Tag: case studies

Featured startup Bruno Lanvin, Dmbook New Frontiers

Featured startup: Bruno Lanvin, Dmbook

Featured startup Bruno Lanvin, Dmbook New Frontiers

Dmbook Pro is a Dublin-based company providing ICT solutions for hotels. With over 10 years in hotel management, Bruno Lanvin recognised flaws in the traditional spreadsheets, paper and email communication network used in hotels all across Europe. It was this initial observation that lead to the creation of Dmbook Pro.

Bruno has worked in the hospitality industry in France, Scotland and Ireland, but he didn’t initially plan on transforming hotel communication networks. But as Front of House Manager, once having identified a problem, it was in his interest to form a solution. Hotels are an old establishment, but like every business they rely on the need for effective communication between personnel,

“I had this pain of trying to make sure the communication was efficient between all the teams and all the shifts rotating around the clock.”

Making sure the right people have the right information whilst changing shifts and working on separate teams was an everyday struggle. It was this ongoing problem that caused Bruno to develop a concept which started out very simply – an online diary, “a platform to put everything [on] where people could access information.”

Building on a simple prototype

Bruno’s brother, Rémi Lanvin, a web developer, helped create this online diary as a side project. At this stage, the online diary functioned by allowing users to simply go between dated pages (today, tomorrow, last year, next year) and input simple text entries. Particularly useful was how users could set goals and mark them as done. Bruno brought this prototype to the hotel he worked for and from here the stone that caused the ripple of interest across the hotel industry was thrown. After 18 months, whilst still working full time and developing this project on the side, Bruno and Rémi had paying customers. It was this growing interest that caused the brothers to stop looking at their creation as a project and instead as a company. They created a business plan and within one year secured 85 customers across 8 countries, including the USA.

Dmbook platform New Frontiers Enterprise Ireland

New Frontiers – direction in uncharted territories

As much as they could value their strengths, they could also recognise their weaknesses.  Bruno knew that his in-depth knowledge of hotels, although key to his success so far, would not be enough to take his company to the next goal – a multimillion euro international business. As he says, “Hotels are not start-ups,” and so Bruno visited a Start-Up Ireland event in Cove. It was here he learnt of New Frontiers and after sending his application was invited to pitch for Phase 2.

“We made more progress in the six months with New Frontiers than in the six months before.”

Bruno attributes this to the direction they received regarding finances: how to raise finance, how to approach investors, who to approach, how to duplicate the success they had had so far, and how to secure more clients. Other invaluable support included sales and marketing advice, and valuable networking – being a part of a community of knowledge for start-ups, they could ask questions and get the answers they needed, while also exchanging experiences and learning opportunities with other participants.

Going forward

Dmbook Pro has expanded from its brotherly beginnings to a company with five employees and big ambitions. With this new expertise on board, they have created a fully functioning website, are currently developing a mobile app for Dmbook Pro and are targeting English-speaking markets, including the USA. Their goal is clear: to be in over 3,000 hotels by the end of year 3 in western Europe.

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage Content Marketing. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

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How You Can Stop Bad Posture Ruining Your Workday

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New Frontiers companies are rising to meet COVID-19 pandemic challenges

Eamon Crosby BriteBiz New Frontiers programme

Case study: BriteBiz – business management solution

Eamon Crosby BriteBiz New Frontiers programme

BriteBiz is a Galway-based technology company that specialises in end-to-end business management software. The company’s CEO, Eamon Crosby, took part in the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

Since qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with PwC 12 years ago, Eamon Crosby has been involved in founding and managing a number of different companies, mainly in the service and events industry. “I had been involved first hand in managing and scaling various companies. We constantly came up against roadblocks with the amount of administration load involved and continually sought ways to streamline processes. Although we were always using modern management tools such as Salesforce and Quickbooks, there was no efficient way to integrate them and create a streamlined, end-to-end solution.” notes Eamon.

A lack of end-to-end solutions for SMEs

He points out that, “Over my years at PwC, I had worked with several large blue chip companies that used highly bespoke and integrated systems, such as SAP or Oracle, but this same streamlined process did not seem to be available for small and medium sized companies, particularly those that wanted a cloud solution.” After many failed attempts to find a better integrated cloud-based solution for SMEs, he decided to go it alone and set about developing the solution for himself – and so the adventure began.

“We developed the software in-house over a two-year period, and began to deploy it within a small number of beta customers. It really did have a hugely transformative effect, allowing companies to scale more rapidly and cut costs significantly through integrated systems,” says Eamon. “BriteBiz acts as an end-to-end solution from lead generation and capture on your website to product and service management, from quotes and e-contracts to booking management, from credit control to payment processing. BriteBiz also has many unique features not available in any other system currently on the market, such as client portals and worksheets for each individual deal, as well as resource allocation. Essentially, it takes the best parts of a CRM, project management system, payments platform and resource management and bundles them all together in a beautiful, easy to use cloud application. BriteBiz makes it easy for companies to do business, particularly companies in service industries.”

A solution that works across many sectors

After a successful deployment within the initial early adoption customers, Crosby and the rest of the team started to notice that other companies across different industries, and across the world, were suffering from the same problems and pain. The application has become a particularly good fit for the hospitality industry. “We work with several hotels and provide them with powerful tools for their sales and marketing teams to manage weddings and events,” notes Eamon.

