In today’s uncertain world, it is more vital than ever that Irish business takes every possible step to ensure growth and profitability.
Enterprise Ireland, the government organisation responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets, is well aware of that.
“We work in partnership with Irish companies,” says Martin Corkery, Regional Director for South and South East regions. “Our aim is to help them start, grow, innovate and win export sales in global markets. In this way, we support sustainable economic growth, regional development and secure employment.”
Enterprise Ireland’s main priority, he explains, is the achievement of export sales growth from Irish-owned companies. “All our services are geared toward helping Irish companies win international sales.”
The range of services offered is extensive, from funding support through export assistance, guidance on competitiveness, research and development, to making introductions in key international markets.
Indeed, many clients have said that while the funding they received from Enterprise Ireland was helpful, the non-financial assistance, such as introductions to experts, buyers and potential customers, proved most valuable.
Munster, says Martin Corkery, is becoming increasingly attractive as a region for investment for indigenous Irish companies.
“It’s something that should be publicised far more – how our own native businesses are prospering and in the process transforming the villages, towns, cities in which they are based, giving so much employment,” he says.
Plenty of attention, he points out, is given to international companies choosing to locate in Ireland, but what is being done from the inside out, so to speak, is equally remarkable, and points the way to a good business future for our country. And he has so many examples of companies which have grown with the help of Enterprise Ireland.
Spearline, for example, based in Skibbereen, which has developed a phone monitoring system used by no less a giant than Mastercard, to check its international calls and know when one area’s service is down, so that another can be brought it immediately to help.
Founded by Kevin Buckley and Matthew Lawlor in 2003, Spearline and its product have evolved rapidly, and now have offices in several countries, with a constantly increasing workforce.
Then there is Waterford-based Rigney Dolphin, founded in 1990 and now one of Ireland’s leading indigenous Business Process Outsource providers.
These include RelateCare, a healthcare communications consultancy and outsourcing organisation that began nine years ago as joint venture with the Cleveland Clinic in the US.
Today RelateCare works with a number of US hospital groups to ensure people get into hospital efficiently.
For chairman and founder Frank Dolphin, the key to entering the US market is to ensure you have enough resources.
“If you want to build a business, it’s going to take time, a lot of commitment, and a lot of investment,” he said.
It’s long haul, not short.
Enterprise Ireland would agree with that advice wholeheartedly, as would Genesis Automation, a Cork company headquartered in St Petersburg, Florida.
The enterprise traceability and analytics platform provided by Genesis empowers hospitals and suppliers to improve patient safety and optimise their inventory.
Ceramicx Ltd, established for over 25 years in West Cork, has been providing energy efficient solutions from 1994 – mainly for industrial users but also for consumers in the form of infrared heating.
In the last 18 months, Ceramicx has been pursuing similar gains and benefits for the international composites industries, where double digit demand for lightweight materials and structures is helping drive aerospace, automotive, construction and many more sectors. That means more jobs in the local region.
Also Carne, the Kilkenny-based and Irish-founded global provider of fund management company solutions to the asset management industry, recently announced a significant expansion of its Irish operations, creating an additional 250 regional jobs over the next three years.
The expansion is supported by the Department of Business, Enterprise, and Innovation, through Enterprise Ireland.
The company, which currently employs more than 50 people at its constantly expanding financial services centre in Kilkenny, is opening a new financial services centre in Wexford.
The good news doesn’t stop there. Employee communications software company Poppulo is to create 125 jobs in Cork to support its international expansion.
Founded by Irish tech entrepreneur Andrew O'Shaughnessy, Poppulo's software is helping to transform workplace communications and engagement in more than 100 countries.
Over 30% of the largest employers in Europe and 20% of the largest employers in the United States are Poppulo customers.
“Enterprise Ireland has been with us from the start when we were a handful of people and they’re just as committed to our success as we grow,” says O’Shaughnessy.
Supporting home-grown successful indigenous companies so that they can scale is incredibly important.
And Crest Solutions, based at Little Island, is also expanding. Founded in 1998, Crest provides engineering services and solutions to multinational pharma and medical devices clients in Ireland, UK, Europe and the US.
