Tag: entrepreneurship

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business targets diversity - New Frontiers programme

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business targets diversity - New Frontiers programme

Enterprise Ireland has launched the Action Plan For Women In Business, an ambitious and wide-reaching strategy to achieve greater representation of women in business and, particularly, in business leadership across Ireland. We spoke to Sheelagh Daly at Enterprise Ireland to find out more.

Numerous studies prove that having women in executive positions and on boards leads to better outcomes for organisations – with better financial performance and higher employee engagement. Putting women in decision-making roles improves all kinds of business metrics, but we are still not seeing gender parity in business.

An ongoing commitment to gender balance

Focusing on gender balance in business is not new for Enterprise Ireland. There have been a number of initiatives over the past years aimed at improving the ratio, such as Going For Growth or female-only Competitive Start Fund (CSF) calls. The success of these is evident, with Enterprise Ireland investing in three times more women-led companies in 2019 compared to 2011.

Looking forward, it was clear that as the national agency for economic development, Enterprise Ireland had an important role to play in improving diversity in business. CEO Julie Sinnamon asked the agency to put together a plan.

“Harnessing the full talent and expertise of our diverse population will result in better businesses and faster economic growth. Unleashing the creativity and skills of more women represents an unparalleled opportunity for fuelling economic growth in Ireland.”

Julie Sinnamon – CEO, Enterprise Ireland

The plan has been piloted by Sheelagh Daly, Entrepreneurship Manager at Enterprise Ireland. She spent a year putting together the strategy and identifying the first 24 actions for 2020. She started by asking four key questions about the lack of female participation in enterprise: What are the reasons? What are the barriers? What needs to change? What additional supports are required?

“Women in leadership roles means increased profits, improved productivity, better returns on assets, and overall superior performance. We want companies making smart decisions about the senior management team that will help them be the best they can be.”

Sheelagh Daly – Entrepreneurship Manager, Enterprise Ireland

An evolving plan with multiple themes

Action Plan For Women In Business

Research demonstrates that – in general – women take a different approach to business, so the plan includes a commitment to working on a one-to-one basis with women as well as addressing systemic barriers that women tend to face. An excellent example of concrete action is a new grant for Enterprise Ireland clients that offer part-time leadership roles. While a grant already exists for full-time roles, this new funding reflects the reality that many women ready to take on such responsibilities may need more flexibility.

The scope of the plan is broad and in addition to the horizontal focus across Enterprise Ireland activities, we will see initiatives developed in partnership with other agencies, stakeholders, the private sector, and government departments. Input into policy development is likely to be significant as the plan evolves.

But if you were thinking this strategy is just about startups, think again! Research and development, education, mentoring, investment and venture capital, networking, leadership development, showcasing successful businesswomen, and bringing experienced female leaders back to work are all going to be a feature of the Women in Business plan.

“People with more senior management experience in their industry are more likely to spot opportunities for innovative new businesses, plus the beliefs and skills to go ahead with the idea. These people are also more likely to have the all-important network of connections that will make things happen in the business.”

Sheelagh Daly – Entrepreneurship Manager, Enterprise Ireland

The objectives of the Women in Business plan

In total, the plan comprises four main objectives, each with six associated actions that Enterprise Ireland has committed to starting in 2020.

Objective 1: Increase the number of women-led established companies growing internationally

  1. Drive the Women in Business action plan in each division of Enterprise Ireland
  2. Engage with financial institutions to deliver a finance and funding landscape that is accessible and inclusive
  3. Develop a #GlobalAmbition campaign featuring Women in Business leaders and initiatives
  4. Offer increased one-to-one engagement to women-led companies to effectively support growth ambitions and expansion into new global markets
  5. Ensure all Enterprise Ireland programmes and supports are designed to maximise participation by women
  6. Explore proposals for new finance offers to support scaling for women-led established companies

Objective 2: Increase the number of women in middle and senior management and leadership roles

  1. Introduce a new grant for Enterprise Ireland-supported companies to facilitate the recruitment of part-time senior managers
  2. Promote the benefits of diversity to enterprise and provide funding support for diversity planning to Enterprise Ireland-supported companies
  3. Work with external stakeholders to influence national policies to address identified barriers to women’s participation in enterprise
  4. Work with key stakeholders to facilitate Irish companies to improve gender diversity on their boards
  5. Target women managers in Enterprise Ireland-supported companies and within Enterprise Ireland for participation on leadership development programmes
  6. Promote a focus on diversity in the development of skills and talent for Irish enterprise through the National Skills Fora and within Enterprise Ireland

Objective 3: Increase the number of women becoming entrepreneurs

  1. Partner with key stakeholders to drive better access to finance and funding for women at all stages on their enterprise journey
  2. Collaborate with the Local Enterprise Offices to develop and grow female entrepreneurship in every county
  3. Target more women to become founders, mentors, and investors
  4. Ensure enterprise and entrepreneurship policy is aligned with the objectives of the Enterprise Ireland Women in Business plan
  5. Develop, support, and promote a national network of role models to interact with and inspire future entrepreneurs
  6. Promote a focus on women in business in the actions and funding of Regional Enterprise Plans

Objective 4: Increase the number of women-led start-ups with high growth potential

  1. Appoint a dedicated team in Enterprise Ireland to develop and drive initiatives directed at female founders
  2. Issue a series of funding calls targeting women entrepreneurs, and women researchers from third level institutions
  3. Pilot an initiative to include women leaders/senior managers in project teams spinning out from third level institutions
  4. Explore the potential to establish a women-focused seed investment group with key finance industry stakeholders
  5. Roll out national and regional communications campaigns showcasing women entrepreneurs
  6. Offer increased one-to-one engagement to women-led HPSUs and support female founders through mentoring with experienced entrepreneurs who have scaled their businesses

The Women in Business plan addresses a broad range of factors contributing to the underrepresentation of women in enterprise and will help to initiate sustainable and enduring change in the Irish economy. If you’d like to know more, you can download the action plan brochure, visit the Enterprise Ireland website, or talk to your Enterprise Ireland/Local Enterprise Office advisor.

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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Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients - New Frontiers programme

Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients

Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients - New Frontiers programme

We’re not pointing any fingers, but you know who we’re talking about! When it comes to late-paying clients, there are always a few stragglers. Although it’s not personal and usually just an indicator of clunky business processes, if you’re a small business trying to grow it is hard to be sympathetic. However, if most of your late-paying clients also happen to be your biggest clients, your problem is a bit more of a challenge.