“We knew that there was a huge potential market for BriteBiz, but there was a significant challenge in developing the correct sales and marketing strategy to achieve this. We became aware of the GMIT New Frontiers programme and decided to apply. The programme has been hugely beneficial in formulating a strategy and developing the best route to market for BriteBiz, we would highly recommend it to anyone starting off a new business, particularly in the tech sector,” says Eamon.

Britebiz is currently scaling from its Galway office and now has customers across Ireland, the UK and the US. “We are looking at bigger markets outside of Ireland, particularly the US. We are targeting the SaaS (Software as a Service) marketplace, which is estimated to reach $300 Billion by 2025. As BriteBiz also has a payment platform, we will also be targeting other high-value markets such as construction industries, the legal profession, IT and healthcare sectors. Our payment platform is currently being expanded to included digitised direct debit, and we will be working more on the payments part of our system over the years ahead, as Fintech technologies continue to develop.”

The company plans to grow its workforce within Ireland over the coming months and years. If you are a company looking for the perfect end to end business management solution, or you are looking for a role with an exciting tech company, take a look at the BriteBiz website. The New Frontiers programme at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology is delivered at Innovation Hubs in Castlebar and Galway.

[The image above shows Eamon Crosby from BriteBiz receiving the New Frontiers Best Emerging Business award from Conor O’Dowd, KPMG]

About the author

GMIT School of Business New FrontiersPhotograph by Aengus McMahonTony O’Kelly

Tony is the New Frontiers Programme Manager in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT). His main expertise lies in finance, manufacturing, sales and procurement across a wide range of business sectors. He has experience in automating business processes and managing projects from conception to delivery; skills he brings to the structure and delivery of New Frontiers in GMIT…  [Read Tony’s profile]

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Featured startup Aidan Duff Fifty One Bikes New Frontiers

Featured startup: Aidan Duff, Fifty One Bikes

Featured startup Aidan Duff Fifty One Bikes New Frontiers

Aidan started his career as top level amateur cyclist in Ireland, going on to race in France for over six years. When he returned to Ireland, he naturally started working in the cycle industry, initially in retail and then moving into distribution.

The early beginnings of Fifty One, Aidan’s startup, can be traced back to a trip he took to some of the most reputable bicycle manufacturing facilities in Italy and Germany. Despite their reputations, Aidan came away somewhat underwhelmed by the standards he saw in the processes and finishing involved.

Despite the lack of manufacturing facilities in Ireland, Aidan was convinced that he could do better. With his solid industry background – Aidan had already established one of the largest distributors on the island of Ireland – manufacturing his own range of world class bicycles was the logical next step.

Custom-made in Ireland

fifty one bikes new frontiers startupIn early 2015, Aidan started Phase 2 of the New Frontiers programme, at the Synergy Centre in Tallaght. With the feedback and validation processes that the programme takes entrepreneurs through, Aidan decided that while his concept was strong, the delivery itself could be improved on. He needed to establish a real niche, a truly unique selling point. The programme is not for the fainthearted, and you need a lot of drive and motivation to take part. Market research, and trial and error, are both vital parts of the process. As Aidan put it:

“My idea was a really, really good concept, ticking a lot of the New Frontiers boxes, but when I put it out to people within the industry, the feedback was a little bit muted. People I trusted were saying: look, you can do that better than this, you need to go back and redesign it. On paper it looked good but the feedback from industry mentors and contacts was that it wasn’t enough. I felt a little bit embarrassed, because I was developing something within an industry that I knew, and here I was, a third of the way through New Frontiers and I literally had to rip it up and start again, so I started to feel a little bit of pressure at that point.”

Aidan cannot stress enough how much respect he has for his fellow New Frontiers participants. It’s a great mix of people with very diverse backgrounds, tackling projects that are sometimes very far removed from their previous experience. In many ways, Aidan was working from the safety of a known industry and well-established relationships, but he was also aware of the competitive and ruthless nature of the industry. Aidan concentrated on the elements he felt were the most important, and which would add to his core competencies:

“The great thing about New Frontiers is the unbelievable network you have at your fingertips – you come into contact with specialists you would never normally meet and certainly couldn’t afford as a startup. The New Frontiers programme is a fantastic tool for anyone wishing to start an export-oriented business. The benefits are too long to list but the course content and the structure it gives you are remarkable. It’s also a potential gateway into Enterprise Ireland CSF (Competitive Start Funding) and HPSU (High Potential Startup status), which is very useful for scaling companies.”

Following a clear plan

fifty one bikes new frontiers startupAidan says the early stages of startup are vital to get things moving. He recommends creating the best network you can as early as possible. Although no one is going to grow your business for you, you’d be surprised at the help you will get if you reach out. Define what the overall goal or mission is, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Break jobs into bite-size chunks, define a road map and tick the boxes along the way. It takes time and you will go off course on a number of occasions, but a concise plan forces you to regroup and regain focus regularly.

