Skip to main content
Tag

women in business

Flower Child: Alexandria Kelly's Journey of Resilience and Business

Flower Child: Alexandria Kelly’s Journey Of Resilience And Business

By New Frontiers blog

Flower Child: Alexandria Kelly's Journey of Resilience and Business

The startup journey is famously bumpy. For every win, there’s a corresponding flurry of obstacles and problems. When we also have setbacks in our personal lives, it makes things even harder. Alexandria Kelly hasn’t just built a thriving business from scratch; she has done so while navigating tumultuous personal health challenges.

The tale of this founder demonstrates the power of grit, determination, and positivity. In a candid conversation, Alexandria unpacks her journey, the inspiration behind her unique products, and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Join us as we delve into the heart of Flower Child and the indomitable spirit of its founder.

Scarlet: Alexandria, your journey with Flower Child began as a blog in 2021 and has since transformed into a thriving business. How did this evolution occur in the midst of your personal health challenges?

Flower Child Alexandria KellyAlexandria: Yes, it started off as a personal project back in 2021. As I shared my gardening passion and other experiences on my blog, a community began to build around it. I was enrolled at SETU – Carlow Campus, studying for my BSc in Business with Marketing at the time. During a period of poor mental health, I was given a set of aromatherapy essential oils. The impact the products had on me was profound, and I started to experiment with the different fragrances and applications like candles. People I knew started asking me to make them, and before I knew it, I was developing a product range. It wasn’t planned as such, it all just happened quite organically.

By the end of 2022, I had graduated and found a full-time job in SETU Carlow’s Marketing Department. I worked on Flower Child in my spare time and the business was really beginning to pick up speed. But just as things were looking up, a severe seizure landed me in hospital with a brain injury. That was in January this year. I have been in and out of hospital, constantly grappling with my health. But I’ve always believed in focusing on what’s within my control. Instead of getting consumed by my health problems, I poured my energy into building the company.

Scarlet: Delving a bit deeper into your health journey, how has your illness impacted your career choices?

Alexandria: Epilepsy has been a part of my life since I was 11. I was misdiagnosed at first, but at 13 I received my diagnosis of frontal lobe Cortical dysplasia. Back then, I was experiencing up to 40 seizures a day. At 13, I underwent life-changing brain surgery. That operation brought some normality back into my life. I was still experiencing seizures – partial seizures, tonic-clonic seizures, and absent seizures – but it’s a world of difference from before the surgery. As we speak now, I am currently in hospital preparing for further brain surgery that will hopefully get rid of the seizures completely, but for now I am living with a daily mixture of seizure activity.

The flexibility of my job has always been crucial for me, considering my health. If I get sick or my health takes a downturn, I can’t keep to a regular work routine. I had to leave my position at SETU after my injury in January. I’ve always leaned towards entrepreneurship, partly due to my health pushing me in that direction. In the past, I’ve launched businesses centred around my hobbies and interests. It’s definitely the flexibility that drew me to entrepreneurship, and the possibility of setting my own pace and boundaries.

I know many people in similar health situations who feel that entrepreneurship is off-limits for them. But I’ve always seen it differently. I believe being an entrepreneur allows you to shape a livelihood that fits your unique needs and lifestyle. When I had my injury, I realised that Flower Child could cater to my health needs and provide employment for myself and others.

Scarlet: Your products carry a unique inspiration. Could you share a bit about that?

Flower Child - Lakeside Daydream candleAlexandria: Absolutely. My family home, Turra Lodge Farm, has a beautiful garden which my Mum and Nana designed and planted when I was younger. It is a cornerstone of my mental health. Luckily, my family has indulged my passion, or obsession, with gardening for years now and given me lots of creative freedom to develop different parts of it. That’s what my blog initially revolved around.

When my mental health was low, I began practices of mindfulness, meditation, and breath work. So, each fragrance in my product range is not only a nod to my lifestyle but also designed to offer the medicinal benefits of aromatherapy. By using them, you tap into the natural essence of life.

In our family, we say that entrepreneurship is “in our blood”. We all, including my siblings and parents, run businesses. And when it came to Flower Child, the nurturing from programmes like New Frontiers and guidance from the Local Enterprise Office have also played pivotal roles. Joining the New Frontiers programme was pure chance. I just happened to be having a chat with someone on campus one day, and they suggested I apply. My lecturers were incredible too, always nurturing my entrepreneurial spirit.

Scarlet: What’s the best advice you’ve been given, and what advice do you give to others?

Alexandria: The best advice I have been given is, “Don’t trust the first answer you’re given.” That has helped me navigate many situations. The advice I give to other people is, “You are not your circumstances.” In life and business, you’re in control of how you play the hand you’ve been dealt, and you can overcome whatever life throws at you.

I’ve been given bad advice, too. I was told to scale before I was ready for it. The startup world often promotes a “go big or go home” mindset, but scaling too quickly in the past set me back rather than helped me forward.

