Tag: Dragons’ Den

Winners of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur Awards (IBYE) announced - New Frontiers

Winners of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur Awards (IBYE) announced

Winners of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur Awards (IBYE) announced - New Frontiers

Over 350 guests attended the awards ceremony of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur 2019 last Sunday, 15th September, where 24 finalists competed in three separate categories as well as for the top award.

Among the finalists were eight New Frontiers alumni. They had battled it out at local and regional level to reach the finals – this year there were over 1,600 applicants who were whittled down to 186 local winners and runners up, going on to 8 regional finals around Ireland. Getting into the final 24 is an amazing achievement in itself, and they are all winners in our eyes.

The Best Young Entrepreneurs are #MakingItHappen

#MakingItHappen Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneurs of 2019IBYE is a competition celebrating the very best young entrepreneurial talent in the country. Funded by the government with a €2 million investment annually, it is run by the network of 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) in local authorities nationwide and supported by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and Enterprise Ireland.

The finals, held at Google HQ in Dublin, included an introduction to each finalist and live ‘Pressure Pitches’. In her opening speech, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, T.D., spoke of her admiration for the finalists:

“It’s a great achievement to be here today. Irish entrepreneurs are among the best in the world and today is about celebrating this. The people in this room are our future businesspeople; your success is central to our success.”

Keeping everything running smoothly throughout the afternoon was RTÉ’s Claire Byrne. The competition was organised into three categories: Best Business Idea (Pre-Trading), Best Start-Up Business (up to 18 months), and Best Established Business (Over 18 months). For each category, the finalists were brought up on stage and asked a few questions about their startup. Then the top three of each category were invited back up for a 90-second pitch (no warning!) and follow-up questions from the judges before the winner and runner up were announced.

The judging panel was co-chaired by Paddy Flynn, Director of Trust and Safety at Google, and Brian Crowley, Founder of TTM Group. The other members of the panel were Thomas Murray, Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Eoghan Hanrahan from Enterprise Ireland, Louise Ward from LEO Roscommon, and Sarah Doyle, CEO of Kinesense. This year, the judging panel read 1,190 pages of business plans and conducted 12 hours of interviews with the finalists.

The 2019 winners and runners-up

An investment fund of €100,000 is provided for the national winners and runners-up.

Overall IBYE 2019 winner was Sharon Cunningham, co-founder with Orlaith Ryan of Shorla Pharma. The company was founded in 2018 to improve how important treatments such as cancer medications are delivered to women and children. One example is the redevelopment of a children’s cancer drug from a difficult to swallow capsule into an oral solution.

Category Winners

Best Business Idea

  • Winner – Martin O’Reilly (Output Sports), Local Enterprise Office Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown
  • Runner-Up – Elizabeth McGloughlin (Tympany Medical), Local Enterprise Office Galway

Best Start-Up Business

  • Winner – Sharon Cunningham (Shorla Pharma), Local Enterprise Office Tipperary
  • Runner-Up – Brendan Maloney (Skillko), Local Enterprise Office Mayo

Best Established Business

  • Winner – Sean McGarry (Showergem), Local Enterprise Office Mayo
  • Runner-Up – Devan Hughes (Buymie), Local Enterprise Office Dublin City

Colin Goulding of Google also awarded the Best Online Promotion of a Business prize, which went to Devan Hughes of Buymie. Colin highlighted the work Google does in this area and how important it is for the company to give back to the startup ecosystem.

Winners of IBYE Overall IBYE 2019 Sharon Cunningham Martin O’Reilly (Output Sports) Sean McGarry (Showergem)

New Frontiers finalists at IBYE 2019

Best Business Idea category

Finalist: Diane Cooper – True Fitness, IT Carlow alumna
A point-of-care device to assess the variables that quantify insulin resistance, accompanied by a practical evidence-based treatment plan.