Aidan reiterates how ideal the structure of New Frontiers is, as it essentially sets out this roadmap and helps you overcome the challenges that every startup is bound to face at some point. It’s structured around milestones and prevents you going around in circles. Sometimes, it can be hard to keep on top of the programme work AND keep your own project progressing. Aidan says, inevitably you derail from time to time, but that’s where your support network comes into play. The course managers have seen it all before so they can advise you on where to go from there. The consultants giving the workshops are all very experienced, too. Aidan worked closely with trainers such as Alan Costello, who helped put potential problems and issues into perspective. Aidan’s accountants, solicitors, trade marking, etc. all came from people he met on New Frontiers. Aidan says the best way to overcome inevitable challenges are with skilled, passionate people by your side.

Bringing it all together

Last year, Fifty One secured substantial investment in Ireland and from an industry-specific source in Germany. This will facilitate entry into the German and overall European market and give them a little more weight with suppliers. Fifty One is also an Enterprise Ireland HPSU (High Potential Startup). The carbon fibre framesets for the bikes are manufactured here in Ireland – instead of opting for lower-cost mass production in Asia, frames are custom-made to the precise specifications of the customer. The result is a completely bespoke bike that allows the owner to be part of the design process, which ironically is how bikes used to be made when Aidan first started out. The company is also developing a customisation tool that will allow customers to design and order their perfect bike online.

Aidan has a clear long-term plan for his startup, and with the right use of technology and customer focus will achieve his ambitious scaling goals.

“In short, to scale for the first phase of our growth plan, we will need to hit our revenue and employment numbers and establish a brand in a niche premium segment. From there we will have the credibility to leverage the brand image and add additional products, territories, and revenue streams.”

www.fiftyonebikes.com

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage Content Marketing. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

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How To Keep Your Remote Workers In The Loop

New Frontiers companies are rising to meet COVID-19 pandemic challenges

Tim Arits New Frontiers alumnus Intouch

Featured startup: Tim Arits – Intouch

Tim Arits New Frontiers alumnus Intouch

Tim Arits is an ex-Google, ex-chicken-breeding drummer from the Netherlands who is about to change the way we share our contact information with our networks.

Tim and his co-founder, Javier Mey, joined the New Frontiers programme in 2015 to work on their contact app, Bundly. The idea was simple – when you change something like an address or phone number, why should it be up to your contacts to update your information? Why can’t you be responsible for keeping that information up to date, and allow it to sync with your entire network without them having to do anything?

That was the inspiration behind Bundly. Both Tim and Javier had previous experience at  global names such as Google and Santander, and both had moved to a new country for work, so they had first-hand experience of having to update their contact information with multiple contacts – both personal and professional.

“When I moved to Ireland for Google, everything changed – all my contact information changed, and it was a nightmare. I think the pain is really big when you move country, because all your suppliers and the services you use are going to change. It was really hard to stay in contact with people and the companies and services I interacted with – some of which I still use – my bank, for example.”

Once their idea was formed, Tim and Javier set about developing an app that would easily manage contact information – allowing users to control what information to share and with whom. Tim applied to New Frontiers in 2015 and was offered a place on the DIT Hothouse programme. They made a solid team – Tim comes from a Marketing Management background and at Google had worked in a client-facing commercial capacity, while Javier has a background in Engineering and strong technical experience.

“We got really great support from New Frontiers. It was my first company – although Javier had founded multiple companies, so he had quite an idea already on how to do it and what the pitfalls were – but on New Frontiers we learned to bring our idea or product out to our customers as early as possible.”

Tim conducted multiple user interviews to get feedback on any problems they had with the app and what features that they were expecting. The challenge lay in translating those results into improvements to the product – building a difficult product is easy, but building something easy is usually difficult.

“We thought that some things in our product were really easy, but they turned out to be a nightmare for consumers and had to change. Then there were other things we wanted to see differently, but were apparently really easy for users – so they were things we kept.”

After New Frontiers Phase 2 was over, Tim and Javier decided to look for funding. They were in contact with the NDRC, who suggested another startup that was working in a similar field and might be interested in joining forces. The synergy between the two teams was instantly recognisable, and Tim and Javier decided to join forces with Qreach to continue developing the Bundly idea… now called Intouch.com.

“It was a really good match, because they had some skills that we were missing, and we had some skills that they were missing. They were developing a contact management application that mainly focused on companies, and they had a really strong technical background – it was the perfect balance of research-based scientists and ourselves, with our more commercial background.”

After the merger, the new team went out and raised capital from the NDRC, Enterprise Ireland and some private investors in order to push forward with the development of the evolved version of Bundly – Intouch – which is due to launch very soon.

Available to individuals as an iOS or Android app, it aims to solve potential contact issues by allowing the user to automatically update their contact information with everyone in their network – while keeping ownership of personal information with the owner. The app will be free for all personal users, with revenues coming from the companies people interact with (banks, insurance companies, etc.) who rely on having up to date information about clients.

“The app is going to be for free for users, so we’re not charging them any money, and we are looking into a model to charge companies for the data that they receive. That said, we will never, ever exchange data without your consent, so you as a user are always in control of what information goes to whom, because that’s kind of the business model that we have, and if we don’t follow that then the business is gone.”