My guiding principle is to never quit on a bad day. Being a founder is tough, and there are days you contemplate a regular nine-to-five. But for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, the highs of being your own boss make it all worthwhile. When it comes to resilience, bad days are inevitable. They come and go, much like the waves in an ocean. The peaks make the troughs worth enduring. I suppose I’ve built up my resilience because I simply didn’t have a choice. Enduring my epilepsy has been a blessing. I don’t think “poor me”, I’m thankful for the challenges my health has thrown at me because it has made me who I am today.

Scarlet: Lastly, how do you balance work and personal wellbeing, and what’s next for Flower Child?

Alexandria: Taking care of my wellbeing is vital. One strict rule I adhere to is keeping my bedroom a no-work zone. Mornings are my own; I give myself the first hour of the day to properly wake up before diving into work. Ensuring downtime away from the business keeps my mental load balanced. Being part of a close-knit family, we often spend evenings together, even if it’s busy season and I’m in the workshop.

Looking ahead, the next twelve months are set to be exciting. We’re renovating a workshop, and I’m preparing to hire my first employees. From there, I’m keen to explore exporting and continue scaling Flower Child, but always organically!

Discover Alexandria’s world of inspired aromatherapy candles, melts, and sprays in her online shop at flower-child.ie, where you can also read more about her epilepsy or simply pick up some cool gardening tips!

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Four Female Founders With Game-Changing Startups In The Female Market - New Frontiers

Four Female Founders With Game-Changing Startups Targeting The Female Market

By New Frontiers blog

Four Female Founders With Game-Changing Startups In The Female Market - New Frontiers

There has been a global rise in startups created by women that are addressing the unique needs of women, solving issues faced by women, or creating products for women. This focus on the female market is something we’ve seen on the New Frontiers programme too, so we decided to talk to four outstanding female founders about their experiences.

We asked them about their their ideas, learnings, inspirations, and priorities. The four alumnae are Heidi Davis of IdentifyHer (2021 alumna of New Frontiers at TUD Dublin – Blanchardstown Campus), Grainne Byrne of Norma Therapy (2022 alumna of New Frontiers at TUD Dublin – City Campus), Deborah Brock of Nua Fertility (2018 alumna of New Frontiers at TUD Dublin – Blanchardstown Campus), and Alison Clarke of Fembition (2022 alumna of New Frontiers at ATU – Sligo Campus).

Question 1: What does your startup do and why is this an idea whose time has come?

Heidi Davis of IdentifyHer (2021 alumna at TUD Dublin – Blanchardstown Campus)Heidi Davis: There are 440 million women going through the menopausal transition worldwide and 330 million of these women will experience symptoms that are negatively affecting their lives at work and at home. We know that about 60% of women that suffer from their symptoms will seek medical help, but only 30% of these women will get a diagnosis and treatment plan, leaving 70% of the women wanting help to suffer. The simple reason women do not get a diagnosis and treatment plan easily is that there are no clear diagnostic tests to establish perimenopause. Clinicians rely on self-reported symptoms on the frequency and severity of symptoms to establish perimenopause and prescribe treatment. We are developing a first-of-its-kind wearable biosensor and digital platform that can passively quantify & profile the frequency and severity of menopausal symptoms, providing women and clinicians with the necessary information to diagnose & personalise symptom management.

Grainne Byrne of Norma Therapy (2022 alumna at TUD Dublin – City Campus)Grainne Byrne: Norma is a psychosexual wellbeing platform and app. Our first product is a digital support programme for two very common conditions that impact sexual wellbeing, vaginismus and dyspareunia, which can affect approximately 1 in 5 in women.* These conditions can cause pain, anxiety, and difficulties with things like penetrative sex, inserting menstrual products, or undergoing a smear test. Our dynamic programme empowers these people with the knowledge and the tools to understand, manage and overcome these conditions at home today. Thankfully, in recent years, there has been a surge of much-needed, user-centric innovations in areas like cycle tracking, fertility, and menopause. At Norma, we are definitely excited to be riding the crest of this long-overdue femtech wave.

*When I use the terms “women” or “female” above and below, this acknowledges that we are including individuals who have vaginal/vulvar anatomy but may not identify with those gender labels.

Deborah Brock of Nua Fertility (2018 alumna at TUD Dublin – Blanchardstown Campus)Deborah Brock: Nua Fertility is revolutionising the field of reproductive health by harnessing the power of the microbiome to enhance and optimise fertility outcomes. We combine personal experience, scientific research, and innovative products and digital solutions to optimise the microbiome for fertility success. The idea behind Nua Fertility is one whose time has come as the area of the microbiome for reproductive health is one of the most innovative and growing areas in fertility health. There is a rising awareness of the significant role that the microbiome plays in reproductive health, and scientific advancements have highlighted its impact on various aspects of fertility.

With this increased understanding, individuals and couples are actively seeking effective and holistic approaches to enhance their fertility. They are looking beyond traditional methods and are eager to explore the potential of the microbiome in reproductive health. As pioneers in this field, our startup is at the forefront of this transformative shift, providing individuals and couples with new possibilities for achieving their dreams of parenthood. The time has come for our startup because we are at the forefront of an exciting and rapidly expanding field. By leveraging the power of the microbiome, we are offering innovative products and digital solutions that are backed by scientific rigor and personalised support. We are empowering individuals and couples to take control of their fertility health and explore the untapped potential of the microbiome in fertility.