Finalist: Conor Kerley – Setanta Nutrition Science, DkIT / DCU alumus
Combining modern science with time-tested remedies to create whole-food, plant-based supplements to prevent and treat diseases such as diabetes.

Best Start-Up Business category

Finalist: Wendy Oke – Teachkloud (formerly Serenity Compliance), Cork IT alumna
A pioneering management and compliance tool for early-years teachers that cuts the time spent on administration and also provides real-time recommendations and analysis.

Finalist: Pierce Dargan – Equine MediRecord, IADT/TU Dublin alumnus
The system provides simplified medical record compliance for equine yards through a regulator-approved digital medicines register.

Finalist: Ciaran Brennan – Livecosts.com (formerly PaidAide), TU Dublin Blanchardstown alumnus
The construction industry’s first AI-driven platform that automates the construction process and gives real-time insights into costs.

Best Established Business category

Winner: Sean McGarry – ShowerGem, LyIT / IT Sligo alumnus
A shower storage caddy, manufactured in Ireland, that uses a patented design and transparent glue to attach to tiles without the need for screws, suction cups or drilling. Sean recently appeared on Dragons’ Den (UK) with his innovative product and won investment from Tej Lalvani, Sara Davies, and Touker Suleyman.

Finalist: Emma-Rose Conroy – Euro Stallions, Athlone IT alumna
A stallion semen agency for breeders, Euro Stallions provides EU-approved stallion semen, embryo collection, and freezing.

Finalist: David Bambrick – Equireel, IT Carlow alumnus
A media company working in equestrian sports. A network of unmanned cameras to help owners, trainers, and riders analyse and improve their performance.

Five years of #MakingItHappen for Ireland’s best young entrepreneurs is €10 million invested in building sustainable and resilient businesses. Since 2014, 7,371 hopeful entrepreneurs have tossed their hat into the ring. As well as the top investment prize of €40,000, winners and runners-up of each stage receive investment and there are over 400 places provided at Business Bootcamps for entrants. Have a startup idea? Maybe 2020 will be your year!

About the author


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]

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

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Gavin Duffy - RTE Dragon's Den promotional imagery by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

Gavin Duffy on the changing face of business success

Gavin Duffy - RTE Dragon's Den promotional imagery by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find Dragons’ Den on RTÉ compulsive viewing. It’s amazing to see the varied and imaginative solutions people have come up with – often to problems you didn’t even know existed. Listening to the Dragon’s questions gives a lot of insight into the thought process and approach of experienced entrepreneurs. I always take notes that I apply to my own business, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

So, it was with great excitement that I learnt an interview had been set up with Gavin Duffy – the only Dragon to guard the Den since the show started in 2009. Gavin was already a successful businessman by the age of 17, and has gone on to conquer numerous sectors since then. He also has a keen interest in training, so I knew he would have some valuable insights for our New Frontiers community.

During our chat, we visited some well-worn topics, such as ‘what makes an entrepreneur?’ and ‘do the Irish lack global ambition?’ But we also dug into issues such as education, which I found out is a subject very close to Gavin’s heart.

Is there a particular mindset or personality that makes an entrepreneur?

Of course, not everyone starts a business in their teens as I did. For me, it was a natural progression of what I was doing at the time. Those with the best chance of success aren’t necessarily rushing headlong into it at 17 and making a go of it by some fluke! Typically, the businesses that can really succeed – generate significant revenues and sustainable employment – are those with a founder who has a track record in their sector.

That said, founding a business is a real challenge if you’re older. You might be at the stage where you’ve started a family and have a good job… but you still have that yearning to do your own thing. Deciding to set up a business at that point (jumping the wall, as it were), is a risk and that can be hard on everyone involved.

So, what should those that do decide to jump do first?

There is a fantastic network of support out there these days. You have agencies like Enterprise Ireland or the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) where people can get the help and advice to appraise their startup idea.