Intouch will be working with the Data Protection Commissioners, as well as any parties that are regulated in terms of data. Data protection is clearly an important subject for the company; they even provide services to companies to get ready for the upcoming Data Protection Regulation changes in 2018. Intouch will offer clarity on who has your contact details and where this information goes – which is becoming more and more of a preoccupation these days.

“New Frontiers is one of the very few programmes focused on the very, very early-start. A lot of incubators call themselves ‘early-start’, but you still need a product or a really concrete idea… New Frontiers is also focused on the people themselves. That really suited our needs. The people at New Frontiers were amazing, they really supported us.”

And if you were wondering about the chicken-breeding I mentioned at the beginning of the article… Tim attributes the fact that Google decided to hire him to this rather unusual hobby, which came up during his interview. His Ayam Cemani birds (known as ‘the Lamborghini of chickens’) were eventually sold to a breeder in the USA, and sadly Tim doesn’t keep any chickens here in Dublin ;)

(PHOTO – from right: Javier Mey and Tim Arits pictured above with the founders of Qreach)

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

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How You Can Stop Bad Posture Ruining Your Workday

How To Keep Your Remote Workers In The Loop

New Frontiers companies are rising to meet COVID-19 pandemic challenges

Featured startup: Evan Talty – Wild Irish Seaweed

seaweed products Ireland wild irish seaveg new frontiers

Wild Irish Seaweed is a great example of an Irish company combining a heritage product with modern-day business practices. Originally founded in 2009 by Gerard and Eileen Talty, the family business has grown from strength to strength – its food and health products can be found on sale nationwide, but it also has a presence in overseas markets. All four of Gerard and Eileen’s children are involved in the business, including Evan, a New Frontiers alumnus.

“We started out with two products in 2008. Back then we were just supplying to local stores. The actual idea for the business came from working with my grandfather in the summer. He had a history in seaweed harvesting, and the family would go along and help out. We knew people were buying the product, but we weren’t sure why… that summer, we started thinking about what the uses for this seaweed were and identifying the market that existed.”

wis logoThe first two products sold by the company – Dillisk and Carrageen – were prepared in the Talty family kitchen in County Clare. But as new products were added to the range, these facilities were soon outgrown, and the Taltys moved to bigger premises. One drawback, however, was that the seaweed could only be dried during the summer months. It became clear that if the business was going to continue to expand, a purpose-built facility would be needed.

“The decision to build our own factory came from the fact that we had become a very different company to the one we were when we started in 2009. We quickly went from producing two products, to producing five, to producing fourteen. The new building helped greatly with the expansion of the business and keeping up with demand, as it allows us to dry seaweed all year round.”

This expansion was very much a learning curve, as the seaweed industry was small in Ireland at the time, and a facility of the type that was required had never been built here.

“We knew what we needed, but had no real blueprint for how it should be built. Having done some research, we found that the factory type we wanted existed in France – so we learned from that. And we learned quickly; it took no more than two years to go from conception to full operation in 2013.”

The new facility was a large but necessary expense for the business, representing an investment of about €150,000. But it is the nerve centre of the whole company – it’s also where the products are packed and stored and where the online shop is run from. Currently, Wild Irish Seaweed employs 15 people and that number is set to grow.

In terms of brand awareness, Evan has adopted a modern approach that focuses on organic growth and content-based marketing. The company has a strong presence on social media – making use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to promote the business in different ways.

“Since I started with the business when I was 22, I’ve invested a lot of time and effort to help grow it. The new model of marketing works better for us than more traditional forms of advertising, but also it is much more cost-effective. We can promote and grow the business very successfully with social media, on a much smaller budget.”

Sea-Vegetables-range

Aside from working with social media marketing, Evan has also focussed on getting the company exposure by attending tradeshows and other events. They work closely with organisations such as Bord Bia in this area, joining delegations on overseas visits that could offer a strategic advantage.

“As this is a family-run business, we don’t have big investors, so we try to get the company and its products out there by promoting at trade shows and conferences. It has been an affordable way to open up channels and make contacts to grow the business. It will be a key part of our strategy for the future too. We are attending conferences in both China and the US this month.”

Expanding to these new markets poses completely new challenges. One of the biggest is how to get the product there in an affordable way. Evan has been looking to achieve this by cooperating with other Irish companies who already export to these regions – finding opportunities to piggy-back on those companies’ containers in a way that is financially beneficial to both parties. It’s a savvy approach, and when Evan joined the New Frontiers programme, becoming more business savvy was one of his main aims.

“I knew we had a great product and that we were great at selling it, but we still needed some help with the business side of things. The best thing about the New Frontiers programme was that it prepared me for the different issues I encountered as we expanded the business. I still find myself encountering a new challenge and knowing how to approach it by thinking back to my time on the programme.”

Wild Irish Seaweed has prioritised sustainable growth and high-quality products, and it’s an approach that has clearly worked. Their online shop ships to around 25 countries worldwide, while their domestic supplier list is extensive and contains such well-known names as Centra and SuperValu. Evan’s sights are now firmly set on expansion into the US and China.

Having started with the east coast of America, he hopes to roll out across the whole of the US by the end of the year, and he’s developing his plan to introduce Wild Irish Seaweed to the Chinese market. He sees the company becoming a global brand in the future and, if past success is anything to go by, he looks set to achieve this.