Alison Clarke of Fembition (2022 alumna at ATU – Sligo Campus)Alison Clarke: Every day, women experiencing fertility problems walk out of their career, resulting in depleted talent pools and costing employers tens of thousands. Fembition is a pioneering women’s fertility and leadership platform for progressive employers who want to retain their top female talent, close the gender gap and build a more inclusive culture at work. Essentially, we provide analytics, networking and peer support for women in business who are experiencing a challenging fertility journey. One of the biggest challenges for many women is managing their career whilst they’re trying to conceive. We work with these women through our platform and provide resources, workshops, and live support.

Today, employers are more receptive to providing support for women’s health related challenges, as they acknowledge that this has an impact on productivity, performance, and morale. In addition, businesses are under pressure to close the gender gap. Later this year, its anticipated that the EU Pay Transparency Directive will be signed into law, meaning that employers will have the disclose their gap, and their strategy to reduce it. By supporting women’s health-related issues, employers are significantly more likely to retain these employees in the long term.

Question 2: What’s the single biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting your business?

Heidi Davis: Funds are not secured until they are in the bank. Changes can be made up until the final day, and we had exactly that. Changes to the amount being invested etc. at the last minute. These are challenges you can get around, grow from and maybe even be better off with in the long term, but it can feel very disheartening at that moment.

Grainne Byrne: Trusting my instincts has been the most valuable lesson I’ve learned since starting Norma. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the opinions and reactions of others when you’re launching a new venture or introducing a unique proposition. When I first talked about these conditions, I encountered puzzled looks from people who had never heard of them. This lack of awareness was down to the fact that they have long been under-researched, dismissed and neglected in our society. Many people have suffered in silence for years without the language to talk about these problems, never mind accessing tangible solutions! Having experienced chronic vaginismus myself for over three years, nobody understands the existing barriers to diagnosis, care and information better than I do. Therefore, if you’re building a solution to help solve a problem that you know inside-out, try to filter the feedback you receive and seek out sounding boards that can see the big picture, just like you do.

Deborah Brock: The biggest lesson I’ve learned since starting my business is about resilience. There have been so many ups and downs along the way, but what really stands out to me is the importance of being able to pick yourself back up after those knockbacks and keep pushing forward. You see, being an entrepreneur isn’t always smooth sailing. There are moments when things don’t go as planned, when you face obstacles and setbacks that make you question everything. But it’s in those moments that resilience becomes your superpower. For me, resilience is all about having that fire within me that refuses to let failures define who I am or what I’m capable of. It’s about staying determined and not letting the tough times dampen my spirit. Honestly. there have been many moments when I’ve felt discouraged, but I’ve learned to never lose sight of our mission and the people we are serving.

Our customers are the heart of everything we do. They’re the reason I started this business in the first place. They are the ones who keep me going, even when things get tough. When I have moments of doubt (there have been many), I look up above my desk and I see a smiling Sebastian (Nua baby) with a beautiful handwritten letter from his mum thanking us for creating Nua Fertility as we became part of her journey to bring him into the world- that’s what drives me forward. Resilience has taught me to view challenges as opportunities for growth. Instead of letting setbacks knock me down, I’ve learned to see them as steppingstones on the path to success. Each stumble becomes a chance to learn, adapt, and come back even stronger.

But it’s not just about bouncing back from failure. Resilience is also about maintaining a positive mindset. It’s about staying hopeful, even when things seem bleak. Trust me, there have been moments when I’ve felt overwhelmed and doubted myself, but I’ve learned to approach challenges with a problem-solving attitude. I search for creative solutions, knowing that there’s always a way forward, especially by surrounding yourself with the right people who give you good advice and always listen to those who have been there before and made the mistakes. So, if you’re on this entrepreneurial journey too, remember the power of resilience. Embrace the ups and downs, knowing that they’re all part of the ride. Stay determined, never lose sight of your mission, and keep serving those who rely on you.

Alison Clarke: Always ask for help when you need it. There’s no need to try to figure everything out on your own!

Question 3: What inspires you to keep going despite the challenges women still face in business?

Heidi Davis: Easy, what keeps me going are two things: 1. I have full support from my husband, and he is cheering me on always, on good and bad days. 2. To reduce the challenges that women face we need to continue pushing for change. It is great to be play a minor part of this by persevering and showing up every day to challenge the current ways.

Grainne Byrne: The simple fact that I can see other Irish women entrepreneurs succeeding with their businesses is a huge motivator for me. There is so much power in seeing yourself being represented. As they say, if you can see it, you can be it. Moreover, since I started building Norma, many female entrepreneurs in Ireland have readily and generously given me the time to pick their brain about their individual journeys. It has been so valuable for me to connect with those who are further down the road and have conquered similar challenges. Due to the strong entrepreneurship ecosystem in Ireland, I’ve also been able to develop a phenomenal group of female entrepreneurs that I can luckily call my friends. At the end of the day, being able to support one other through tough times and celebrate our respective wins together is what I find most inspiring.

