ARTISAN FOODS DAY 2 - Entrepreneurs Cooking up a storm

Some 32,000 businesses were started last year with great expectations, writes John Daly

ARTISAN FOODS DAY 2 - Entrepreneurs Cooking up a storm

THE Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report for 2013 found that 32,000 people started businesses in Ireland last year, with one in 11 of the adult population engaged in some form of early stage entrepreneurial activity.

The findings show that the rate of early stage entrepreneurial activity is at its highest since the onset of the economic crisis, with the pipeline of those indicating that they intend to start a business in the next three years at its highest level since Ireland first became involved in Global Entrepreneurship Monitor research in 2000.

It provides an annual assessment of entrepreneurial activity, aspirations, and attitudes of individuals across a range of countries, and is the largest ongoing study of entrepreneurial dynamics in the world.

“We have great entrepreneurs in Ireland — we just don’t have enough of them,” says Jobs and Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton.

“Start-up businesses account for around two-thirds of new jobs created in Ireland. The GEM report confirms that people are becoming more open to considering starting a business as a career option.”

Some 22% of early stage entrepreneurs have ambitious growth aspirations and expect to employ 10 or more after five years. This compares favourably with international averages. Some 13% of early stage entrepreneurs expect to have 75% or more of their customers in overseas markets — the fourth highest rate for significant exporters across the OECD.

Early stage entrepreneurs are relatively innovative with 27% of their products and services considered new to all customers compared to their international counterparts. The report also reveals that four out of five adults in Ireland have a high regard for successful entrepreneurs — a rate second only to Finland. The average amount invested by Irish individuals was €18,700 — compared to an OECD average of €23,000.

The report also examines the gender aspect of entrepreneurial activity in Ireland — a gap that continues to narrow as more women enter the entrepreneurial space. There are now 1.4 times as many men as women who are new business owners.

Tom Hayes, head of micro enterprise and small business at Enterprise Ireland, said: “The GEM report indicates that Irish early stage entrepreneurs have a stronger focus on international markets and exporting than their OECD and EU counterparts. This focus of entrepreneurs on developing innovative products and services for export is essential for growth and economic recovery.”

Declan Hughes, head of enterprise, trade, and innovation at Forfás, said: “It is encouraging to see positive trends in entrepreneurship and to see ambitious plans for job creation. There is a need to continue to improve the perceived attractiveness of entrepreneurship as a career option and to ensure that entrepreneurs can access necessary sources of finance.”

Right course ingredients gave food for thought

-Hanna’s Secret, Mullingar, Co Westmeath

-Product: Gluten free and spelt breads

-Owner: Niamh Heneghan

“Without doubt, my time on the Food Academy Start programme [an initiative between the Local Enterprise Offices, Bord Bia and SuperValu] was the most informative and productive I have experienced in my three years in the bakery business.

“Each module was delivered by people who, not only came across as hugely knowledgeable, but also had tremendous experience in business. Rather than the usual theory of most courses, each and every part left me with serious food for thought.

“The highlight was the section on pricing. I unwittingly thought my pricing structure was bullet proof — I couldn’t have been more wrong. Having the chance to pitch a SuperValu buyer and a store owner succinctly in five minutes was also an eye opener, and invaluable for developing confidence.

“I started simply from home and gradually found there was a great demand for our products. Unwittingly, I thought all I had to do was bake and sell. I had no concept of timing, in my innocence I believed that we would sell colossal volumes and thus become a success.

“I hadn’t factored in cash flow very well, nor had I any inkling of the necessity for barcodes, shelf life testing, labelling laws, invoicing and collecting money.

“The longer I am in business, the more I realise how much there is to learn every day. Yes, small businesses need more supports, but they need to be relevant and delivered by people who have been there, bought the T-shirt and lived to tell the tale.

“The greatest challenge for Hanna’s Secret has been cash flow. There have been so many days, and still are, where I have been tearing my hair out, wondering how to meet wages, stock, bills etc. despite growing year on year. Frequently I question my own sanity in continuing when truly if I worked this hard and this long for someone else I would be extraordinarily wealthy.

“But this is my dream, and I believe we have created three extraordinary products in our Healthy Wholemeal bread, Fruit Bread and Power Scones. I feel proud that these breads are being received so magnificently by the public and by store owners.

“We will definitely need to hire more people in the future, not just for the bakery but also for our online store and marketing. I would love to see us as a trusted and healthy brand, one which truly delivers nourishment.

“Given the growth in heart disease and diabetes globally, I believe we will be in a strong position to export but that is another huge learning curve.