True entrepreneurs have a vision of doing things in a better way – whether that’s making, delivering, or producing something. My advice at that early stage is to make use of those available channels and get your idea validated. There is assistance and funding out there to help you with this, so make use of it!

As an investor, are you seeing a higher calibre of entrepreneur seeking capital?

I think in the venture capital (VC) world, we see more informed business decisions being made, certainly. Entrepreneurs are framing their pitches more coherently, they understand the ins and outs of investment, and we hear them use the word ‘exit’ when they describe their strategy.

For me, as someone in the investment community, it’s always good to see someone with a track record in their industry bringing a startup idea to the table. Their proximity and familiarity with the area have allowed them to spot a potential solution or market, which they have then tested thoroughly with the supports available.

What about on Dragons’ Den? Has the standard of those opportunities changed over the years?

You have to remember that Dragons’ Den is a TV show, so things are a little different there. The producers are on the lookout for ideas that are either truly brilliant or completely wacky, because good solid businesses don’t usually make the most entertaining TV.

But in terms of the business plans and investment opportunities presented, I would say there has been a marked improvement over the years. I’m impressed by the business knowledge that goes into the pitches; people are generally very well prepared.

How do you feel about the health of the business ecosystem in Ireland today?

The offering of the entire business community has improved in Ireland; whether that’s business advisors, professional services, even entities such as small accountancy firms that are advising young startups and helping them with business plans and financial strategies. Ireland is definitely an enterprising country.

I take part in the Enterprise Towns expos, which are organised by Bank of Ireland. Most people judge the economy by looking at their local high street and the number of vacant retail units can lead to them lamenting the loss of family businesses and assuming that the economy is struggling. But that’s only because retail as we knew it has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, so much of it has moved online and now high streets are mostly about food and coffee!

However, turn up to an Enterprise Town event and you’ll see as many as 150 amazing local businesses. They may be run from a garden shed, or a shared office somewhere, but they are providing employment and are part of the backbone of the country. During the downturn, some people had no choice but to set something up for themselves, and they’ve proved very successful at it. Industries evolve, we have to learn to recognise the changing face of success.

We’re great at small business, then. But some people talk about a lack of ‘global ambition’ in Ireland. Where do you stand in that debate?

I hear that criticism frequently. “Irish entrepreneurs are happy with ‘lifestyle businesses’ and don’t tend to go further. Or they sell up.” I think this complaint overlooks one thing, which is that in the tech world there are different classes of business. Companies such as Stripe are platform businesses – they are a global play from the very start, and the reality is that such businesses will always be in the minority.

If a business involves a branded product – say, a food product – you can achieve success and go on to enter other markets, but there will always be much bigger players in those markets that you have to either compete with or who will potentially make you an offer you can’t refuse.

I don’t believe that somehow Irish entrepreneurs are less ambitious than anyone else. It simply depends on what part of a market you’re in. If you look at the handful of major, global entrepreneurs, Ireland is very well represented. For instance, you have the Collisons (co-founders of Stripe), or Liam Casey (founder of PCH). Go back a generation and you have examples such as Smurfit Kappa, Independent News and Media, or Glanbia.

Given its size, is conquering the Irish market enough?

Ireland is a pretty small market, which means that businesses must think about other markets. It’s tricky being an island market, too. If you’re in mainland Europe and need to meet people or attend an event, you can get to eight capital cities within an easy train ride. That’s not the case here, but luckily technology is changing the way we conduct business and geography is becoming less and less of an issue.

That said, I recognise that the Irish can get quite fixated on their home market. A few years ago, one of my investments, TanOrganic (founded by Noelle O’Connor), was doing very well in the Australian market. Marissa Carter then launched Cocoa Brown in the Irish market, where she completely surpassed us. It shouldn’t have been an issue for us, as we were taking such strides in Australia, but somehow it felt like a failure not be Number 1 back at home.

What’s needed to ensure the next generations can compete in the global marketplace?