Deborah Brock: What inspires me to keep going despite the challenges women still face in business is the incredible progress we have made and the potential for even greater change. More women started businesses in 2020 than men, showcasing the determination and resilience of women entrepreneurs! Despite these achievements, women still encounter barriers such as limited funding, gender biases, work-life balance challenges, and lack of support. However, these challenges only fuel my passion to create a more inclusive and equitable business environment. Addressing gender biases requires challenging stereotypes and advocating for equal opportunities. By breaking through patriarchal norms and showcasing our capabilities, we can change the narrative around women in business and create a more inclusive culture.

Despite these challenges, I am inspired by the progress we have made and the potential for further change. By sharing our experiences, raising our voices against biases, and supporting one another, we can bridge the gender gap in entrepreneurship and create a more inclusive and supportive business environment. I am motivated to make an impact and be a source of guidance and support for other women who may be facing similar challenges. By supporting each other, sharing our mistakes and imparting knowledge, we can continue to break barriers, challenge norms, and create a more equitable and empowering business landscape for women entrepreneurs worldwide.

Our work at Nua Fertility focuses on harnessing the power of the microbiome to enhance and optimise fertility outcomes. We are pioneers in this innovative and untapped field, highlighting the significant role the microbiome plays in reproductive health. By leveraging this knowledge, we are providing individuals and couples with new possibilities for bringing life into the world. While setbacks and knockbacks are a part of the journey, the motivation to pick ourselves back up comes from the belief in the transformative impact our work can have. The untapped potential in the field of reproductive health, coupled with our groundbreaking work at Nua Fertility, inspires me to persevere. We are at the forefront of this transformative shift, and by continuing to push boundaries, we can create a positive impact on the overall gender gaps that exist.

Ultimately, our mission is driven by the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to experience the joy of bringing life into the world. This is what keeps me motivated and determined to overcome obstacles, and it is a constant reminder of the importance of our work at Nua Fertility.

Alison Clarke: It’s expected to take over 130 years to close the gender gap. We all need to play our part. Just 50 years ago it was illegal for women with children to have any type of professional development – it was even illegal to step foot onto the trading floor at the London Stock Exchange. It sounds barbaric, but it wasn’t that long ago. When things get tough, I remind myself that if it wasn’t for the women that advocated for gender equality we’d still be there, and that I too have to play my role to make things better for future generations.

Question 4: What is your number one priority in the next six months?

Heidi Davis: Finalise our product development and raise our seed round.

Grainne Byrne: Without a doubt, our most important objective for the next six months is to launch and rigorously test our MVP. As I come from a consumer research background, staying close to the end user is a non-negotiable for me, as it’s critical that we build Norma to truly fulfil their core needs. Bringing this platform to life is such a gratifying and invigorating challenge, as it’s exactly the lifeline I needed when I was at my lowest with vaginismus. My co-founder, Dr. Natasha Langan, is a dual senior clinical psychologist and a COSRT accredited psychosexual therapist. In her private psychosexual therapy work, she is consistently faced with glaring need for a digital support platform like Norma. Something that collectively drives and excites us is the potential scale of the positive impact we can have on people’s intimate lives, all from the comfort of their own home, wherever that may be.

Deborah Brock: Our number one priority in the next six months is finding the right investor who is a great fit for our company and can support our ambitious growth plans. We are seeking an investor who truly understands the transformative nature of the microbiome-reproductive health connection and recognises the immense potential of our work. Additionally, we aim to highlight the research work we have undertaken with our fertility partner and showcase the remarkable results we are seeing in clinical settings. By sharing these outcomes, we can further establish the credibility and efficacy of our approach.

Finding the right investor who shares our vision and values is crucial for driving our expansion and reaching a wider audience. Their support and resources will enable us to scale our operations, expand our research efforts, and continue making a positive impact in the field of reproductive health. By focusing on securing the right investor and showcasing our research work, we can advance our mission of revolutionising reproductive health through the power of the microbiome.

Alison Clarke: PR is our number one focus. We want to make sure that those who crave the type of service we provide know its available, and that they can access it via their employer.

Our thanks to these four amazing women for their candid thoughts and insights. Find out more about their businesses at identifyher.ai, nuafertility.com, fembition.co, and  feelnorma.com.

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Business advice from New Frontiers Programme Manager Jenni Timony

Former Programme Manager Jenni Timony Shares Insights For Startup Founders

By New Frontiers blog

Business advice from New Frontiers Programme Manager Jenni Timony

Jenni Timony is a past New Frontiers Programme Manager and, more recently, the founder of her own startup – FitPink. In a wide-ranging conversation, we explored Jenni’s three decades of entrepreneurial experience, and how it has shaped her approach to her new business.

Jenni Timony former New Frontiers Programme Manager and founder of FitPink

Jenni Timony, former New Frontiers Programme Manager and founder of FitPink

Based in Donegal, FitPink is an activewear business selling functional fitness clothing for women. The company takes a women-focused approach to product development: designed for women and run for women. Starting off with leggings and sweatshirts, Jenni soft-launched the company in 2019, fitting the work around her day job at the Innovation Centre in ATU – Sligo Campus. In fact, she didn’t work full-time on FitPink until November the following year.