According to ISME, the Irish SME Association, 55% of companies experience payment delays of two months or more (Q2, 2019). CEO Neil McDonnell points out that:

“Smaller businesses do not have working capital to wait for payment as long as big businesses. 36% of multinationals are taking longer to make their payments, showing a total disregard for SMEs.”

It all comes down to big companies wanting to have as much ready cash available to them as possible, but this can turn into a serious problem for SMEs in the long run.

Although no healthy business should be reliant on any one client, this worrying trend of late payments can be detrimental to a small business if not managed correctly. That’s why in this blog we’re going tackle the credit-control challenge head-on.

Should you be giving credit at all?

Providing credit is not uncommon in business, but it is not the rule and you are not obliged to offer it. If you’re a small business ticking over with only a handful of clients and you can’t afford to give credit, then perhaps you shouldn’t. In the creative industries and for freelancers, payment on delivery is the most common payment term. For larger or longer projects, it’s typical to pay half upfront, or even staged payments throughout the life of the project. Maybe your business could adopt a similar model? Take a close look at your current cash flow situation and determine what kind of figure you should be starting the month with. If getting to that figure requires bringing those invoice deadlines closer, then don’t be afraid to put your foot down. Remember, it’s your business and you make rules, not your debtors.

Set clear terms before you start

When a new project or contract comes through the door, it’s tempting to show how keen you are for the business and dive in as soon as possible. But not setting clear boundaries from the outset can be something you come to regret. If you do need to offer credit, then agree in advance what that will be and get it in writing. Ideally, this will already be laid out in your Terms and Conditions, but even so it’s worth drawing the new client’s attention to what these are. If you don’t have Ts & Cs already, or if you want this client to stick to different payment terms, make sure to get this agreed in writing beforehand including a) at what point(s) you will invoice, and b) how many days they will have to pay. If they subsequently don’t stick to these terms, you can start chasing straight away and draw their attention to the agreed terms.

Offer an early-payment discount

As with everything in business, you are dealing with human beings, which means that incentives and motivational tactics can work a treat – especially when it comes to saving money! You don’t necessarily have to offer this to all your clients, but you can pick a select few who you think would be open to the idea. You can offer them a discount for paying within, say, 10 days if that is helpful to your cash flow situation. The only drawback with this strategy is that payments may still be unpredictable. It is up to your client whether they take you up on your offer, and even if they do you won’t be sure exactly when they’ll pay.

Penalise those naughty late payers

Did you know that you are entitled by law to charge interest on late payments? It doesn’t just apply to your Irish customers, as this is a European Union regulation. The majority of businesses don’t do this, perhaps because they don’t know they can, don’t want to rock the boat, or think it isn’t worth the hassle. But you can do this for any commercial transaction and you don’t even need to send a reminder first; you can start charging as soon as the invoice is overdue. The Late Payment Interest rate is currently 8%. This means that if a client was a month late paying a bill of €2,000 + VAT, you’d be able to charge them €16.13 in interest. You can use this online interest calculator to work out what you are due.

In addition, you are automatically entitled to “compensation for recovery costs” without needing to provide evidence of having incurred recovery costs or issuing a reminder. This is a flat fee entitlement. If you had a particularly tricky situation and had to hire a solicitor or debt collection agency, this would obviously be a whole different situation. The automatic compensation you are entitled to under the regulation is:

  • Up to €1,000: €40
  • €1000 – €10,000: €70
  • Over €10,000: €100

Automate the credit control process

These days, there is a software solution to alleviate any business ailment. If you’re tired of payments dribbling past the finish line like the world’s slowest snail race, the time has probably come for more proactive credit control. There are lots of fintech solutions for debt management out there that make it easy to chase late payers. Some examples are Chaser and Fluidly.  With Chaser, you simply connect with your Sage, Xero, or QuickBooks account and set up auto-reminders so that your clients are prompted when their invoice is past due. Solutions like this allow you to personalise these prompts so that your business brand is kept intact. You can also control who gets reminders and how often, and even escalate the reminders to get more serious the longer the debt is outstanding – for instance by changing the recipient and sender of the reminder to more senior counterparts in your respective businesses.

Leverage outstanding bills with invoice financing

A 60- or 90-day credit window can become too much to bear for some small businesses. It’s a situation many businesses try to suffer through but there are ways to get around this problem if chasing your clients isn’t enough. If existing credit terms are now proving challenging for your company’s cash flow, you could look into invoice financing. Invoice financing is a finance facility that allows businesses to borrow money against outstanding customer invoices. Typically, you’ll receive a large portion of the funds immediately and when your client settles the invoice, you’ll receive the rest (minus a fee for the service, of course). This isn’t an ideal scenario in the long-term, but it can get you through a challenging period.

As you can see, there are many ways to manage late-paying clients. The key is to find the solution that works best for your type of business as well as your clients. It can be uncomfortable talking about this issue with clients, but never forget that you deserve to be paid for your hard work. Asking for what you are due is a fair and reasonable thing to do!

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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5 Powerful Habits Of Successful Business Leaders

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How You Can Stop Bad Posture Ruining Your Workday

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Big business trends to watch out for in 2020 - New Frontiers Programme -Enterprise Ireland

The big business trends to watch out for in 2020

Big business trends to watch out for in 2020 - New Frontiers Programme -Enterprise Ireland

2020 is upon us and we STILL don’t have flying cars. It’s a disappointing realisation that we are entering yet another futuristic-sounding year without even one DeLorean to have taken to the skies. Alas, we’ll have to curb our expectations for now and be content with cars simply driving themselves. Joking aside, 2020 is looking to be a very interesting year for business with great advancements and transformations happening in technology, the workplace, customer relationships, and more.

If you’re craving some sharp insights into what kind of year 2020 is shaping up to be, then look no further! We’re going to share with you 4 business predictions we’re putting our bets on for 2020.

Our top 4 business predictions for 2020

Irish businesses will need to get 5G ready

True, we didn’t need to check a crystal ball for this one! The fifth generation of cellular networking is here, but how exactly will it impact your business? This wireless technology is estimated to be at least 10 times faster than 4G, which means faster communication, faster business processes, and faster results for your clients. Currently, the average time it takes data to upload from a device is 50ms with a 4G network, but with 5G it will take just 1ms.

However, we’re not claiming 5G will be in every single household by the end of 2020. After all, there are still houses in rural areas stuck on 3G. But according to Intel, the rollout will be in full swing in 2020 so they advise businesses to get ready:

“For 5G to become a reality, businesses need to replace fixed-function equipment with virtualised software-defined networks. Switching to the cloud will be vital as 5G relies so heavily on virtualisation.”