Find out more about Wild Irish Seaweed at wildirishseaveg.com

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Small business secrets for improving your SEO ranking in 2020

How You Can Stop Bad Posture Ruining Your Workday

How To Keep Your Remote Workers In The Loop

New Frontiers companies are rising to meet COVID-19 pandemic challenges

New tricks: my journey from administrator to entrepreneur

new-tricks-andy-homden-new-frontiers

It had always been at the back of my mind to start a business. A group of us had been a lifetime in education, working in international schools. We knew what we were doing. Teaching and learning was at the centre of what we did – and now we were going to practise what we preached at school and try something new as lifelong learners.

For me personally – at the end of another six year contract and after more than 30 years in international education – it was a good time to stop and use my knowledge in a different way.

An industry we knew

The new business we set up was to serve an industry we knew well. It wasn’t quite clear at first in what areas I would notice the differences between life as a salaried school leader and that of an entrepreneur. Some of the skills from my previous life were useful, which is just as well, as the necessary change from the administrative to the entrepreneurial mind-set does not happen overnight: I knew how to plan, budget, structure, communicate, and write – all skills that were useful in setting up the company.

New learning: Part 1

The first major difference was, however, that as a self-employed company director and shareholder, you are your own support team. No PA. No IT manager. No in-house accountant. No website manager.

Learning the auxiliary skills takes time, and you can’t just ask someone to: run those numbers for me, please, or write a short report: what if we did this, instead? You go through a phase of feeling uncomfortably out of control over things that you used to take for granted. The accounts. The invoices. The receipts. The reports and web updates.

But then it gets better. Until you realise that mastering these skills will not, of themselves, pay the bills.

New learning: Part 2

It is very easy to stay busy just keeping things in order, but it is vital to move on quickly. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to create an entrepreneur out of rough administrative clay – but sooner or later this must happen. You have to sell. You have to market. Perfecting administrative systems is a hard habit to break.

But fine tuning a great product that people do not know about or might not want to buy is time wasted. Develop the concept, try it out on a few (only a few will respond), get the feedback and then get it in the marketplace. We went too quickly with certain ideas, wasting time and money. We had to be patient with others, and all the time instead of just perfecting something, you are pitching and selling a new product that your research tells you people might buy.

A new support team

Like my former students, and as a new learner, I looked for support and affirmation. Our shareholders provided a good deal of this – but they were also looking to me as we got the business going. I found the direct support I needed in three ways:

  • From the Local Enterprise Office in Donegal
  • At CoLab – a superb business incubator attached to the Letterkenny Institute of Technology
  • Through the New Frontiers programme and with the help of Enterprise Ireland

The great thing is that you do not have to attempt this kind of transformation on your own. The Donegal LEO was in some ways a hard taskmaster, but we learned a lot very quickly as we applied for and then received a Business Priming Grant. We heard about CoLab from our graphic designer – and in a month or so we had been allocated a hot desk. You cannot begin to estimate the positive effect of the environment that this provides – the stories, the experience and the inspiration of people all of whom had ideas and were ‘going for it’. The younger ones knew things we needed to learn, and we had one or two things that our fellow risk-takers might find useful in return.

The training and discipline that New Frontiers Phase 1 and the application for Phase 2 provided accelerated the whole process. As we entered Phase 2 of the training, the company was using both the skills and knowledge brought from the world of education, and applying the new mind-set from the world of business, first to generate and then convert new leads.

The transformation of the old dogs is by no means complete, but we feel privileged to be working in this environment and to have the opportunity to learn the new tricks that will transform our lives while enabling us, we hope, to shape the world of international education in rather a different way than we did before as teachers and administrators.

About the author


Andy Homden
Andy Homden New Frontiers

Andy trained as a teacher in the UK and Australia, and has worked in international education for most of his career. As a teacher and school leader he specialised in curriculum design and school start-ups. He is now CEO of Consilium Education, an educational consulting company… [Read Andy’s profile]

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New Frontiers companies are rising to meet COVID-19 pandemic challenges

Building your brand is about sharing your vision

Vision is a picture of the future; it’s how you imagine your startup, where it will be in the years to come and the values it will hold. Vision provides direction and acts as a constant reminder of what you have set out to achieve. If you can learn to share that vision, you’ll be able to grow support for your budding enterprise.

Starting out, we wanted to convey of our vision for how people might interact differently with mobile devices. However, during this early stage of shaping the idea, the actual process can make this difficult, especially when you are being advised to protect your intellectual property (IP) and open up at the same time. Once we had lodged a patent application for our product, Scriba, we were finally free to show people what we were doing and therefore get proper feedback from them. This freedom, and the input of others, really allowed us to start thinking about the long-term possibilities of what we were doing.

The bigger picture

Companies like Google can be incredibly open about their vision and ideas, because what they are doing is so huge and so hard for others to replicate that they don’t really run any danger of being copied. But it isn’t the same for small companies, who have to walk a tightrope between getting validation and feedback and having their concepts stolen!