The business had its full launch in January 2020, eight weeks before the pandemic hit. Jenni feels that the changes in lifestyle and shopping habits caused by Ireland’s lockdowns probably accelerated the growth of the startup by two years. It brought people into ecommerce that previously would not have bought online, meaning the brand got in front of people much faster than might have happened otherwise. Luckily, these customers also proved to be very loyal.

But it’s a myth to think that if you just launch a website, you can simply sit back and watch the sales pour in. FitPink’s success to date is not accidental. What learnings from previous ventures did Jenni bring to this business? How did she get here?

An early introduction to business

Born in Ireland to an Irish father and Indian mother, Jenni’s family immigrated to Australia during the 1980s recession. She attended high school in Australia and then returned to Ireland for university. Unfortunately, the family’s time living abroad meant that Jenni would have to pay ‘international student’ fees. These being out of reach, she decided to work instead and became self-employed at the age of 18 – starting off with a café and later moving into pre-packed food.

The food company made sandwiches, which were distributed across the country into schools, hospitals, airlines, and retail. With 35 full-time employees, this was a challenging business from the start.

“A mistake that many entrepreneurs make, that I made myself, is falling into a business. You see an idea, you decide to jump in and do it, and from that point you are operating from a position of blind faith rather than informed decision-making. You haven’t researched the market or the industry. I made that some error myself with the sandwich business.

It was a situation where there was demand for the product and very little competition (apart from one publicly listed company, Kerry Group). I just saw this as an opportunity to compete, but what I should have been asking myself was ‘Why are there no competitors in this sector?’ Some of the reasons might have been that food products are very low-margin, have a short shelf-life, are capital- and labour-intensive… It’s really difficult to make money in that kind of business. If you look at the big companies that make products like these, you’ll see that the profit margins are slim to none.

That’s the kind of learning that I always advise other entrepreneurs to take on board at the very start. Do the cold research. Don’t fall in love with the idea until you’ve really looked into it!”

Market research and product-market fit are essential for a business to succeed. Some of the most famous companies in the world took years to find their sweet spot. Even if you’re already weeks or months into your idea, it’s always worth stepping back and doing that research. If you decide not to go ahead, that’s still a good decision.

Lessons from recession

Jenni’s sandwich business stayed the course despite the challenges. But when the last recession hit, it became an early casualty. The company had always ploughed turnover back into the business, meaning there were no cash reserves in place to help cushion the effects of the downturn. It’s one of the common reasons that businesses fail when hit by external or internal shocks; lack of cash is a risk factor for any business – regardless of size or age.

Jenni is adamant about operating on data and not gut instinct. This means research at the very start of the business, but also continually exploring the data in the business and looking into other ways of doing things as the years go by. One example she gives is Facebook Ads. These would have been a go-to for almost any B2C company a few years ago, but given they are universally in decline now, it’s crucial not to be overly reliant on them as a sales pipeline and start experimenting with ads on other channels.

“It’s really important not to get fixated on what’s working for you now, because that won’t necessarily be what works for you next year. This requires continuous research and keeping your eyes open. People have a tendency to assume they know who their customers are, but you must remember to keep researching them and listening to them. And don’t forget to also look outside of that circle to who else might be a good customer or what trends are coming along that your brand might be a good fit for. It’s about being open to opportunity and open-minded – that’s what we call the ‘growth mindset’. I think it’s important to make sure the whole team has that growth mindset.”

Every sector and industry has its opportunities and pitfalls, but it’s important to understand that these cannot be blindly applied, and a good entrepreneur will look at their specific business and context when making decisions. Start with your goals and establish what kind of business you want to run – then work back from there to decide how this will play out in the day-to-day operations of the company. What is different at FitPink given Jenni’s experience working in and advising successful businesses?

A recipe for success

“I was careful not to outsource customer service or fulfilment. Lots of business owners might see these as obvious overheads to optimise through a third party, but I would argue that these are part of the customer experience and therefore core to the business. I don’t see many businesses with 98% un-incentivised five-star reviews that have also outsourced their fulfilment.

It’s said that you can do things when you’re small that you won’t be able to do when you scale, and we’re holding on to doing these things for as long as we can – at FitPink, customer queries and fulfilment are completely manual. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that when we are selling into multiple other countries and languages, but we can for now and that’s vital.”

There’s a lot of advice out there about outsourcing everything you can and automating every possible process within the business, but it isn’t right for everyone. Purpose-driven businesses and those that leverage values-based marketing have been championing approaches like Jenni’s for some time. A good rule of thumb is to outsource strategically and in a way that gives you good levels of control. For cash-strapped startups, it’s a balancing act between operational effectiveness and affordability.

“When you do need to outsource something, staying involved and understanding the ins and outs of what you’re asking for is important. Marketing is a good example; not all agencies can deliver the kind of value that a startup entrepreneur is looking for as agency fees are quite high and the return you can expect from some of the activities often isn’t there. However, if you’re able to put in as much effort or time as the agency, you often get much better results. If you find an agency that is transparent and happy to work in partnership with you, this can be much more productive.”

