Cork Company of the Year: Profiling the SME contenders

In the second of a four-part series looking at the finalists for the Cork Chamber Company of the Year Awards, we profile the contenders in the SME category
Cork Company of the Year: Profiling the SME contenders

Workers at Reliance Automation with one the robotic devices they supply. The company is one of the shortlisted firms.

Reliance bringing future technology to Irish firms today 

Reliance is a fourth-generation Cork family business that was formed in 1921 but is today at the cutting edge of robotics providing automation solutions to other companies.

Peter Creighton, Managing Director of Cork firm Reliance Automation.
Peter Creighton, Managing Director of Cork firm Reliance Automation.

Initially, the firm operated as a sole trader and then as a limited company in 1925. In another strong link with Cork's past, the company began operating from the back of a Model-T Truck. Since then, the company has evolved significantly.

Reliance has been selling bearings since its inception however today, the business is far more. The company re-branded as ‘Reliance’and has significantly extended product ranges. Today Reliance is the largest nationwide supply partner of a wide range of engineering products, related services and advanced automation solutions to both industry and agriculture in Ireland. Their core products they distribute include bearings, gearboxes, electric motors and lubrication. The company also services all manufacturing and agricultural sectors directly through a network of established resellers nationwide.

The business manages its logistics function from three locations in Cork, Dublin and Limerick consisting of a combined 45,000 sq ft of warehousing. In January they opened a new state of the art facility in Dublin including an innovative automation hub where they can show off their robotic and automation technologies.

Customers and engineers are invited to visit the hub to experience the automation technologies dedicated to manufacturing. As a result, customer satisfaction, customer retention and sales are key KPIs for the business. In addition to the external sales team feeding back information, the business conducts annual customer surveys to evaluate their performance.

In addition to the automation hub, they are currently setting up a unique website platform for automation tenders to be posted. This new approach to automation projects will streamline a process and will bring integrators and industrial end-users closer together.

Reliance has invested heavily over the last three years to provide a modern infrastructure to facilitate growth. The business has invested in IT, building infrastructure and people to push the business to new heights. During that time it has also purchased, upgraded and moved to modern facilities in both Limerick and Dublin beyond its head office in Little Island in Cork. It has grown to become the largest automation supply partner in Ireland. The company employs 45 people.

Reliance has a strong relationship with the life science manufacturers providing a managed procurement and storage function which includes compliance standards being continually met, a technical advisory service for both sophisticated technologies and on-site applications.

Emma lacey of Reliance said: "Reliance has worked hard for the last number of years for the business to achieve significant new heights and all the staff of Reliance are absolutely thrilled that we have been selected as a finalist in the SME section of this year’s Cork Chamber Company of the year awards."

Starcircle helping the world’s top companies hire talent at scale 

Taking a unique approach to solving the critical talent shortages facing companies today, Starcircle is a rapidly growing recruitment company helping firms to find candidates and hire at scale.

James Galvin CEO and founder of recruitment firm StarCircle.
James Galvin CEO and founder of recruitment firm StarCircle.

Informed by data and guided by human expertise, the company has already helped some of the world’s biggest brands including Google, Cisco, Meta and Amazon.

Starcircle is already achieving a big impact on a global scale. Last year, they doubled their workforce and turnover and announced plans to create a further 100 new jobs. This growth has been enabled by the talent pool in Cork. The company is proudly headquartered in Cork located in the city on MacCurtain Street but also has offices in the US and Asia.

CEO James Galvin said the company is aligned to how talent acquisition has become a top priority for CEOs across the globe. He point to the fact that in the US alone there is more than 10 million job openings.

It is particularly successful at supporting clients who need to recruit talent at scale whether it is as a result of significant scale-up or as part of diversity hiring initiatives. The international market is a key focus for Starcircle’s continued business growth. “The big challenge is that over 85% of the talent pool is passive and not easily identified,” he said. “We’re changing the way that top companies engage with talent. We go beyond job descriptions to identify high potential candidates that would otherwise have gone overlooked.” While constantly improving and pioneering, Starcircle said it remains grounded in its ethos and mission for inclusion, diversity, equality and corporate governance. This year it introduced the formation of a Board of Management and has commissioned Deloitte to complete its first consolidated audit. It has also built out its leadership team. It also recently welcomed a significant investment from a local businessperson who recognises the potential that Starcircle represents.

After just the first month of 2022, it is already on track to exceed its budget and growth trajectory for the year. Locally, Starcirle is deeply invested, in every way, in its local roots in Cork. The company has a keen vision to be part of the vibrant culture of the city and was passionate to restore, repurpose and reimagine the iconic Thompson House building on McCurtain Street, to become its global headquarters.

Diversity and equality are also central to their mission - demonstrated through their hiring policies to create inclusive working environments through flexible working which particularly supports those with autism and neurodiversity. Gender equality is a key focus also - Starcircle’s leadership team is 40% female.

“Cork is a city on the rise, ranking among the top cities in Europe for economic potential,” James said. “With so many vibrant SME companies in the area, we feel honoured to be considered for this award. The business community is proud and supportive of SMEs, and we are lucky to have such depth of talent in the region”

Simply Blue Group paving the way for radical transformation 

Solving our future energy needs in a sustainable way has become a critical goal for the world.

At the forefront of this effort are companies like the Simply Blue Group (SBG). They are an early-stage developer of blue economy projects in floating offshore wind, wave energy and low-impact aquaculture. Headquartered in Cork City, they have offices in Dublin, Edinburgh, Pembroke, Newquay, Oregon and Hamburg. The company currently employ 63 staff, up five-fold over the past 18 months.

Dr Val Cummins, Director of the Simply Blue Group.
Dr Val Cummins, Director of the Simply Blue Group.

SBG have a global pipeline of 9GW of floating offshore wind projects. In Ireland and the British Isles, they have 3GW of floating offshore wind projects, partnered with Shell New Energies (Ireland), Total Energies (Wales) and Subsea 7 (Scotland). They are also developing wave energy off County Clare and a low-impact aquaculture project in Scotland, using state-of-the art waste capture technology.

A flagship development from Simply Blue is the Emerald Floating Wind project that will be located around the former Kinsale Gas Fields. Another is the Western Star project which will be located at least 35km off the west coast of Co Clare. Both projects will have a capacity of 1.35gw, enough to power 1,145,000 homes each. Energy giant Shell has entered an agreement with Simply Blue for a share in both projects.

Their efforts off the Cork coast to deliver offshore wind are paving the way for one of the most radical transformations in the region, not seen since the IDA promotion of Ringaskiddy for pharmaceuticals. In 2021, international investor Octopus Renewables invested €15m in the company taking a 24% stake highlighting the future potential for the firm and its future projects. SBG is also paving the way in the US in terms of offshore wind and have carried out supply chain studies in the UK.

Their business model is unique and their customers are joint venture partners. Their ability to drive successful partnerships with these global companies reflects SBG's commitment to excellence in their project development process, including their approach to project management, engineering and consenting.

Director of the Simply Blue Group, Dr Val Cummins who is Project Managing Director of the Emerald and Western Star projects said: "Being a finalist in the Cork Company of the Year awards is a huge honour, given the exceptional pedigree of businesses operating from the thriving hub of Cork."

"This is a ‘coming of age’ milestone for Simply Blue Group, as we have been scaling rapidly, growing our talented and passionate team from our headquarters in Cork’s Docklands. Being shortlisted acknowledges our success in partnering with some of the largest companies in the world, and in raising investment from Octopus Renewables. We are delighted that the Chamber recognises the importance of the work of Simply Blue Group, as we work with the oceans to address the climate, energy and food security crisis worldwide."

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