How you describe yourself and how you position yourself changes as much depending on who you are talking to as the context in which you’re speaking. Being on the New Frontiers programme, I benefitted from regular interactions with the other participants, all of whom were free to discuss their own experiences and challenges. This liberation and interaction with others who were in the same boat allowed me to talk openly about both the detail and the big picture. It was great to be challenged on my vision from day one, and of course within this group I didn’t have to be secretive about my idea!

I come from an architecture background, and we work in a different way on projects. With implicit deadlines and demands, we spend much less time working with an amorphous idea. Parameters are fixed earlier and the development is really only refined over time until it finally becomes a building. So, with this startup, I was conscious of trying to keep the idea loose and open for as long as we could, which allowed other people to give us their input.

Turning the vision into a tangible product

Hardware development involves many complex and time-dependent processes, including design, testing, technologies, manufacturing and distribution that develop at their own pace and can sometimes go out of sync for all kinds of reasons.

At any given moment, one element of the project might be more advanced than another – the hardware, the electronics, the business plan (market, price point, positioning, etc.). It became a time versus effort balancing act. Right now, we’re really happy with the electronics, we’re trying different materials for the hardware and we’re confident about our value proposition… so the current balancing act is looking at other applications that the product could potentially have and quantifying the user benefits that they might provide.

When I first came up with the idea for the Scriba, I wanted a stylus that would be really comfortable to use and give me a more natural interaction with my iPad. I had made a simple design and turned it into a 3D model which I carried around with me… but I really had no idea what direction that this was going to take.

To create a working prototype, I taught myself some basic electronics. I started with a Galileo Board that I had picked up at Hackathon; I managed to get it working, but electronics was a black art to me and I struggled on a daily basis. Staged progress through ten prototypes suddenly made a big leap forward when I switched to a Bluetooth development board. Suddenly I had something in my hands that would actually work!

Maintaining your vision is therefore key to always being able to see the bigger picture and focus on your end goal, especially when you have to change direction because the route you had chosen is no longer open to you.

Build a vision, build a team

Vision is about dovetailing your business idea with your own passion, goals and expertise. You build a vision. My approach to this has been greatly influenced by my experience as an architect – where you have to have an overview of all your projects whilst also keeping track of the little details. When your vision is truly a mix of passion and goals, it becomes easier to maintain and follow through with daily milestones.

Your vision also needs to allow for some flexibility so it can accommodate, and be enhanced by, other people’s ideas. Sharing that vision with other people is key to establishing the business in the first place. I shared and shaped my vision with the other participants and mentors on the New Frontiers programme. Once the patent for Scriba was lodged, we contacted around 5,000 people directly through Twitter – people we had researched as being our target market – and asked them for advice on what really mattered to them.

Around 600 people came back to us with incredibly detailed responses: what they used styluses for, where they used them, how many they owned, where they bought them and what would be valuable features to have. These responses meant that we suddenly had real data we could use. As the product developed we did product testing with small groups of creatives, observed by an ergonomics engineer. We gave people a prototype of the product, but no instructions, and watched how they picked it up, investigated it and used it.

Building a wider community

Sharing your vision is as much about validating your ideas as it is about finding support to bring those ideas to commercial reality. You need to be open to learning through networking, asking questions, sounding people out and, above all, listening. Keeping an open mind and being positive, enthusiastic and helpful can open doors and bring opportunities you had never dreamed of.

I have gained a lot from this process and benefited from:

  • learning how to communicate my vision as clearly and as simply as possible
  • learning how to tell a story well (but remember, the more truth it contains, the easier it is to tell!)

It is very important to talk to others about your vision: share enough information about your idea to arouse curiosity, but not so much as to risk it being stolen. Also, people will be as interested in you as in your idea, so don’t forget to share your own personal journey as well.

Regularly assess what you are learning from the process and how, or if, it is helping you move forward. Sometimes this will mean a pivot for your startup, although for us it was more a case of many, minute pivots – such as changes in positioning or changes in the design – which occurred naturally and continually along the way.

Sharing our vision has been a key factor in building an in-house team and in attracting wide network of advocates whose input has been instrumental in moving our business forward.

[If you’d like to see the video above with sound, click here.]

About the author

david craig new frontiersDavid Craig

David is founder and CDO of Dublin Design Studio and a New Frontiers alumnus. An architect by profession, David decided last year to explore his earlier passion for product design. His startup has created Scriba, a new concept in tablet styluses… [Read David’s profile]

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Storytelling in Sligo: building a media startup in the North West

Ciaran Byrne, with his wife Martha Kearns and their two children, Ciara and Leo, in Hazelwood, Sligo. Photo: James Connolly 11MAR15

When my wife, Martha, and I decided to launch our digital startup, we also knew that the time had come to move away from Dublin and settle somewhere we could achieve a higher quality of life. We moved to Sligo last year and started StoryLab. This is our New Frontiers story.

I’d seen an advertisement about the New Frontiers programme in the Irish Independent, the paper where I was associate editor and news and features executive for eight years. Martha and I had an idea for a media company that provided big brands with engaging, expertly-edited, readable and visual stories about their businesses, for traditional forums as well as for social and digital.

I could see the whole focus in PR and marketing was shifting to quality, paid-for content. On another level, smaller businesses and brands are feeling overwhelmed by content requirements and require specialist assistance to bring their content up to scratch.