While the pandemic proved to be an unexpected boon for FitPink, the startup is now closing its third ‘proper’ year in business. In a reversal of the usual startup timeframe, Jenni sees the coming year as offering the biggest challenge so far, with the economic downturn and cost of living crisis presaging a tougher market for the company.

Focus on your core values

External shocks are always easier to navigate when a startup is built on strong foundations. Jenni’s focus on customer service means that the people who buy FitPink products are passionate about them and help spread the word. The team sees this play out in all kinds of ways – for example, if they get a sale in a new area geographically, they see a mushrooming of sales in that same area six or eight weeks later. The company’s quality and environmental credentials also factor in brand loyalty.

“We’re the opposite of fast fashion. While we don’t use ‘recycled polyester’ because it’s not a very technical fabric – we opted instead for a high-quality product at an affordable price. I think that’s important in the current climate. We’re the same quality as our international competitors but at half the price, and right now that’s very important to people.

From the day we started, we used biodegradable packaging (it decomposes at the same rate as a banana skin). Competitors have taken our lead and adopted that since, and I’m glad to see it because that’s great for the planet. Since day one, we’ve supported Plan International – one of the largest international child-centred development organisations. Even through we’re just a tiny business finding our way in the world, I believe that we all have an impact. That’s the power of compounding. It would be great if all startups had that attitude.”

FitPink plans further growth in the Irish market and is moving into the UK market. Jenni intends taking it one step at a time so that she maintains control over those things that are so important to the brand, such as value and customer experience. She will keep operations in Ireland for as long as possible, rather than distributing the team too early. It’s a sector that’s full of opportunity, and FitPink has already proved it can gain traction with its winning combination of quality and comfort without compromise!

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Derya Kianda TechnologiesNew Frontiers programme alumna

Alumni profiles: Breaking the code, building the dream

By New Frontiers blog

Derya Kianda TechnologiesNew Frontiers programme alumna

Just one in two hundred people knows how to code. That’s a lot of people around the world relying on a small pool of programmers! This knowledge gap is something Derya and Osvaldo Sousa were intent on solving when they developed their no-code application platform, Kianda Technologies, in 2017.

The dream to develop their own tech startup was 16 years in the making, but back then – as a young couple studying in Portugal – it was difficult to see how they could make it a reality. “It was a bit risky for us back then. There wasn’t a lot of support. We didn’t have great examples and so it just faded away,” Derya says.

They moved to Ireland in 2007 and worked as IT consultants. Every evening, they went home and talked about what they were working on. They realised it was similar projects for similar companies, developing the same types of system over and over again from scratch. Wanting to simplify things for businesses and create a ‘no-code environment’, they came up with a new type of process automation software that would build custom workflows using a drag and drop interface.

“Less than five years ago, we had the idea and thought it was the right time for us to start,” Derya says. “The biggest risk was quitting our jobs and in terms of income, how were we going to manage? We had some of our own savings, but of course, that wasn’t enough.”

She was also on maternity leave with their second child, who was just four months old at the time. But they felt it was now or never. “We said, if we don’t do this now, we won’t do it again,” Derya says. We have to try. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. We’d have to accept it. But we had to try. So we bit the bullet.”

The couple quit their day jobs and spent the first year working from their living room, building their platform while taking on some freelance work to help with living expenses. It was when they were completing the product build and seeking office space that the New Frontiers programme was suggested to them by the team at the LINC centre at TU Dublin – Blanchardstown.

“We have to try. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. We’d have to accept it. But we had to try. So we bit the bullet.”

“There were so many unknowns, so many things we weren’t aware of, it opened up so many opportunities for us,” Derya says. “Seeing other like-minded entrepreneurs, what stage they were at, seeing their journeys. Some of them were similar to me, some of them were just starting, and wanted to validate their idea.”

Derya found the programme very practical, “in terms of financial modelling and in terms of marketing, fundraising, networking, and hearing from the mentors.” It also helped navigate the Irish start-up ecosystem and to find out what support was available during and after the programme while receiving a €15,000 stipend.

“The mentors we had were really good. Lots of them were really insightful. It was all really practical. Real-life issues were covered. The pitching sessions were really good. Nerve-wracking but good.” She adds that she pitches “all the time” now.

It also helped build her confidence. “When we were both starting we heard some negative thoughts from other people. It really helped to build my confidence in terms of my own skills in running a business,” she says. Kianda Technologies was launched in November 2017. The company is growing quickly and has recently experienced a 40% increase in its customer base. The aim is to triple the team by the end of 2021.

Having taken the leap, Derya would encourage others to follow their dream. “It’s worth it, so worth it. If you think it’s the right time and it’s the right idea. People might say no, be prepared for it. But don’t let it stop you. Get the support that’s available, having people who have gone through a similar journey helps a lot.”