“There is a clear sense of optimism in Ireland at present, but still with caution as the underlying factor. I believe that to be a good thing though, it keeps things real and healthy.

“I am very optimistic, but then I always have been about Ireland.”

Fiona Falconer: ‘Cash flow is our single biggest issue — if you don’t have the cash flow, you simply can’t do it.’

Knowledge is key to growing your business

-Wild About, Gorey, Co Wexford

-Product: Seasonal artisan foods

-Owner: Fiona Falconer

“Wild About makes handcrafted artisan foods from the wealth of native, seasonal, and wild ingredients. We grow most of our own ingredients in our permaculture gardens here in Wexford; we source locally and we specialise in native ingredients, hips, haws, sloes, elderberries, nettles, and honeysuckle.

“Wild About has been trading for just under three years. We are Good Food Ireland’s producer of the year 2014 and the current All-Ireland Farmers’ Market champion. We were trading at farmers’ markets, Bloom, the National Ploughing Championships, and food festivals around the country when we were introduced to the Food Academy Start-Up programme. It has had a significant impact on our fledgling company; made us question, define, and consolidate our aims; and redefine our business plan, giving us the confidence to move forward full-throttle to the next stage.

“Small businesses need supports like Food Academy to be able to grow from a start-up to a viable business. There’s a lot to take on board and digest in becoming a defacto business. We had been trading successfully, on a very small scale, for two years when we started on Food Academy, and were very much at the right stage of development to take the best out of the programme and grow our business.

“For a small country, Ireland has a great entrepreneurial spirit. In the face of recession, hiked taxes, and redundancies, so many people have got off their arse and decided to do it for themselves. That has to be applauded. Not all will make it, but we have to provide strong, practical help and finance to small business to get them to the next stage. Knowledge is key.

“Malc and myself are from design and media backgrounds. We are completely at the starting line. Cash flow is our single biggest issue: If you don’t have the cash flow, you simply can’t do it. We grow most of our own produce here in the permaculture gardens. We were scheduled to upscale our growing facilities at the start of the year, which are our slow months. We’d applied for grant assistance and were set to complete it end of February. We had our funds in place but the grant was delayed a few weeks, and then a few more weeks, and, in the end, we got approval in mid-April, by which time the growing season had kicked off and we were in full flight production, so we’ve had to push it down the line. That additional growing facility could have almost doubled our capacity this season. We would have taken out a loan if we had any inkling the grant would be delayed to such an extent.

“A lot of the time you simply don’t have control of the issues that directly effect your cash flow. It’s a learning curve. Wild About is a brand which we will grow over time. For now, we are concentrating on building the grocery retail sector. R&D is key. We are currently taking on investment which will provide another full-time position. We also expect to need several part-time, flex, or seasonal positions throughout the year.

“Doing the markets, you really do get a feel for how the economy on the ground is performing. We used to trade at a particular market in Dublin on a Saturday. It was a reasonably affluent area, the demographic is strongly young families with small children. Towards the end of last year, trade just died. The footfall was there but no cash in circulation. I guess the hit of recession, childcare, household charges, and water charges just took their toll. The market we trade at now has a broad spectrum demographic and it’s healthy. There is still the dip mid-month waiting for the end of month pay cheque, but people seem to have a fiver in their pockets to buy themselves something nice.”

Building on an artisan interest

-Clinton Desserts, Killarney, Co Kerry

-Product: Gluten and lactose-free desserts

-Owner: Jessica Clinton

“Before starting the programme we were producing from a small coffee shop in Killarney town. We had some fantastic products and ideas but we did not know how to get them to market. Participating in the Food Academy Start-Up programme turned our business around.

“We learned how to organise and develop a strong business plan which allowed us to secure the funds to expand and move to a large commercial kitchen. They showed us how to market, package, and improve our products as well as finding routes to markets that best suit our gluten-free business. Sometimes the hardest part of starting a business is knowing you are on the right track and making the right decisions.

“A course such as Food Academy Start-Up allows you to gain answers to these questions and allows you to gain confidence in yourself. These courses also allow you to meet other small business owners in similar situations, which is a support in itself. Financing your business is always difficult; starting off, there are always more bills than money. Having the energy to work long hours week after week, the patience to wait for your business to take off, and the perseverance to keep going when times are hard.

“Over the next five years we hope to grow until we have nationwide availability and then we would like to work on exporting our products... Consumers seem to have a growing interest in artisan, handmade products that contain no additives, have less food miles, and are produced locally.”

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