Both Martha and I have worked at senior executive levels on newspapers, including The Observer in London, the Sunday Times and the Telegraph Media Group. With this kind of experience, we felt that we could offer brands the insights and access to networks they need to really stand out.

StoryLab: a new style of high-quality storytelling

We spoke to people at IT Sligo and applied for Phase 1 of the New Frontiers programme. I knew that New Frontiers could help to lay the foundations of a solid business with export potential, based in the North-West, home to a cluster of highly creative, dynamic businesses.

Although we were familiar with the target users and the needs, Phase 1 provided us with the tools and guidance to refine StoryLab’s offering and develop a business model.

New Frontiers made sense on every level. It offered the space and expertise to help us develop a business and it also applied to our location in Sligo where we are trading successfully as a national and international business.

Phase 1: Testing the business idea

Once on Phase 1 of New Frontiers, I devoted time to validating StoryLab’s target customer base and the ‘pain’ the business was solving for customers. It was also a great chance to refine our elevator pitch, which for StoryLab is: We tell your stories, we get you noticed, we show you how.

After Phase 1, we entered the highly competitive application process for a place on Phase 2 of New Frontiers, with a handful of happy customers already on board.

Phase 2: Business planning

On Phase 2, we began the process of more clearly identifying StoryLab’s customer base across regional, national and international lines. The workshops assisted greatly with identifying market segmentation and serving the company’s many varied customers. We established the value of our service, with an hourly, and by project, pricing structure. We looked at the route to market. The workshops also helped us devise a separate, more templated content product for SMEs – which gives smaller businesses a single media package for a one-off fee.

By the time I had finished Phase 2, StoryLab was a fully-trading, profitable company looking to build the team by adding a third member. The programme also helped us focus on developing a high-quality network of associate writers and editors, who assist with delivery of the company’s many content projects each week. StoryLab exited Phase 2 with a roster of more than 10 regular clients in Ireland and Europe who seek regular, specialist content support across a range of different areas.

The right tools and support

With a tested business model and an investor-ready business plan, StoryLab is continuing to establish itself as a trusted content partner to some of the biggest brands in Ireland and the UK – as well as offering its expertise to smaller businesses.

New Frontiers helped us formalise our business model but also our business practices and protocols, which has helped us greatly in our day-to-day management of the company. We would never have advanced so quickly without the programme. The tools and access to the different workshops and mentors have been invaluable.

It also showed us that a business with the right skills can migrate from Dublin to the North West, in our case Sligo, and still ably compete on a national and international basis.

About the author

Ciran Byrne - Suzy McCanny Photography
Ciaran Byrne

Ciaran is a New Frontiers alumnus and Content Director at the startup he co-founded with his wife, Martha Kearns. Their company, StoryLab, helps brands to tell stories by producing high-quality journalistic content that people will want to share and consume… [Read Ciaran’s profile]

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Being opportunistic made me a better entrepreneur

opportunistic business new frontiers

A major part of success in business is being opportunistic: recognising a window of opportunity and being bold enough to go after it with both hands. I’ve embarked on several opportunistic endeavours in my business life. This is the story of how they came about.

Be open to opportunities

The first one came while I was working as a roofer at my uncle’s company, GFM Systems, which was the second largest in Ireland at the time and employed 70 people. I was 21, and looking around me during those Celtic Tiger years, I saw people build up immense amounts of wealth from property.

I sought out advice from someone I was fortunate enough to know who owned over 100 properties. I asked how I could do it too. I devised a simple buy-to-let strategy and within a few years I owned seven houses, worth a total of €1.4 million.

This never would have happened had I not been opportunistic and made it my business to find out how I could build up a portfolio. Nothing in business ever just happens. You need to make things happen; you need dogged determination and self-belief.

Use your contacts to get introductions

Around this time, I came across another opportunity – heard about through a friend. CityWest Hotel was looking for a valeting service, and using my network I managed to get a meeting with the owners. Within six months, this new venture was turning over €100K with two employees.

Having several properties to maintain, I found that I was doing a lot of maintenance work on the houses and it made sense to start offering this service to other landlords and property owners, so I started RSM Facility Services. Unfortunately, in 2008 the biggest crash since 1930 arrived and business dried up overnight.

Don’t be afraid to try something new

Not one to stay down, I looked for the next wave of opportunity. My lightbulb moment came one evening in 2011, when I was watching RTÉ’s The Business. It featured a company that had increased its turnover from €1 Million to €3 Million using Google AdWords. I instantly realised that this was the future and focused all my attention on digital marketing – spending up to 16 hours a day learning all I could about PPC & SEO and completing a course at the Digital Marketing Institute.

I started FirstPage.ie, running PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns, and a chance meeting led to another opportunity to work for a company called Centric Health, who run the Vhi SwiftCare clinics and have the largest GP network in Ireland.

I spent two years with that company, perfecting my skills and starting a MSc in Digital Marketing in Michael Smurfit UCD.

Learn from the masters

After two years, I left Centric Health and returned to FirstPage.ie. I used my connections again to secure a meeting with Michael O’ Leary, legendary CEO of Ryanair. Sensing an opportunity to work with and learn from one of Ireland’s greatest business men, I put myself forward for a full time role.