Customer Experience will benefit from automation

Customer Experience, or CX, has been a hot topic for a few years, but until now businesses have been struggling to know how to implement it as practical business processes. With increasing accessibility to high-quality automation tools, 2020 will be the year in which we see CX truly take off.

A great example of this is the strides being made with chatbots. The chatbots of 2020 won’t simply trot off a couple of generic messages and then hand the conversation over to a real customer service agent. Instead, chatbots will use intelligent voice messaging to tailor responses to the individual and automate payments in real time.

Customer expectations are increasing constantly as people get used to using more smart devices, such as virtual assistants, in their own home. With Qualtrics finding that 60% of businesses think the mobile experience they are providing is good but that only 22% of customers feel the same, it pays to bulldoze those blind spots, listen to customers’ needs, and invest in the technology you use to drive successful customer relationships in 2020.

Will your business take advantage of the growing remote working trend?

Remote working used to be something that employees who wanted more flexibility pushed for while management looked on sceptically, unsure of whether a divided labour force could really manage to be productive. How times have changed! According to FlexJobs, 75% of people work remotely because there are fewer distractions and 86% say it reduces stress, which all directly feeds into increased worker productivity. In 2020, the encouragement for remote working is coming from the top as employers reap the benefits of this cost-effective, timesaving, and fully customisable work structure.

There are many great reasons as to why remote working is gaining in popularity, but for Ireland specifically we would throw the combination of high rent prices in the capital and long commutes into the ring. On average, it takes commuters in Kildare and Meath one hour and nine minutes to get to work, which is equivalent to, if not quicker than, those taking public transport from Dublin’s suburbs. The Luas and Dart have become notorious for congestion, which not only increases travel time but makes getting to work a very stressful and exhausting experience. Therefore, if not just for productivity then for employee health and happiness, remote working could be a great trend to jump on in 2020.

Gen Z will enter the workforce

They’re coming and they’re going to make up 20% of the workforce in 2020, but what does that mean for your business? This generation is composed of digital natives in the truest sense. Born between 1995 and 2010, they do not know a world without the internet. This puts them in a strong position entering the workforce as we are very much in need of their technology skills! However, to leverage their skills you’ll need to attract them and being a tech-first company is essential.

According to a study by Dell, 91% of Gen Z considers the technology offered by an employer to be a critical factor when choosing a job. Generation Z, or Centennials as they are also known, expect to not only exercise their skills but to continuously improve them. Therefore, it is in the business’s interest to provide these opportunities. Despite being glued to their screens, Gen Z appreciates authentic face-to-face conversations and shows a strong interest in being tech mentors, which can only be a good thing for other members of your intergenerational team!

Running an Irish startup in 2020 is going to be both challenging and rewarding. If you’re about to take the plunge and would like some extra support, why not consider a programme like New Frontiers?! We have locations around the country and start dates throughout the year. Take a look at what’s involved and register your interest today.

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

5 Powerful Habits Of Successful Business Leaders

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

coworking vs traditional office - new frontiers programme Enterprise Ireland

Coworking space vs the traditional office – which will you choose?

coworking vs traditional office - new frontiers programme Enterprise Ireland

Congratulations! If you’re thinking about expanding your workspace then you must be enjoying some startup success right now. You have secured enough customers to have the confidence to make the big move and you want to be fully prepared to take on any extra work. It’s an exciting time, but important decisions need to be made!

With coworking spaces popping up all over Ireland, it is no longer a given that a startup should have its own private office. There are advantages and disadvantages to both scenarios and which work environment you should choose all depends on your specific needs and priorities. However, we can provide you with some helpful food for thought to guide you through your decision-making process.

Coworking spaces as a budget-friendly option

The main draws for opting for a coworking space are flexibility and cost-saving. Renting private office space is a big commitment and cost for any business, but the return of Celtic Tiger pricing is exacerbating the issue. If you’re looking to rent office space in the capital in 2019-20, you can expect boom-era prices at over €60 per square foot! This doesn’t take into account the cost of insurance, rates, utility bills, cleaning services or the added expense of furniture and technology.

On the other hand, coworking providers offer more affordable hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and annual rates, so you can find a payment option that suits you with a predictable, fixed cost. Dogpatch Labs, for example, is a popular choice for its impressive facilities and is located at the heart of the city centre. They charge €200 per month to hot desk and €400 per month for a dedicated desk. Included in this cost is all utility bills, all service charges, access to meeting rooms, the kitchen, fibre-based internet, the receptionist, as well as refreshments. Another high-quality coworking space is The Tara Building, which keeps a busy calendar of events for its members to get involved in and offers a private, lockable office at €350 per desk. It’s worth shopping around and find the best fit for you.

Compromising on security and productivity

There is an ongoing debate as to whether coworking spaces end up costing businesses with regards to security and/or productivity. While there are advantages to working alongside other business professionals, it can end up being more of a hindrance than a benefit if your work style doesn’t sync well with an open-plan coworking environment.

Privacy is scarce in coworking spaces. If you are hot-desking, you will literally have no idea who you will be sitting beside from day to day. By relinquishing control of fundamental elements of your work environment – such as noise levels, atmosphere, space and seating arrangements – you take the risk that every day is different and not necessarily in a good way. While we all like to think everyone is as courteous and considerate as we are, this is not a given and dealing with these issues in a coworking environment is not as straightforward as it would be in your own private office.

Apart from the potential distractions that come with sharing your work environment, security is another concern. Consider the kinds of discussions you will need to have on a regular basis with your employees, investors, advisors, and clients. How often do you need to discuss sensitive information? Determine if you’re happy for this information to be potentially overheard by other businesses. If your only concern is the weekly meeting, then coworking could still be a good option for you. All you need to do is book the meeting rooms which are available in most coworking spaces.

How beneficial is networking for your business?

If you are just starting out and find that growing your network of business contacts is proving more of a challenge than you expected, deciding to work in a coworking space could be the perfect solution. Coworking spaces are a hub of creative activity. These unique ecosystems enable business professionals, with their various skills and levels of experience, to come together and create coworking communities.

The best thing about this is that most of these companies will also be startups. By entering a coworking environment, you have instant access to entrepreneurs who are going through all the same trials and tribulations as you are! You will have the opportunity to learn from each other, share your stories and act as each other’s sounding boards. The invaluable business opportunities that can be fostered in this kind of environment are limitless.