I see a key role for education systems, but they are slow to adapt. Primary education is still chalk-and-talk; at junior or leaving cert level the curriculum is still a reflection of where we were 15 or 20 years’ ago – because that’s how long it takes to effect change in the education system.

Both primary and secondary schooling needs to change utterly. No one graduating from university at this point is going to get a job in a company, work for 40 years and then retire with a nice watch. There isn’t a single industry or sector that operates in that way now. Younger generations need to learn a different range of skills.

It’s not the sole responsibility of schools to make this change. Change is required in society generally, that includes parents, and of course business. In a generation’s time, the ‘professions’ as we know them won’t be employing people at the same level or in the same way. It’s a big challenge that we haven’t addressed yet

So if we add Computer Science lessons to the curriculum, everything will be OK?

Technical skills are crucial, of course, but I don’t mean we need an entire generation of coders, either. Creativity and innovation may be ‘softer’ skills, but they matter just as much. Being able to sell yourself, create a product or deliver a service needs to be engendered in the education system, and reinforced at third level.

It’s great to see some of the Transition Year projects around the country, were pupils set up a business and get some real-life experience of what might be involved. For some, that’s their first ever understanding of business. I was lucky, because business was the family pastime. That’s not the case for a lot of kids.

I’m Chairman of an organisation called BizWorld Ireland. We run two-day enterprise workshops for children aged 10 – 13 and there’s one thing that always surprises me. The children in primary school have these truly global ideas – creative, world-changing initiatives. By the time they get to TY, the ideas are a lot less ambitious.

You’ll have come across Sir Ken Robinson’s assertion that education hinders the creativity of students the longer they are exposed to it. I’ve seen direct evidence of that. So, while we’re teaching children the right blend of skills they’ll need for tomorrow’s workplace, we should also be working hard to stop putting up barriers for them. The ambition younger children have is phenomenal, if we can nurture that we’ll be securing a sound footing for the future of business.

Check out Gavin’s recent article What’s your Business Strategy for 2018? – 5 Easy Wins for the New Year for more business insights

[Featured image courtesy of Ruth Medjber – Ruthless Imagery. Gavin Duffy on the set of Dragons’ Den (RTÉ)]

About the author


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]

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

Gavin Duffy, Eleanor McEvoy, Alison Cowzer, Chanelle McCoy and Barry O’Sullivan - RTE Dragon's Den promotional imagery by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

New Frontiers alumni find success in the Dragons’ Den

Gavin Duffy, Eleanor McEvoy, Alison Cowzer, Chanelle McCoy and Barry O’Sullivan - RTE Dragon's Den promotional imagery by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

Some fantastic New Frontiers startups have appeared on RTE One’s Dragons’ Den. The programme is addictive viewing for anyone interested in entrepreneurship, investment and business, with founders from every industry squaring up to face the Dragons’ tough questions.

We decided to catch up with two alumni who secured investment during the latest season of Dragons’ Den. What made them step into the Den? What’s it like to pitch to such a formidable panel? What, if anything, would they do differently?

Art McArdle – Heat Hero

Art McArdle Dragons Den New FrontiersArt and Adrienne McArdle founded Heat Hero in 2015. Their product is an innovative solution to improve the efficiency of solid fuel heating systems. The manifold can be retro-fitted onto any system, and because it doesn’t have any electrics or moving parts it requires no future maintenance.

Art is the technical know-how behind Heat Hero, while Adrienne runs the day-to-day of the business. They had originally applied to Dragons’ Den in 2016, but as it was quite early in their startup journey, they didn’t get through the application process.

They joined the New Frontiers programme at Dundalk Institute of Technology, and used an Innovation Voucher from Enterprise Ireland to carry out further research into the product. They were teamed up with a mentor to help them develop the business, and Heat Hero went on to win a Best Innovative Product Award at the SEAI’s Energy Show 2016.