The company has experienced exponential growth over the past two decades, and is now amongst Northern Europe’s leading engineering services partners to Life Sciences companies.
With offices in Cork, Westport and Corby, UK, Crest Solutions invested in a joint venture with Vistalink NV in 2012 and has grown this operation to service the Benelux and Scandinavian regions, with employment growing from 20 people in 2011 to over 135 today.
Now they are on track to hire an additional 80 engineers, project managers, analysts and technicians by year end, with further growth forecast of 100 more roles through to end 2021, successfully internationalising the company’s European operations and reach.
Global Shares, established in West Cork in 2005, has experienced dramatic growth since, with its development of a highly-innovative, cloud-based, global technology platform for private and public companies of all sizes to manage their global employee share plans.
Today more than 300 blue-chip companies with employees in 100 countries use Global Shares to operate their employee share plans.
So well has the company done that in March of this year it opened a Tokyo office. Enterprise Ireland’s Pat O’ Riordan, Director Japan & Korea, commented:
Global Shares’ approach to entering the Japanese market has been exemplary, with its carefully planned and committed approach already yielding important customer wins, reflective of the company’s ambition to scale its business significantly in the Asia Pacific region.
VR Education, based in Waterford, takes learning to an entirely different level, through virtual reality (VR) software and technology, delivering a fully-immersive virtual learning experience. Its online virtual social learning and presentation platform, ENGAGE, provides a platform for creating, sharing and delivering proprietary and third-party VR content for educational and corporate training purposes.
The US is particularly interested in this, says CEO David Whelan, primarily because "it’s a human-centered platform, enabling users to interact with each other experientially, in much the same way we would in the real world”.
For example, Shenandoah University is using ENGAGE with a partner to train intellectually-challenged clients in job interview skills.
One of the clients rarely communicates vocally but when he logged into ENGAGE via an embodied avatar, he shocked everybody when he completely opened up, bringing tears to those who witnessed the transformation.
Now Shenandoah is about to create the first degrees in Virtual Reality Design.
Looking at all these success stories, there is clearly a very strong success rate in technology providers. Why is this? David Whelan of VR has no hesitation in explaining that.
“I believe Irish companies benefit from strong state support, which enables them to invest in the necessary R&D to develop products and services that can compete and excel on the world stage. This support allows Irish companies to work in a collaborative environment where commercial, educational and Governmental entities work in tandem towards a common goal.”
All credit to Enterprise Ireland.
And the numbers keep growing, the new kids coming on, as Martin Corkery happily points out: “We have had so many small start-ups in the last ten years. We should really be putting their names up in lights, giving them the credit they so richly deserve.”
Of course, he acknowledges, a lot is done by the internationals, and often our own indigenous businesses come into being because of those larger companies, serving their needs. That’s all an integral part of the commercial world.
The key role played by colleges and institutes of technology in supporting these companies is enormous, although not always realised, says Mr Corkery, particularly on the skills agenda.
There is a huge demand for talent, whether it is graduates, ready for the workforce, or the upskilling of existing employees.
Constant interaction between the private and the public sectors, enables the gaps to be identified, where something is required right now, as well as where opportunities will exist in the future. Short-term gaps, for example, can be dealt with through special training courses organised through institutes of education.
Then there is the role played by innovation and research which is so important. Bright brains in a college can examine closely a problem or an issue brought to them from the business sector, and work out a solution which can be put into place. Constant interaction and discussion are key, says Corkery.
Local Enterprise Offices play a key role too, he stresses. “They are absolutely the first-stop-shop for any start-up project. Funded by Local Enterprise Ireland, their great advantage is being right there on the ground, in the local area, working with new business, and we liaise very closely with them. They are a vital part of any county.”
How does Martin Corkery see the future, complicated and unsure as it is, with Brexit on the brink?
“We recognise opportunities as well as challenges,” he says firmly.
Challenges will always be coming at us, but the more we can get companies to look at innovation, new opportunities, new markets, the stronger, the more resilient they will become and the high growth businesses of the future.
"Our role is to help them grow into that future.”