Many coworking spaces capitalise on this attractive networking opportunity by holding events, primarily for the purpose of aiding the development of supportive business relationships. These can vary from a simple breakfast spread to yoga sessions to happy hour to guest speakers. You’ll easily find an event that will suit you and attract the type of people you would prefer to work with. But if you want our advice, we say dive right in and try them all! You never know who you could meet and how far that relationship could take you and your business.

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

5 Powerful Habits Of Successful Business Leaders

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

5 tips for recruiting a stellar first hire for your startup - New Frontiers programme

5 tips for recruiting a stellar first hire for your startup!

5 tips for recruiting a stellar first hire for your startup - New Frontiers programme

Making the first external hire is a big step for a startup. It’s a significant commitment with all kinds of obligations and logistics to consider. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some tactics to help you make recruitment less of a risk.

Before you start, make sure you do really need to hire someone at this point. If you’re running a startup, it’s a good guess that you’re run off your feet and wish you had a second you to make the workday less crazy. However, it’s important to recognise whether this is just the typical whirlwind of getting a new business off the ground or whether the time has come to grow the team.

The first step is to take a careful look at the finances and financial projections to see if you can afford an employee. Consider all the costs associated with this – salary costs plus hidden costs such as equipment, office space, insurance, software, training, etc.

The second step is to consider which area of the business could best be supported by a second pair of hands. There should be enough workload to add up to a new role, and what needs to be done should bring real value to the business and contribute to your bottom line (for example, supply chain or customer services). If your plate is overflowing with smaller tasks that don’t add up to a particular business role (for example, bookkeeping) then rather than making a new hire you should lighten the load by outsourcing specific jobs.

Finally, be careful of making your first hire a big, expensive role. For instance, it’s not uncommon for founders to want their first employee to be the salesperson, because it’s typically a role they aren’t confident in. However, these salaries are usually very high and it can be hard to find the right salesperson on the first attempt (see more about this in our interview with Nicky Bowman).

So, having decided the time is right for your first hire, here are 5 ways to make the transition from founder to employer a little easier.

How to successfully hire your first employee

1.      Identify your startup’s weak spots

Your first hire should not be a jack-of-all-trades. In fact, no hire should be! It’s particularly tempting for startups to seek out that unicorn individual who has a bit of experience in everything. The problem with this approach is that they’re not properly solving any one problem. A much better approach is to identify specific weaknesses in your business that are taking up a lot of time or particular gaps where you can really start to grow revenue and aim to hire someone who can take this on and have a transformative effect.

2.      Document procedures for tasks

You want your new employee to hit the ground running when they arrive. Do not wait until the last minute to figure out how they are going to do what you need them to do. It’s probably clear in your mind how the tasks that need doing should get done, but don’t assume this will be obvious to your new hire. They aren’t familiar with your business or how you work yet. If you’re not used to onboarding employees, you’ll be surprised how many small things need to be communicated in the initial stages.

List the responsibilities attached to this new role and then take the time to document procedures for each one. Trust us, it’s worth it. As an entrepreneur, you’re used to doing everything yourself, which means you have your own set of standards. If you want to maintain those standards and avoid resorting to micromanagement, then procedures are a lifesaver.

3.      Don’t underestimate the importance of culture fit

Skills are not the be-all and end-all, especially at this early stage of your business. Your first hire is going to be working in close quarters with you and, inevitably, will have an influence over how your team grows. This is not the time to take a punt on the aloof genius, the rebellious leader or the troubled artist! Rather trust, integrity, and good communication skills are the kind of characteristics you want to invest in with your first hire.

If there is more than one business founder, we’d advise giving everyone the opportunity to meet with the potential candidate so they have a chance to air their opinions. The last thing you want is your office split down the middle by an employee who gets along swimmingly with one founder and is at loggerheads with the other! This exposure to key people in your business is also a great way to show the candidate that you envision them to be there for the long haul.

“I’ve turned down very good technical people. I know the team they are going to have to work in and if I don’t think they will fit in there is no point in hiring them, no matter how talented they are from a technical point of view.”

Sandra Whelan, Immersive VR Education
read our interview with Sandra

4.      Have them demonstrate their skills

It really is the only way to know for sure that they can do the job. There are many great interviewees out there. These people are personable, passionate, quick with winning answers and they’ve researched your company inside and out. But none of these attractive qualities necessarily means they will be good at the tasks you have in mind for them.

To combat this, don’t be afraid of having more than one stage in your recruitment process. It may be time-consuming, but this is not a hire you want to make in a rush. The first stage of the interview could be designed to whittle down candidates by their skillset and the second stage could be for finding out if they have the right personality fit for your company.

5.      Have a trial period

This is your first hire and there’s a lot riding on it. Feeling a little stressed about getting it right is only natural. Overthinking it won’t make it any easier, however having a trial period can take a lot of the pressure off. Recruitment is a speciality industry for a reason so if you’re not a professional recruiter, it makes sense to buffer the risk with a probationary period. Ensure it is included in the new employee’s employment contract and define clearly the duration of the trial period. Under Irish law, a probationary period must be one year or less in duration.

Making your first hire is a big decision, especially when you are bootstrapping. As with most things in business, careful planning will help you avoid the most common pitfalls. Be clear about what you expect and what you are offering from the outset, because high staff turnovers will only negate the benefit of having the extra help. Also, remember that although you will be able to move over a large part of your workload to a capable colleague, employees do require management, so factor in enough time to oversee their work. 

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

5 Powerful Habits Of Successful Business Leaders

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

Listen to your market and always be ready to pivot your idea - New Frontiers - Pierce Dargan

Listen to your market and always be ready to pivot your idea

Listen to your market and always be ready to pivot your idea - New Frontiers - Pierce Dargan

In this blog, New Frontiers alumnus Pierce Dargan discusses his decision to pivot his business idea and what has gone into building a strong and successful startup. Pierce was careful to get extensive feedback from prospective customers and research his idea thoroughly before making his decision.

When I started working on my own business, over four years ago, it was on a very different idea. Part of the entrepreneurship module for my masters at Trinity College was working on a startup idea. Mine was a marketplace for farmers to look for products and services in their area – such as feed, fencing and manure disposal services – so they could compare prices and make informed choices about suppliers. My background is equine farming, and I felt that a price comparison site, which is very common in a lot of markets, was lacking in farming. I won a number of awards for this idea, including the Trinity College All-Tech Innovation competition.

The importance of validating your market

During the validation phase of my startup, when I started to talk to the farmers I was hoping would become my customers, many told me that price was not their biggest pain point. People generally felt that price was not the big issue for them and in fact they stayed with suppliers because of factors like quality assurance, quick delivery times or credit terms. I spoke to people across Kildare, Cork and elsewhere for this validation phase, and I was very fortunate to meet people who were honest with me about the idea before I spent both time and capital developing a solution. It is important to listen to your potential customers rather than just people in your immediate circle, such as advisors, friends and family. The customer is always the most important person.