The next step was to get their product tested and approved. This testing was carried out by independent UK experts, Kiwa Gastech, and Heat Hero was awarded its safety certificate. The solid fuel body, HETAS, now lists Heat Hero as an approved product (in both the UK and Ireland). Art and Adrienne took all the critical steps needed to corroborate the effect of the Heat Hero on a solid fuel system – it has now been proven to improve the efficiency of a solid fuel heating system by up to 30%.

With this validation in place, Art and Adrienne reapplied to Dragons’ Den. With their product now stocked in 100 stores around the country, they had the sales and feedback they needed to prove the viability of their business. There are 300,000 solid fuel stoves in Ireland alone. With the backing of a Dragon – the investment they bring, but also their experience and networks – the market potential is huge.

“The Dragons’ Den team are very hands-on, they really help you prepare and they get you ready for the pitch in every way. They talk you through your messaging, the approach you’ll take once you’re out there, how you will demonstrate your product. They also have a pitch coach to help you get word-perfect.”

As Art was going to be the one to pitch, Adrienne coached him relentlessly on the minutiae of the company’s financials, popping random questions at him out of the blue so that he was ready for anything.

“We practiced the pitch in different venues, with different audiences, and with a camera too. I told people to ask me anything, and not to hold their punches. Then two days before shooting, I stopped practicing completely and let myself relax about the pitch, so that I didn’t arrive too stressed out.”

What viewers may not realise is that interviews with the Dragons can sometimes go on for an hour and a half, far longer than the short scenes we see in the final programme. Every aspect of the business is covered; the Dragons ask all kinds of questions before coming to their decision of whether or not to invest.

“By the time you walk out in front of the Dragons, you’re so outside of what a normal day feels like that you almost get what I would call a second wind. You’re really nervous, but you’ve come so far that you know you can’t let the nerves get the better of you. I knew I only had one shot, and that was it!
The Dragons started firing their questions at me, but once I was through the initial pitch I felt a lot more relaxed about answering them. I’d learnt my financials by heart, and wasn’t worried about answering any technical questions. I was a bit thrown when Gavin asked me specifically about sales numbers from February, and I had to dig deep to remember what the figure was!”

The Dragons were very impressed with Art’s pitch, with Gavin Duffy saying, “The potential is limitless.”

Art was one of those lucky entrepreneurs who gets competing bids for investment: an offer of €60,000 for 32% from Eleanor McEvoy and €60,000 for 30% from Gavin. He asked the Dragons if they would consider investing together, but that idea didn’t appeal to Eleanor… after some consideration, Art chose to accept Eleanor’s offer, even though she wanted a slightly higher percentage.

“Gavin and Eleanor were the two Dragons I had in mind when I went in. I would have been very happy with Gavin and I know that he would have been 100% behind the product. But at the same time Eleanor had all the contacts in the energy sector. You couldn’t ignore that.”

What came across during Art’s pitch was the simplicity of his solution and the pains he had taken to prove its effectiveness. It was obvious that his open and friendly manner had endeared him to the whole panel, as summed up at the end by Alison Cowzer after he had left the room, “What a promoter! What an honest, authentic guy. You’ve got a really good business partner there, Eleanor.”

Participants can’t publicise their appearance until two weeks before the programme airs, but once the embargo is lifted, a canny entrepreneur can maximise the publicity generated by an appearance on a prime weekend TV slot. During those two weeks, Art and Adrienne spoke to as many contacts and prospects as they could, and got in touch with local newspapers and radio stations.

“The media coverage and the feedback we’ve had has been fantastic. Dragons’ Den has been an amazing platform for our business; the phone and email haven’t stopped! I know of lots of people who threw their stove out because it just wasn’t performing the way they expected it to. Now that so many more people know about Heat Hero, that won’t happen anymore.”