To learn more about Derya’s company, visit kianda.com

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

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business

By New Frontiers blog

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 under-representation 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-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

By New Frontiers blog

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-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Orlaith Carmody interview -leadership starts with the self - New Frontiers programme

Orlaith Carmody: leadership starts with the self

By New Frontiers blog

Orlaith Carmody interview -leadership starts with the self - New Frontiers programme

What is the secret to success? Orlaith Carmody, Irish businesswoman and author of Perform as a Leader, says it stems directly from authenticity. Entrepreneurs don’t succeed just because their idea is perfect, but rather it is down to their own unique blend of background, interests and passions.

Interview with Orlaith Carmody - New Frontiers

Orlaith Carmody

Orlaith’s own background as a news reporter and working on the board of RTÉ before diving into the world of serial entrepreneurship, lends well to the leadership and communication skills necessary for building start-ups from scratch.

But Orlaith recognises that the transition isn’t easy. In her book, she highlights how being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey, especially if you were previously employed. The camaraderie, support and teamwork are suddenly gone and it’s just you and your idea.

This is why she is adamant that a true passion for your product or service is necessary to drive you on. Networking is key to this, and you should take full advantages of everything that’s out there. But the bottom line is you have to believe in it yourself!

As for all the other skills that the entrepreneur needs in their toolkit, can you simply learn them? I decided to ask Orlaith herself when I sat down with her for a quick chat…

Clear, engaging written and verbal communication… are these skills anyone can learn?

Yes, all types of communications can be learnt. At an early stage, it’s easy to get caught up with the job in hand – designing, packaging, bringing to market. It’s easy to think that communication is not important at this point. But then you have to pitch for investment and, suddenly, it becomes critical and you have to catch up!

Courses such as those offered by the LEOs or Enterprise Ireland get people in a room to learn the skills and practice in front of peers. Wherever the bar is, it can always be moved higher. If you’re already a natural communicator, you can learn to be an outstanding communicator. It’s like a muscle, the more you flex it the better you can get.

Even when you think you’re too early-stage to worry about communication, the fact is you need these skills for everything you do: speaking to banks, to providers, negotiating with a component manufacturer, when you’re writing to people… You have this one chance to engage with them – or not. When you pitch at a local networking event, you have the opportunity to connect with people who could be instrumental to your success.

So, everything ultimately comes down to communication. It’s the heart of what you do as a business owner.  But if you feel it’s not something you’re good at, go out and get support, because there is plenty of it out there. Grab opportunities to talk about your business and polish your pitch.

People on the New Frontiers programme learn to pitch from day one and will have many different opportunities to pitch along the way. What advice would you give them?

The key is to put the audience first. Don’t assume that people want you to just talk about your product or service, even if that’s what the invitation says. It’s actually an opportunity for you to connect with an audience by letting them know how your offering will benefit them. Put yourself in their shoes and talk about their needs.

Tailor your pitch every time you give it. Don’t just learn one single pitch and deliver that every time – it won’t work if it isn’t about the audience. In the end, your pitch will get stale and you’ll lose passion, which will be picked up by the people listening.

So, keep it lively, relevant and engaging by tailoring it to the audience every time – whether that’s with investors, fellow promoters, potential clients, etc. If you bring new energy to your pitch, that’s infectious and will keep people listening. Obviously you need to know your core script, but adapt every time.

Yes, the security of learning off a template is appealing. Relying on a slide-deck feels safe. But imagine being an investor who has listened to over a dozen such pitches, one after the other. Use your template as a failsafe, not as a blueprint. On a demo day, your goal is to stand out.

Leadership – every entrepreneur is meant to embody it. But how do you become a leader before you have people to lead?

If you came out of a corporate role and had a team in your organisation, you may already have effectively led people to achieve and hit goals. But once it’s you on your own, building your startup, is leadership still relevant? Absolutely, you have to start with leading yourself. You have to be positive and motivated, get into a good routine, be organised and get out networking with people.

By leading yourself and staying on top of your game, every time you go for a meeting with a bank or an investor, you’ll communicate that focus and energy, and, in return, they are more inclined to believe in you and open doors for you.

Then when taking on those first interns or staff members, they will immediately see that passion and drive. This is how you attract the right kind of people; because you need the people who will take a leap of faith in coming to work with your young startup instead of the perk-laden job down the road.

In your book, you discuss your concept of ‘commander to coach’. Can you tell us a little about that?

Being ‘the boss’ is a role that has changed in recent times. The old-fashioned notion that the boss is he (usually) who rules absolutely and must be followed unconditionally used to be universal. I like to describe it as the “I’ve the map written on the back of my eyeballs, trust me, I know where I’m going’’ attitude.

But with millennials and Generation Z, things are different. No one stays in a job for life, people move jobs regularly and they are looking for something more than blind faith and a wage package. They are looking for a sense of purpose. They want to be part of a team that is going to make a difference, they want to believe in what is happening and feel valued, that their voice will be heard, that their contribution is important.

Feeling in line with the direction the ship is going in, feeling motivated and energised – if you as a promoter can offer this, you’ll make a connection with great employees. It’s all about motivating people and being a mentor and coach to your employees, not their commander.

Fewer women than men target leadership opportunities – whether in corporate settings or in building a startup. Why do you think that is still the case?