When the people I was talking to told me price comparison wasn’t their biggest issue, I always asked what their biggest problem was. Time after time, people in equine yards told me that they were having issues keeping up with the large amounts of paperwork required because of frequently changing equine welfare regulations. Racing trainers and equestrians have to keep medication records for their horses to satisfy regulators and drug testers. Some yards have hundreds of horses, each with their own drug and vaccination regimen. It gets very complicated very quickly and if records are wrong it can lead to heavy fines and, in the most serious cases, prosecution. The yards I was talking to said that if I could develop a solution for this issue, they would be very interested.

Always listen to your target customers

It was at this point I realised that there was a large opportunity to try and build a regulatory technology system to be an education tool that would help ensure compliance for equine yards and help promote equine welfare and transparency. It was a difficult decision to pivot the idea. I had won awards for my original farm marketplace idea and it was hard to let go. However, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says, always listen to your customers. It is a common trap that entrepreneurs fall in love with their ideas and don’t listen to what their customers actually want.

Once I pivoted my idea, I knew I would need a CTO who had experience in digitising regulatory paper processes. It just so happened that I ran into a friend from secondary school, Simon Hillary, who had just finished optimising workflows from paper to digital systems for the Oireachtas. Simon came on board, and we started the process of getting our system deemed compliant as a medicines register by the Turf Club (the horseracing regulatory body) here in Ireland and their equivalents in the UK and France.

Early-stage development with support and funding

I completed Phase 1 of New Frontiers at IADT mid-2017. From there, we were accepted onto the Trinity LaunchBox, and I completed Phase 2 of New Frontiers as well. Our Local Enterprise Office has been very supportive, and we’ve had a priming grant and business expansion grant from them. This has all been very helpful, because in all pivoting the idea took two years – refining our solution and getting into the finer details of the regulation.

By 2018, we were ready to launch with an initial cohort of users. That’s when my brother, Finlay, who has a background in finance, joined as our COO. Our app manages the whole compliance process for yards, centrally tracking the what, when, why, and how of medications being administered. Trainers or owners can invite vets and staff onto the system so that everything is tracked and recorded safely and securely.

Our pivoted startup: Equine MediRecord

We already have hundreds of yards on our system across Ireland, the United Kingdom and France, tracking thousands of horses. Our system is the first and only system to be approved as compliant to replace the paper regulatory documents, and the only system in the world ensuring compliance in the equine industry. We won a number of competitions, including the One Zero Conference, ‘Best Use of Mobile’ at Energia Digital Media Awards, and Most Innovative Equine Technology in the UK. We were also accredited with the Business All Star in ‘Regulatory Technology’ at the All-Ireland Business Summit. I also made it into the final 24 (out of 1,600+ applicants) of Ireland’s Best Yound Entrepreneurs, representing the Irish Midlands Region and Kildare at the national competition in September.

As we all become more aware of animal welfare issues, regulations are being strengthened and people need systems to ensure medical record compliance for their animals. Equine MediRecord is looking to enter new markets by the end of the year; we’ve just signed clients in the USA and Argentina and are talking to regulatory bodies inside and outside Europe. We’re also diversifying into other types of equine activity, such as horse breeders and polo teams. None of this would have happened if I had fallen in love with my original idea and been unable to pivot.

About the author

Pierce Dargan Equine MediRecord New Frontiers alumnusPierce Dargan

Pierce Dargan is a fifth-generation racehorse owner and breeder, ex-professional rugby player and New Frontiers alumnus. He is the co-founder of award-winning tech startup, Equine MediRecord… [Read Pierce’s profile]

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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]

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Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

In 2018, Immersive VR Education became the first New Frontiers startup to be listed on the Irish Stock Exchange’s Enterprise Securities Market. Just four short years after it was founded, Sandra and David Whelan’s company went public with a valuation of around €21.6 million, the first Irish tech firm to be listed on the exchange since its inception.

How did the company create an offering that has landed it clients such as the BBC, JESS Dubai, Oculus, and the University of Oxford? We spoke to Sandra Whelan, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, to discover what goes into building the team that drives a successful tech startup.

Q1. Everyone has their own route to startup. Where did your business idea come from? How did it all come about?

It all began when my husband, David, saw a Kickstarter project for a virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift. He invested, and sometime later the headset turned up at the house. We all tried it out – David and I, and our three children. The technology wasn’t very advanced at that point, but I could see the potential. We all recalled information we’d seen much better than we would from reading a book. It was evident to me that there were a lot more useful applications for this than what was available, especially in education.

This is what got David interested in the sector. He started a site to review VR technology – called Virtual Reality Reviewer, very original! Running that site is what led to us realising there was a gap in the market for educational solutions using VR. We created our own Kickstarter for a project involving the Apollo 11 mission. That gave up 30 days to raise €30,000 and we actually raised €36,000! That’s the moment we knew we had hit on something that could work. David sold his web design business and Immersive VR Education was born.

Through the Local Enterprise Office in Waterford, we were pointed in the direction of New Frontiers. David went through the whole programme and it was absolutely brilliant. He learnt all about the financial projections we needed to do, how to formulate a business plan, and how to pitch it. Before this, he had no experience of public speaking or pitching to investors.

It was evident at that stage that if we were going to go ahead with it, I would need to be involved in a bigger way. Up until then, I was working full-time as a logistics manager while working on this in the evenings. I was going to have to give up my job, which was scary because we have a house and three kids to look after. But we felt that we’re either going to give it 100% or we’re not. David was so passionate too and he really believed in the idea, so I thought, OK, let’s do this together.

Sandra Whelan and David Whelan Immersive VR Education New Frontiers Past participant

Sandra Whelan with her husband and co-founder, David Whelan, CEO of Immersive VR Education

Q2. It is a very niche business you’re in, so how did you go about growing a team?

In January 2016 we moved into our new office, and that’s when we made our first hire: Mike Armstrong. Mike was someone we met through the Virtual Reality Reviewer website, so we already knew him. He is now the Lead Technical Developer for our platform. He actually moved over from America with his girlfriend who he has since married and they now have two beautiful children. By permanently relocating, Mike really has come along the whole journey with us.

To make our second hire, we held a VR party in our office. We thought that if we put out the invite on the right messenger boards and explained that anyone interested in working in VR should come along, then we might find the perfect fourth member of our team. That’s how we met Bobby. So, our first two hires were pretty unorthodox, but after that, we started using LinkedIn and recruitment agencies to hire people.