The next steps for Art and Adrienne will be to look at working directly with County Councils to install the Heat Hero at the same time as the heating system goes in, as well as extending their retail network in Ireland and pushing into the UK market. They also have a new product coming out that will make wood systems work better, which is an important development because so many people would prefer to use a sustainable fuel like wood instead of fuels such as coal.

“I just can’t believe the response we’ve had, I’m so happy we went on the programme. Heat Hero is the future for all boiler stoves… it’s out there now and this was just the stepping stone we needed!”

Olive O’Connor – MediStori

Olive O’Connor MediStori - New FrontiersThe MediStori is an organiser that allows patients or their carers to keep all their health information in one place. It’s a paper-based system that takes the stress out of managing an illness or health condition – you can keep hospital correspondence, notes, prescriptions, appointments, medical cards, and health records in an easy-to-reference booklet that never needs recharging!

Olive’s three children suffered from acute illnesses when they were young, and Olive herself has an ongoing health condition. It was as a result of having to manage multiple health and medication regimes within the family that she developed a notebook system that eventually became the MediStori health organiser.

With help from New Frontiers, HSE backing, and extensive research with patients, carers and health professionals, Olive designed a family health manager suitable for monitoring all types of chronic illness, or even just keeping track of a new-born’s development. In January this year, Olive decided it was time to take her business to the next level. She had signed a big supply contract and cash flow was going to be an important part of making sure her business was sustainable.

Olive researched a few investment options and decided to send an application to Dragons’ Den. She met with the producers, who took her through the financials of the business and the other elements required. She was accepted to go forward to the show, and went through the second application phase. However, no part of the process is shared with the Dragons, they know nothing about the business until they meet the entrepreneur in front of the cameras.

Appearing on the show involves a long day at the studio. It’s not just your pitch you have to worry about – there are pre interviews and post interviews too, plus the obligatory trip to hair and makeup! Pitch coach, Catherine Moonan, is on hand to help the promoters refine their pitch and prepare for the Dragons’ questions.

“Overall, it’s a really lovely and worthwhile experience. Everyone does their best to put you at ease and address any concerns you have. They also set up your product demonstration for you, so you don’t have the added stress of having to do that.”

Olive prepared for the Den with two mentors, Attracta Burke and Donncha Hughes, and met with an entrepreneur who had successfully been through the Den experience. She rehearsed her pitch with friends, but also told them to ask her all the tough questions they could think of to prepare her for any curveballs that might come her way.

“I’ve done lots of public speaking, so I’m used to being on a stage. The difference this time was that I didn’t have my usual PowerPoint to guide me, which made it harder to get my timing right and remember what I wanted to say. I practiced a lot in the two weeks leading up to filming, always focusing on answering the key questions: problem & solution, market competitors, costing & future growth.”

An important part of Olive’s pitch was the story behind her startup. For some people it might be their education, or their experience in a market, whereas the reason behind Olive’s startup was a deeply personal one.

“I wasn’t trying to win the Dragons over because of sympathy for my personal situation. The important thing for me was to show that I knew my product inside out because I had lived through the experience of having children who were unwell. They say that investors make their decision based 80% on the promoter and 20% on the business, so it’s very important that you don’t forget to include yourself when telling your story.”

There was a moment during Olive’s pitch where confusion arose about the figures she gave for her monthly outgoings. Chanelle McCoy declared herself out based on the company’s running costs being too high, but the figure Olive had given was actually for projected costs based on future growth.

“My one regret was not listening to the question properly. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t know my financials, but that I had answered a different question. I knew immediately I had made an error and luckily Barry picked up on it and I had the chance to put it right at that point. But it did mean I lost a potential investor. Thankfully, Chanelle, true to her word, has been a great support since the show.”

Going into the Den, Olive had already identified Barry O’Sullivan and Chanelle McCoy as her ideal investors, although she would have been delighted to work with any of them. Barry offered her the full €80,000 investment, with a small royalty payable on each product until his investment is recouped. Just how hard did Olive have to think before accepting?

