Gary and Paul O’Donovan delivered the inspirational message via video link yesterday to around 400 transition year students from across West Cork who were attending a special student enterprise conference at the Celtic Ross Hotel in Clonakilty.
Hosted by the Local Enterprise Office, the ‘Steps to Success’ conference was held for students undertaking the West Cork Schools Enterprise Programme during which they set up and run their own mini-enterprises.
Gary and Paul, who won Ireland’s first Olympic silver rowing medal in August and who were asked to record a message for the students and impart advice they would give their 16-year-old selves, told the students to have “absolute belief and confidence” in themselves to achieve what they want and to enjoy their school days.
Successful entrepreneurs addressed the conference, including Breffney O’Dowling Keane of Fruit Cubed; Neil O’Driscoll from Platform Avenue; Paul Delaney, visual artist and designer; social media guru Damien Mulley; and David Hyde from the Irish Patents Office.
Mr Delaney told the students to turn the ‘what do you want to be?’ question on its head and instead think about ‘who you want to be’.
“This is really where you really discover where your true passion lies,” said Mr Delaney.
One of those who shared their journey to success was Mr O’Driscoll, co-founder of technology company Platform Avenue, which uses groundbreaking software to bring CVs to life — the technology has been used by reality TV shows including First Dates, Dragon’s Den, The Voice, and the US show Married at First Sight.
His challenges included a career in civil engineering ending during the collapse of the economy in 2007, and a diagnosis of testicular cancer.
He said he moved soon afterwards — without a clear plan — to China and then back to Cork to complete an IT course before founding the company with a friend to help Irish construction workers find work abroad.
He encouraged students to “identify a problem and solution and make sure that customers have a want for it and if you believe in it stick at it”.
The Student Enterprise programme, which has been running in West Cork since 2004, exposes students to all the realities and challenges faced by entrepreneurs in every stage of business development - from market research and production to sales and marketing.
Students running mini- companies in each of the 10 participating West Cork schools will compete in the regional finals next February where one team will be chosen to represent West Cork and their school at the national finals in Croke Park.