out on my own. It turns out to have been a wonderful motivator that has enabled me to work with some amazing clients.
Our company is growing fast. I now have a team around me, all of whom have journalistic backgrounds, and we are working on telling the stories of our clients in a relatable and engaging way. Equally, I really enjoy the media training side of the business. There’s nothing better that seeing someone who was riddled with anxiety learning how they can better control a conversation. I always get a kick out of it, no matter how many times it happens.
There is one piece of advice I would give to anybody who is starting in this industry, and that is keep talking to people. Keep talking to people. When you start out, you’ll have a lot of cups of coffee, hear a lot of positive things, but end up hanging on the telephone. The phone will eventually ring. And opportunity might lie in the least likely place!”
BEARA OCEAN GIN
Beara Ocean Gin celebrated its first year in business in October by announcing plans to distribute to France, Poland and Holland adding to the current export markets of the UK, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Jersey and Norway. Their success, says co-founder John Power, is down to their commitment to adaptability.
“Some people thought we were mad opening a distillery when we are so far off the main distribution routes. However, we are proving that when you have a special or unique product it doesn’t matter where you are as people will seek it out and support it.
Earlier this year we launched our Pink gin with the addition of cranberry and rosewater as well as launching a miniature 50ml bottle for wedding favours and tasters and we look forward to extending our offering further with new products coming on line over the next few months.
Growing a business like ours is a building process. At the end of the day, every country that we go into has different rules and regulations and we have to adapt and be able to adapt to different circumstances everywhere. The market is constantly changing, and we have to be able to change and adapt with it.
The drinks market in Ireland is getting very crowded and I don’t think any spirit producer here could survive without expanding. It’s a no-brainer for us. People that are involved in the whiskey industry have focused mainly until now on the US and that continues to be a big focus. Because of this, it’s spilled over into the gin as well.
The local enterprise office should unquestionably be the first stop for anyone who is starting a business. We were lucky in that the family members involved in Beara Ocean Gin have come from different businesses over the last 20 years and that brought a certain amount of history and experience. If you have a business head, you can always adapt but in any case, the Enterprise office was invaluable. For example, in marketing we avail of advice from different people that are under the Enterprise office umbrella. They have a pool of experts in different areas, be it marketing, be it exports, be it equipment and they are there to be utilised.
Ours is a craft product and like any niche product, the knock on effect is that it’s more expensive to produce in comparison to the products that are on the market in huge volumes. Our products cost is obviously going to be greater, but we it is going to be a consistently excellent product, which because we are producing it ourselves, we can guarantee personally.”
Headed up by Cork woman Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy, ApisProtect is an agtech innovator, which uses sensor technology to monitor honeybee colonies.
In November, the company announced the investment of seed round financing which will allow them to expand and create 25 new jobs.
“When I qualified in electronic engineering at UCC, I wanted to find a really interesting application of the kind of technology I was working on to do my PHD in. That’s when I started hearing about bees and all the problems that they are having. Up to half of the bees in countries all over the world were dying and they had all these problems like colony collapse disorder and even simple problems like starvation.
I think that there has been a global realisation about the bees and what they do for us over the last few years, and that’s great.
So things like blueberries, apples, almonds and strawberries, which are not only economically important as the main source of income for certain countries, but are really important for the nutrition in our diet. Without bees, we would be down to wheat and meat, essentially.
Bee keeping hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, and I started to investigate sensor applications in bee hives and that’s where the idea for Apis Protect came about. I knew that technology could benefit beekeepers hugely, not just in researching the health of the bees, but that we could use sensor technology to help beekeepers improve their yield.
There’s a programme in UCC called IGNITE, which helps recent graduates move into entrepreneurship. I was an engineer, I had no idea about any kind of accounting or things you need to know to start a business and they really helped me starting out.
We are in the middle of our roll out now and we have 141 sensors in beehives right now on both sides of the Atlantic.
There are three of us on the founding team and while we’ve grown since then, it was essential for us to keep a hold of ourselves as we were growing so rapidly. No matter what, the business that you think you have on the very first day that you are setting out completely changes over time.”