Q3. Did you have a recruitment strategy?

Initially, our strategy was very much determined by the business plan David had developed on New Frontiers, because that was how we secured funding in the first place. In the business plan, we had stated how many developers we needed, so we always knew this was what that money would go towards. We started by putting up ads on LinkedIn and our own website, but there was nothing really coming through.

The skills we were looking for were not available in Ireland at that stage, so we started to look further afield with recruitment agencies. The result is that today only 10 of our team are Irish, and the rest are either American, European, or Argentinian. We do use Indeed sometimes, but a lot of our hires are through recruitment agencies. The fees for recruitment agencies can be on the high side, but we find it is worth it because it saves us a lot of time and we end up with people who are fully qualified for the position.

Q4. How does hiring people from abroad work in practice? What kind of interview process do you have?

We have a relocation package available for people which comprises of us finding them a house, putting down a deposit on the house, providing their first month’s rent, covering moving costs and also paying for their flights. It is something I took responsibility for from the beginning and I have helped relocate numerous candidates at this point. As you can imagine, it is time-consuming, so it helps that the recruitment agency takes control of the other side of the process. We don’t meet the hires face-to-face until they arrive in Ireland, but we do have Skype interviews.

The first interview with potential candidates is held over Skype and would be a technical interview. Depending on the position applied for we will get them to do a test that they could send back in four or five days. The next stage would be an interview with David and myself, because even though someone may be technically fantastic that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a good fit. For me, that’s more important than anything else and it has been the reason I’ve turned down very good technical people. I know the team they are going to have to work in and if I don’t think they will fit in there is no point in hiring them, no matter how talented they are from a technical point of view.

Q5. Considering your background isn’t in people management, why do you think you’ve been so successful at building a team?

It was a steep learning curve because I don’t have a background in people management. However, before this I was a client manager, so I am good at understanding people. I think it helps that I’m very hands-on in my role. There is no HR manager, it is just me and has been from the beginning, so I get to know everyone individually and I love that. I understand their little nuances and help them get settled when they arrive. Of course, it was more challenging as we grew. We started with a four-person team in January 2016 but that quickly grew to seven people, then 10, then 12 and by March 2018 we had 21 people. Today we have nearly 40 but I think the culture we’ve managed to nurture here is key to our success.

We have a very diverse team with people coming from all kinds of background, which is fantastic, but it also needs to be managed carefully. We decided from the outset to be very transparent by letting people know exactly what we expect from them. We have a very relaxed environment at VR Education, and I am happy as long as the work gets done. That’s why, when someone new starts at the company, we explain how relaxed the work culture is here but make sure to point out that at the same time they cannot take advantage of this.

I also make sure the team receives a lot of feedback. Because of what we do, the workday is mostly people sitting at computers with their headphones in, so I like to give people time to talk. I make sure everyone gets one-to-one feedback from their line manager every month. There is no point in me living in a happy rose-tinted bubble in my office, not knowing what is actually going on outside and there is nothing worse than letting problems fester. So it’s important to give people a chance to air any issues they have at these meetings.

Q6. Is there an example of a problem you came across that you found a solution for?

I noticed in the mornings when people came in there would be a lot of yawning going on. I decided it would be a good idea to push the morning meeting back because people weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders! But we also didn’t want anyone getting burnt out because they all work very hard. That’s why I went a step further and offered the team the option of working a four-day week every second week, as long as they had their work done. I thought this would be great for people travelling back and forth from the UK and Europe to visit their families.

It was voluntary, and about half the staff tried it. But in our feedback sessions, we found out that in reality, people were becoming more exhausted by trying to squeeze a full week of work into four days! It was at this point I asked them if there was a solution that they felt would work better. In the end, the introduction of core hours was the answer because everyone was able to design a workweek that would suit them best. Those up early dropping off kids at school were happy to start earlier and finish earlier, while those who felt like they were only really awake at 10 am could push their day forward. Being able to talk and listen to people in this way means we can get the most out of the team and they can get the most out of their job.

Q7. Are there any other perks you offer your staff?

We offer two team-building events every year, the Christmas one and the summer one. That’s always great fun. We close every Good Friday and we do a full shut down over Christmas, but it’s not counted against people’s holiday entitlement. We hold game competitions in the common area of the office to encourage people to get away from their desks. We also have a fully stocked canteen.

Q8. Do you have any top tips for start-ups trying to build a great team?

Ask your team what they want. I could guess what would work best for everyone, but that’s just my opinion. I think getting real feedback is essential to determine what is and is not working. Also, we try not to differentiate between management and everyone else. I have my office, but my door is physically always open for people to come in and out. Our management team have their desks out on the floor with everyone else. After all, when it comes down to it, we all work for the same company and our goal is exactly the same.

Another thing that I had to learn myself over time was to not be too swayed by other people’s recommendations for potential hires. I found that I have had many hours wasted by talking with someone about a role based on a recommendation. Always make up your own mind on matters like that because you know your company and your team and what works somewhere else won’t necessarily work for you.

To find our more about Immersive VR Education, read our article about their IPO last year or visit their website.

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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A framework for founders how one VC thinks about pre-seed investments - New Frontiers

A framework for founders: how one VC thinks about pre-seed investments

A framework for founders how one VC thinks about pre-seed investments - New Frontiers

‘When Frontline say we invest early, we mean it.’

At Frontline, 70% of our investments have been pre-revenue and 60% pre-product. At Pre-Seed and Seed, there is little to be learned from intensive quantitative analysis pre-investment (woo). That said, over the past year and a half at Frontline, I’ve built a qualitative framework, designed around four key questions, to help me quickly assess the companies I meet. Together, I believe that these four questions are critical in predicting success. 

1. Can you convince me to quit my job?

The first question I ask myself is, would I quit my job at the fund and work for these people on this problem? I know, it seems like a completely crazy idea, you (the founder), are here for the VC’s money, not to get them to join your team. Consider this though; when you pitch to a VC, you are looking to inspire and excite. At our stage of investment, it’s about taking a leap of faith and believing in your vision and your team’s potential. Surely, this is also what you do when pitching talent you are looking to hire. So, if you can convince a VC to invest in you, great. If you can get a VC to actually join your team, all the better.

Sarah Tavel was so excited after meeting the founder of Pinterest that she invested and swiftly left Bessemer to join the company. Pinterest is now a $15 billion business. It wasn’t that way when Sarah joined — it was still another startup trying to break through the noise.