“The Dragons can bring you so much more than investment. They also bring their personality and values, and I knew Barry had similar ones to mine. Relationships are everything, and if you don’t get on with your investor it’s going to be a hard road.”

The future is looking very busy for Olive. She has signed a contract with United Drug Consumer, and sales of the product soared after the show aired. MediStori will be in another 80 pharmacies by the end of the month, which is twice as many as Olive’s target. She is opening up both B2B and B2C opportunities for the business, and has been careful to ensure her PR and marketing strategy is positioned to benefit from the amazing exposure that TV and radio appearances bring (she was also on the Ryan Tubridy show the following day, and then the Today Show with Maura and Dáithí later that week).

One unexpected result of appearing in the Den was the huge volume of traffic that the MediStori website got. There were 10,000 visitors in the 24 hours after the show aired, with another 15,000 checking the site during that week. The website couldn’t cope with the traffic and went down, which meant Olive had to very quickly connect with anyone and everyone who might be trying to get in touch or purchase a product. She sent out personal emails to all her contacts, and kept everyone in the loop on social media with regular updates.

“It’s so important to not be afraid to say that something’s gone wrong. As long as you explain why it’s happened, people won’t worry. We didn’t get any negative feedback at all, even though the site was offline for a good while.”

Another smart thing Olive did was get lots of momentum going in the lead-up to the programme, reaching out to all her contacts to let them know she would be on Dragons’ Den and sharing the relevant Twitter hashtags. She got a lot of response on social media, with 22% of the company’s sales that weekend coming from Twitter.

“It was interesting to see the kind of connectivity we got. I’ve noticed in the past that some people who appear on Dragons’ Den don’t really interact with what people are saying to them on platforms like Twitter. I personally responded to everybody, whether they had positive or negative feedback, and thanked people for their comments. People buy from people, if you get an opportunity like Dragons’ Den, you have to use it. Don’t underestimate the power of social media!”

Are you thinking of stepping into the Den?

Quite a few New Frontiers participants have appeared on Dragons’ Den over the years, and a number of them have been successful in raising investment. This year saw Sarah Kiely, founder of Sadie’s Kitchen, win over Alison Cowzer in Episode 2, for an investment of €50,000. Evan and Gerard Talty appeared in Episode 7, and secured investment from Alison for their startup, Wild Irish Seaweed. Noreen Doyle, of the Irish Biltong Company, was also offered investment earlier in the season, but chose not to accept the Dragon’s offer.

If you’re thinking of stepping into the Den, the consensus is definitely: GO FOR IT! Even if you don’t win the investment you were hoping for, it’s an invaluable experience and will prepare you for future pitching opportunities. The process of going through your financials and business proposition is very useful, too; it will help you to firm up your business plan and get feedback from experienced business people which could lead to a pivot or new opportunities you had never even considered. And, of course, there’s no such thing as bad publicity… simply appearing on the show will get you the kind of exposure that other startups can only dream of!

[Dragons’ Den is made by Screentime ShinAwil for RTÉ. Featured image courtesy of Ruth Medjber – Ruthless Imagery]

About the author


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]

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

eamonn quinn new frontiers

Eamonn Quinn: failure is as important as success

eamonn quinn new frontiers

We’ve all seen Eamonn Quinn on Dragons’ Den, but what’s it really like to listen to a pitch and decide to invest? What does it take to be a successful investor and help young companies to mature and take on the world?

Eamonn’s father, Fergal Quinn, was the founder of Superquinn. Eamonn recall helping out at the supermarket chain from the age of 10, and by the time of its sale in 2005 he was Marketing Director and Deputy Chairman. After the sale, the Quinns set up a family office to run their investment portfolio, with interests in the food retail sector, green energies, and private equity funds.

They’ve invested in lots of businesses over the past decade, some of which are known and some early-stage projects which are more under the radar. Each investment relies on a greater or lesser level of involvement. Kelsius, for example, is a food safety business that Eamonn has been involved in developing, and which was a full time job for him until a CEO was recently appointed.