I landed the role of Head of Digital Marketing for Ryanair, reporting directly to Michael. I was essentially creating a brand new department, and it was an immensely challenging but rewarding time. We implemented dramatic improvements at the airline which resulted in passenger and share price reaching an all-time high. I really appreciated being able to work directly with Michael and learn from him. He has amazing energy and has created a great work culture at Ryanair, which keeps an agile, startup mentality despite its size.

I left Ryanair last year and now run my own agency called DMAD – Digital Marketing Agency Dublin.

What I’ve learned

My advice to budding entrepreneurs is: if you have an idea, just go for it. Even if it doesn’t work out, what you learned in the process will be invaluable going forward in your business life. My experiences in business have taught me that successful business men are no different from anyone else; it’s simply that they spotted an opportunity and took it.

Before you start your entrepreneurial journey, have enough capital to last you twelve months – enough to pay all your bills and business costs even if you don’t get one paying customer. Use the internet to market your business. Go niche, go big or go home!

About the author

Reuben MayReubenMay-New Frontiers

Reuben May is the founder and Managing Director of DMAD (Digital Marketing Agency Dublin) and an Enterprise Ireland mentor. He has started several companies of his own and was also the man behind Ryanair’s recent digital transformation… [Read Reuben’s profile]

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Past participants: Stephen Slattery / Zeto

Stephen & Michael Slattery

Stephen Slattery was a New Frontiers participant at Cork IT (Rubicon Centre) from 2012 to 2013. His company, Zeto, offers an integrated cloud-based and hardware solution that allows retail outlets to monitor and control all their commercial refrigeration equipment from a single platform.

Stephen has a degree in electronic and computer engineering from NUI Galway and had worked in London for four years, building SaaS (Software as a Service) systems for HR departments in large multinationals. He returned to Ireland in 2009 to set up his own company and had first approached the Rubicon Centre in 2010 to discuss his idea, although he had no working prototype at this stage.

Stephen started Zeto with his father and co-founder, Michael. Michael has extensive experience and knowledge of the commercial refrigeration industry, having worked in both engineering and sales. With years of direct experience in the industry, he had identified problems in monitoring the performance of complex networks of high-tech refrigeration units. Any downtime or inefficiency can cost thousands of euros.

Support from Enterprise Ireland and Cork IT

During 2011, Stephen applied for an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher, which enabled him to start working with the Nimbus Research Centre in Cork Institute of Technology. Throughout this period, the Rubicon Centre kept in contact with both Stephen and Michael, offering advice on progressing the business. As part of his research, Stephen had identified Novum Refrigeration in Dublin – a large manufacturer of display fridges for retail environments – as a possible customer for his product. Stephen had an informal arrangement for R&D work with them. He also successfully applied for support from what was then Cork City Enterprise Board.

With its integrated hardware and software solution, Zeto would require significant funding. Stephen and Michael had previously received seed funding from a number of sources, but an enterprise as ambitious as theirs would require some big backers to get it off the ground. Achieving private investment is always challenging. At the very least, it requires a validated customer value proposition, an investor-ready business plan, and a strong team.

In 2012, Stephen successfully applied for Competitive Start Fund support from Enterprise Ireland. He was also offered a place on Phase 2 of the New Frontiers Programme; his commitment to his business idea during the intervening period had engendered confidence amongst members of the selection panel. During this time, Stephen worked closely with myself and Kieran Moynihan, CIT’s Former Entrepreneur in Residence.

Support and mentoring at the Rubicon Centre

The Rubicon Centre in Cork has a long, successful track record of supporting startups and helping them to raise funding. Through the network there, Stephen built a strong network of backers and assembled an experienced board of directors. The New Frontiers training and mentorship challenged him to define his customer value proposition and supported him in writing a robust business plan. The pitching and presentation training during the programme prepared him to face investor panels and defend his proposition.

The programme made us look at the different business models that were available to a startup company such as ours and decide on which best suited our needs. Previously, we targeted a direct sales business model but following feedback from the programme mentors we decided that a combination of direct and channel sales would be the best approach to the market for us.

Two months after graduating from the New Frontiers Programme, Zeto raised €600,000 in joint funding from private investors and Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Startup Fund. The company took on two non-executive directors to help grow the business – Kieran Moynihan from CIT, and Liam Kelly, the former chief of LED company Nualight. Zeto was also named best early-stage company at the Munster stage of the InterTrade Ireland Seedcorn competition.

Today, the company is installed in 2,500 square foot premises in Little Island, Cork. Stephen and Michael have raised €1M in funding and taken on 13 employees (full and part-time). This year will see them rolling out their platform with a large multinational supermarket chain and trialling with some of the largest food and drink producers in the world.

(photo: Stephen Slattery and Liam Kelly)

About the author

Peter-Finnegan-New-Frontiers

Peter Finnegan

Peter is the New Frontiers Programme Manager at Cork Institute of Technology (Rubicon Centre). He is an experienced manager with expertise in areas such as enterprise development, business planning, business development and foreign direct investment…. [Read Peter’s profile]

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