So, why is this is a good heuristic to access early-stage companies? The key assumption we’re making in venture is that you’re going to build a big business and the essential ingredient in building a big company is the ability to hire the best. In the early days, you’re unlikely to be competing on compensation, option grants are a long way from ever paying the bills, and the hours will likely be long and hard. The one thing that will attract top talent is your ability to tell a compelling story, display a truly unique insight into the problem you’re solving and to be overwhelmingly impressive when you first meet candidates. The team isn’t assessed just on who’s in the room, it’s imagining who might be in 12 months time.

2. From Chihuahuas to exit, can you find a big enough market to scale?

At Frontline, we track all the reasons why we pass on companies — market size, competitiveness, price, strength of team, etc. We then review all the companies we’ve passed on and check in on how they’re doing using the metric of funds raised (not ideal, we know, but it’s a simple public indicator of success).

Surprise, surprise; our data has shown us that multiple cases where we liked the team but passed on the opportunity because we thought the market was too competitive, we were often wrong. The reality is that good teams can succeed in hot markets. In those cases where we also liked the founders, but passed because we felt the market was too small, we have found that founders go on to struggle.

“When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.”

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffet lives by this mantra and the data proves it.

Even if you’re good — when you go after a small market in the early days you tend to go deeper into the niche rather than expanding outwards. This can cap your upside and in venture, if we don’t think there’s a viable route to an investment returning half our fund, we are likely to pass on it. Here’s how that practically plays out, on the back of an envelope:

  • Frontline Ventures Fund II: $70 million
  • Target ownership at exit: 10% – 20%
  • Required company value at exit: $150 million – $300 million
  • B2B SaaS forward revenue exit multiples: 5x – 10x (if growing minimum 2X YoY)
  • Company revenue required at exit: $15 million – $60 million
  • You can usually never expect to own more than 10% of any market, so the smallest addressable market we consider for an investment is about $150 million — in reality, to find that market segment you need to look for +$1 billion markets (or be able to make the case that the market is growing or that you can create it)
  • This is fund by fund. Some funds don’t care about ownership/exit multiples – they just care if they think you can build a $10 billion company and can they get a slice of it.

Larger target markets give you flexibility in the early days to figure things out. Longer-term, you must then narrow your focus as you get closer to your customer because once you go deep on a customer segment, it becomes much harder to get back to a larger market without pivoting the company.

One of the best (non-software) examples of this is Chihuahuas. (Yes, you read it correctly). Imagine you’re starting a pet-food business and you decide to start with gourmet, home-delivered meals for Chihuahuas. Let’s say it’s a $50 million market (🤪) that no one is addressing specifically, you can get a big slice of this right? Sure, there are plenty of Chihuahua owners. Plenty of them might have a high willingness to spend on their dogs’ health. But what if it turns out Chihuahua owners aren’t as loose with their wallets as you thought? You’ve gone too deep too early and now all that adorable marketing collateral goes into the bin.

What you could have done is start with the pet food market (multi-billion dollar market). Move down into the dog food market (still multi-billion dollar market). Then go gourmet. Still a huge market and very competitive. But if you follow the rule that you’re never going to own more than about 10% of a market in a best-case scenario, it is always wise to target the larger opportunity. Chihuahuas might turn out to be the right answer — but so might the Maltese or perhaps Pugs. (Analogy inspired by the very cool Butternut Box.)

3. Can you spot the shift beneath your feet?

The world is changing by the day. Yet, major shifts in platform and underlying technology only really happen once every couple of years. The shift to mobile in 2009/10 and the shift to cloud in 2012/13 spawned dozens of new unicorns. In the UK, the opening up of financial regulation in 2014 has since spawned some of the most successful breakout European companies in recent memory.

Often the way these changes empower startups is by opening up new distribution channels. Founders are up against sophisticated sales teams with great brand awareness and multiple routes to reach their customers. But what these incumbents gain in scale they lose in awareness and speed. New routes to customers inevitable open up – and founders that can find these channels early are on their way to building great companies.

One of the best examples of this is the rise of self-serve in SaaS. Founders like Melanie Perkins of Canva that recognised the early trend rode the wave of lower acquisition costs and viral distribution when it was at its peak, and has now built a huge company. Older companies such as Hubspot had to transition from an inside sales-driven growth model to a freemium product-led strategy. For a company like Hubspot, making that transition is expensive and hard. As a startup, you can do it tomorrow.

As a founder, it’s important to recognize key changes in technology and/or customer behaviour that will allow you to create new value. Was there a missing piece of functionality that previously did not exist, and that you can now leverage? Old products become bloated by features whilst new paradigms make better, faster and cheaper products possible. This is a startup’s opportunity. Think about mobile-GPS enabling ride-sharing and food delivery, or AJAX enabling fast content consumption in a browser, or accessible machine learning frameworks like TensorFlow opening opportunities for new analysis.

4. Who are your beachhead customers?

Finally, when meeting new founders, I am always looking for beachhead customers. If a product is to be adopted by new customers, a general rule of thumb — pulled from Zero to One — is that it has to be 10 times better than the existing alternative.

Of course, on day one your product isn’t going to be 10x (lol) better for all your potential customers. It’s not even going to be close for a lot of them. But customer pain is a sliding scale. For most customers, your initial product might only be a 2/3x improvement. But there will be a group for whom the pain you are solving is most acute.

Find these customers and obsess over solving their problem. When you do, nurture them. Grow a loyal and effective group of early advocates who love your solution. Leverage this group to raise capital and as you develop your offering you’ll find you’re a 10x solution for more and more of the market.


Early-stage VCs don’t look that closely at the product or the technology as those are rarely the things that trip up early-stage founders. It’s almost always one of the below:

  • The team isn’t right.
  • The market is too small.
  • The market isn’t ready.
  • The company is unable to find early customers.

If you’re speaking to us, know that this is the lens through which I evaluate an opportunity. I know it isn’t perfect, but I hope this gives you some guidance on how to shape your approach. And, if a VC turns you down, don’t be too disheartened. I got turned down by Frontline when I was in the early days of fundraising.

There are myriad reasons why you can be rejected; some subjective, others less so. At Frontline, we try to give constructive feedback to all the companies we engage. It can be hard to tell a founder you don’t believe in them personally, but more often than not, that’s the real reason. For founders, figuring out why VCs make the decisions they do is another part of what it takes to build a big company.