What are the most exciting developments you’ve seen in food retail recently?

“Food is going from just being a commodity to being an integral part of your health. People are really questioning what they’re eating now and are less and less satisfied with a mass-produced product at the lowest possible price. The market is definitely shifting towards nutrition and in some cases as far as ‘food as medicine’ with people trying to treat themselves for illness such as cancer through what they eat.”

The recent changes in food retail have certainly been a game-changer. Even hard discounters such as Aldi and Lidl now focus on traceability, provenance and selling Irish produce – and it’s a model they’ve adopted very successfully.

How have you enjoyed being on TV?

“In some sense it was a little bit of a return, because I had been on TV in the Superquinn days. Dragons’ Den is a little different, though. For one thing, it’s not live TV – you have the possibility of making a mistake because you can always do it again.”

With over 50 entrepreneurs standing before the dragons in any one series, the pressure is on to ask the right questions and get as much relevant information as possible in the allotted time. The danger lies in missing a fantastic opportunity because of a misunderstanding about the business proposition before them.

“The key to investing is an ability to listen. When someone is pitching, it’s important to identify the gaps, and see the issues they haven’t thought of.”

What should entrepreneurs remember when pitching for investment?

“The crucial thing that is likely to get the attention of investors is an alignment of interests. With early-stage funding, the key is ‘smart money’ – that’s an investor who isn’t just bringing cash to the table but who can offer guidance and mentoring, as well as a good knowledge of your sector that has the added benefits of insight, past experience and an existing network of contacts.”

What should entrepreneurs make sure to avoid when pitching?

“If I think they’re just looking for a job and they want me to pay for it, that’s definitely not going to go down well!”

What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs like our New Frontiers participants?

“Talking your idea through with other people is the very first thing you should do. Even if it’s just friends and family, discuss your solution and make sure that a) the problem you’re solving really exists and b) your solution is an effective and efficient one.

“Test your idea with that initial group of 10 or 15 people, and if you’re still sure it’s a runner you can expand to a group of, say, 50 or 100 people and see what feedback you get from them. If your product or service is niche, make sure you’re talking to people with experience in that area.”

Does it get easier to identify the investments that will succeed?

“It’s not a science, obviously. Some products come in and you think ‘this isn’t going to work!’ but it turns out to be a fantastic success. You’ll always get unexpected shooting stars! But you do see the type of ingredients that make an idea more likely to succeed than not.”

Of course, there’s more to a good idea than just producing a nice product with nice packaging. The unseen hard work that goes into a business is what ultimately makes a difference. Looking back, Eamonn is in no doubt that the successful businesses he was involved in were the ones that paid attention to the details.

“Retail is detail! At Superquinn, stores had an Hourly Order Guide. Every hour, a manager would spot-check a random list of 100 items, which would give a good indication that everything was running smoothly. It’s details like those that are the difference between a good business and an average business.”

How would you describe your guiding philosophy when it comes to business?

“Failure is important. As an investor, you’re going to have more failures than successes, particularly with early-stage investments. There are a lot of things that can break a company at early-stage; sometimes it only takes one thing to go wrong and that’s the end of it. You have to take the knocks. As a rule of thumb, for every 10 ventures, you might be looking at 2 successes, 2 to break even and 6 are likely to fail.”

Clearly, there’s no exact science to investing. Having a culture where failure is simply a learning experience is usually extremely beneficial. Being able to ask why something didn’t work and what you could do better next time will inform your future decisions and help to avoid costly or damaging mistakes in the future.

“Sometimes, it’s just the market that changes – like during the crash – and there’s not a lot you can do about that, of course. But you can bring together the ingredients that give you the best chance: an understanding of your market and an analysis of your competitors and your own competitive advantage (even if it’s just for the short term).”

About the author


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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