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Business really is a ball for this West Cork thrill seeker

Name: James Duggan
Company Name: Funmanway
Years in Business: Two

IF HE hadn’t been looking for something fun and different to do to celebrate his brother’s forthcoming wedding, Funmanway founder James Duggan might never have come up with the idea for West Cork’s first — and only — adventure land. But then sometimes having a great business idea is only half the battle.

A new scheme to encourage entrepreneurs like James helped him to answer crucial matters such as funding and expertise.

Cork Innovates teamed up with AIB, Cork County and City Enterprise Boards, Cork Chamber, Newstalk and the Irish Examiner to offer a €12,500 bursary to give one lucky start-up business the opportunity to grow and succeed.

“When I was looking for something fun we could do before my brother’s wedding, there was nothing around here,” James says, “That’s when I got the idea to start something myself. I owned 23 acres of land I’d bought before I went off to Australia, and I thought that would be perfect, especially since it had a hill. I got some help from the Leader programme.”

What James had in mind was something known as Zorbing — which originated in New Zealand, the nation who also gave us bungee jumping — and conducted in something that looks very like a giant hamster wheel, otherwise known as a Zorb.

“Get the ride of your life rolling downhill inside a giant 10 foot zorb ball on Europe’s only cornered Globe riding track. You haven’t screamed until you’ve globe rode the Yewtree Hill,” James’s website exhorts.

Funmanway also offers activities such as Paintballing and Kayaking.

“I had the idea in 2010 but of course, there was quite a lot to do to prepare the site, make tracks and all that. My father Michael was sceptical about the whole thing at first, but he set to with my brother and a cousin. I could never have opened Funmanway without him and without their help.

“We opened in 2012, to neighbours and friends. It was all done by word of mouth in the beginning. We had very little money for promotion. And that was a really good way of beginning, ironing out the kinks. It was slow at first but we wanted it that way. It gave us a chance to find our feet, at first, we weren’t getting any stags as I’d expected. It was mostly birthday parties for young teens. But by 2013, we had signs on the road and we were on West Cork own town maps and that made a difference. We began to have a stag party every week.”

But James realised that there was still not enough money in the kitty to promote his up-and-coming business in the way it needed. So when he saw an advertisement in the Irish Examiner, inviting applications for the bursary, he promptly applied, then thought no more of it.

“I applied online and spent three hours re-writing my business plan. I was in New York when I heard that I’d made it to the last three and I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

James had some pretty stiff competition, 70 entries from all over Ireland for a prize, which included €2,000 and business support from AIB, €2,000 worth of services including membership, advertising and training from Cork Chamber and supports such as training, mentoring and workshops from Cork County and City Enterprise Boards and €2,500 advertising from Newstalk and €5,000 worth of advertising from the Irish Examiner.

James couldn’t believe his luck.

“It was amazing, everything I needed to give me that boost just seemed to fall into place. And I learned so much from people who have had years of experience in business. The Irish Examiner was incredible, supportive and full of advice about the best ads to place. And it was a really great moment when I was able to tell my father that I’d won such a prestigious award. I know it helped to put his mind at ease.

“Winning made a huge difference to my business right away, and not just the money and all the advice. It was as if I’d finally arrived and people began to know all about Funmanway and what we do here.

Thankfully, it’s continued that way. Winning the bursary was the single biggest step forward for my business since I started. It has opened new doors and opportunities that I thought I wouldn’t have had access to for years.”

This year’s bursary has been increased to €30,000 and will offer a wide range of services from advertising, financial and legal mentoring to legal services and membership supports, everything, in fact, that a business needs to get started and get ahead.

But James Duggan is by no means resting on his laurels. “It’s great to hear the screams of delight and see the adrenalin coming out of the eyes of the kids when they get out of the ball or win a paintballing exercise.

“What I’m planning now is a waterslide and something called mountain boarding. You use something that looks like really rough skateboards.

“I’ve got seven or eight staff who are on call and in a couple of weeks we’ve got the biggest crowd coming here yet, 64 students from Rosscarbery. That should be quite a challenge! But if it hadn’t been for winning last year’s bursary, I’m sure we couldn’t be where we are today.”


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