And remember, the ‘picking’ part of venture is tough. It’s as much our job to get it wrong as it is to get it right (+50% of pre-seed investments fail). But we want to partner with founders as early as possible – and as soon as you have a vision and a plan together. Ping me on finn@frontline.vc if you want to chat or just tell me why most of the above is wrong.

About the author

Finn Murphy Frontline Ventures New Frontiers programmeFinn Murphy

Finn Murphy is an Associate at Frontline Ventures, an early-stage venture fund specialising in B2B software. He loves working one-on-one with entrepreneurs and helping them find their path to building world-changing companies… [Read Finn’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

5 Powerful Habits Of Successful Business Leaders

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 - the food business when is a trend not a trend

The food business: when is a trend not a trend?

New Frontiers - the food business when is a trend not a trend

Understanding and using trends to develop sound business opportunities can be a complex area. In the food sector, for example, there are numerous macro and micro trend reports published every year, but what does a start-up food company really need to consider, when determining whether an idea is actually commercially viable?

Trends can mean different things to different people. It’s a much bandied about term, mainly used to describe things that are currently popular or that are predicted to become popular. Essentially, broad shifts in consumer behaviours, attitudes and values drive changes which become identifiable, marketable trends.

Typically, trends are (or should be) the starting point for a good business idea. A way of quickly and inexpensively road-testing your idea is to assess it against the key trend indicators for your sector. Your idea should meet a clear and defined need, solve a problem and align with at least one trend.

The 7 real trends shaping the food industry

Without fail, at the start of every year, a deluge of lists emanates from a myriad of sources, telling us what we ate last year, what we will be eating this year and, of course, what we should be eating. These lists are fun to read, but are linked in many ways to what is being sold by the source, whether it is a data house looking to sell more reports; food delivery companies promoting their businesses; or chefs/food gurus/influencers looking to build their profile.

The question is, how can you discern the wheat from the chaff? What’s a real trend versus a fun fad? It’s clear that a focus on health, community and the environment have taken centre stage of late in the food sector, along with a keen focus on “management of self” in a frantic, always-on, digital era.

Below is my take (please note, far from exhaustive!) on some key trends that a food start-up needs to consider before taking the plunge, along with a few examples of products that meet the trend test.

Food industry trend #1: Changing Meal Patterns

What some commentators describe as the “Fourth Meal”, this trend reflects the growing fragmentation of eating occasions. In our topsy-turvy and less structured world, with mobile and flexible working becoming the norm, breakfast has morphed into lunch and snacks have become mini-meals. Also, the final meal of the day is often a treat more than sustenance, which brings its own challenges. Products such as nutritional bars – a substantial and relatively healthy snack – have been trailblazers in this trend, with Fulfil at the forefront (followed by a long tail of competitors).
Food industry trends - Orla Donohoe - New Frontiers

Food industry trend #2: Health is Wealth

Food & Beverage products in the health space cover a vast spectrum of interest areas and preferences, including disease prevention and holistic well-being all the way through to practical health management tools. Products that claim to aid sleep are a new phenomenon as people find it increasingly difficult to unwind, digitally detox and prepare for rest in the evening. Hot beverage brands such as House of Tea have capitalised on this trend by promoting the features and benefits of variants such as their “Sleep Well” product which has very specific (relaxing) ingredients.

Food industry trend #3: Nutritional Nurturing

It can be very difficult to communicate positive health messages to children that aren’t boring for them and at times it feels that a constant battle is being waged against sugar, which the parent is doomed to lose. I have therefore been eagerly awaiting the arrival of newly launched Hidden Heroes in my nearest Dunnes, and am hoping that my young son will no longer refer to vegetables as the “emeny”. The brainchild of Aileen Cox Blundell, these are junk-free vegetable snacks with 100% natural ingredients which tick all the boxes. Convenient (frozen), guilt-free (quality product) and with a razor focus on a child’s nutritional needs.

Food industry trend #4: Real People, Real Food

The artisan movement is no longer niche and there is huge interest now in knowing where your products come from and who has made them. On social media platforms, posts relating to product provenance generate strong engagement and empathy and add significantly to the user experience. Earlier this year, a small company in the west of Ireland garnered huge publicity following an appearance on a business makeover programme. Aran Islands Seaweed Pesto, an authentic product produced by likeable, relatable people, charmed the public as their journey from idea to product on a plate was shared. Catnip for Millennials.
The 7 real trends shaping the food industry - New Frontiers

Food industry trend #5: Kits are King

Meal kits are one of the fastest-growing segments in the market and have extended in all sorts of directions. Not just focused on meals any more, there are now kits for bread, cakes, biscuits, condiments, cheese and even beer. My absolute favourite is the recently launched Gin Fusion Kit from the Dublin company Drink Botanicals, which aims to enhance the gin experience. Interestingly, in the US, Amazon has introduced a new range of meal kits in Wholefoods, which link with Alexa-enabled devices to provide recipes and cooking instructions – appealing to gadget lovers who also seek convenience.

Food industry trend #6: Plant Protection

Interest in plant-based proteins is at an all-time high. Even children in their early teens (and sometimes younger) are choosing to follow meat-free diets. My own locality of Stoneybatter on Dublin’s north side could well be a candidate for vegan capital of Ireland (three vegan restaurants opening in the last few months). And it is becoming mainstream. California-based vegetarian burger company Beyond Meat has been the best-performing public offering in the US this year, currently holding a market capitalisation of $11.2bn, above Macy’s and Trip Advisor. Definitely not niche.

Food industry trend #7: Green Me

Now more than ever, there is a strong and growing sense of personal responsibility to effect positive changes and address the world’s increasingly pressing and worrying environmental issues. Reducing usage of packaging (especially plastics), commitments to green causes, effective management of food waste – consumers now demand and expect that food (and other) businesses will take their concerns more seriously. There are many great examples here however I particularly like Insomnia’s Mission Compostable campaign, which aims to replace all single-use items with either reusable or compostable alternatives by 2020. Clear, time-bound and accountable.

When you are sure your service or product meets at least one clearly identified trend, the first and most pertinent piece of advice you will receive on New Frontiers and elsewhere is to validate it. Be aware that research can be maddening! Just when you are sure your proposition is fully birthed and ready for launch, someone will throw a curveball. When this happens, take a deep breath. Embrace the feedback. Make any necessary changes, taking advantage of the many resources that are available. And above all, enjoy the experience, as I did.

About the author

Orla DonohoeOrla Donohoe

Orla Donohoe is a trends analyst, food sector advisor, and content writer. She has a background in international business development, and a career spanning over 20 years in market and client facing roles in Bord Bia’s Dublin, London and Madrid offices… [Read Orla’s profile]

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