It is changing, but it is changing slowly. Security is still an issue for women. However we cut it, the reality is that women are still taking the larger burden in care – whether that’s because of children or other carer roles.

Women who have arrangements at work where they can leave earlier to collect children from the creche and other commitments are careful to hold onto such roles because of the security it offers. It stops them, perhaps, in making the leap to entrepreneurship.

Also, women self-select. The phenomenal response to women-only calls for initiatives such as Competitive Start Fund is a clear illustration of this. When I was president of the Irish chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, in 2014-2015, I made an increase in female membership a goal. But it was a real struggle and after six years the current president has the same challenge.

Access to finance, to supports, and to childcare are crucial and need to be in place before we’ll see gender parity in leadership roles. The Silicon Valley culture, which I saw when I started working with start-ups 10 years or so ago, was built on this notion that the start-up was your entire life. You lived in the office, practically sleeping under the desk, and you didn’t surface until your product was built.

When I was a consultant to the first Propeller Programme for women at the DCU Ryan Academy, we knew that this approach would never appeal to women. So the programme was carefully designed to fit with the lifestyle patterns of those who would be taking the course, and a direct rejection of that startup ‘mythology’ which no one needs – male or female – to succeed.

That programme has been very successful, and there are a good number of programmes out there now that are more user friendly. They give participants the space to fit something else in – whether that’s childcare, or a part-time job that funds your start-up, or learning opportunities. We’re much more sensible now and the focus on work-life balance is a healthy one.

When flexible working hours are right across the board – at whatever time of life and for whatever reason – we’ll really see change.

Why not just legislate for gender parity? Wouldn’t that be the quicker solution?

It’s possible to legislate, but I don’t know if we’ll see it here. In the UK, public boards have a quota of 30% female participation, here in Ireland state boards are now gender balanced, and part filled by a public appointment process.  I was one of the first cohorts onto a state board (RTÉ, 2010-15) where some of the appointments were by competition rather than by Ministerial selection.

Eight years on, private boards are still not as balanced as they could be because there is no compulsion to appoint women, and no one wants to see a situation where a woman is only appointed because of her sex, not her skillset. We probably could do more.

However, in the corporate world, people are selected for boards from the executive pool. If women aren’t in that pool to start with, we can’t then complain that they aren’t chosen to be on boards. Women who have had to step back to have children, or haven’t pushed for promotions aren’t there and available for selection.

Recent research from DCU on the impact of maternity leave gave a fascinating insight into the role of the company in a successful maternity leave. The company, and the line manager in particular, have a huge responsibility in how the woman re-engages. When a woman feels that her employer sees maternity leave as a problem, then it becomes a problem for her too.

Welcoming an employee back, making sure she feels facilitated to get back into work and pick up where she left off, is crucial. As we hit full employment and retention becomes an issue for businesses, the onus is on the employer not to make maternity leave a stumbling block. That way, women will continue to climb the ladder and will be in that executive pool where they will get picked for boards. They will be loyal, because they were supported. That’s good leadership.

Orlaith Carmody’s book, Perform As A Leader – The Skills And Strategies To Take You Where You Want To Go, is published by Ballpoint Press. Find out more at gavinduffyandassociates.com.

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Starting up how to beat entrepreneurial isolation

Starting up: how to beat entrepreneurial isolation

By New Frontiers blog

Starting up how to beat entrepreneurial isolation

My business was set up to help those who might be suffering from social isolation, and yet that is exactly what happened to me in the first 12 months of my startup. Since identifying it and talking to others, I have found that this is an issue that can and does affect a lot of business owners, especially those in the startup stage.

I want to share with you how it happened to me, but more importantly how I identified it and managed to overcome it, just before I threw in the towel.

The unsuccessful success

Like most startups, money was limited when I began planning my business venture. Therefore, working from home was the perfect and only solution. I was well aware that running a business was going to be tough. I’d heard all the cautionary advice – getting my business off the ground would take longer than I planned, all the while costing me more money; and I would be working longer hours than ever before, with no holidays and little or no pay initially!

I went ahead anyway, taking over the children’s playroom and had a fantastic afternoon in Ikea buying all the must-haves for my home office. It was what I had always dreamt of doing when I used to commute to Dublin every day for my previous job – what could be better than working from home! With the home office looking like something off Pinterest, I was good to go and got stuck into putting together my business plan and getting ready to launch my business.

Soon launch day arrived and my business – Count Her In – was officially up and running. I worked tirelessly from the minute the children left for school until they came home in the afternoon. I rarely left the office, trying to fit as much as possible into my working days, and then starting again once the children were asleep. It worked and soon we got great traction, with membership steadily rising and fantastic feedback from members and the local media.

But something wasn’t right, I just wasn’t feeling the buzz I thought I would. I didn’t see anything as being a success and habitually focused on all the things I hadn’t managed to get done that day. With no one to run anything past, I mulled ideas and decisions over constantly in my head, even after making them – what if I had just made a big mistake, what if, what if…

The Mill Enterprise Hub

The weeks rolled into months. The business was thriving and yet, I was struggling to the point that I really didn’t know if I could continue. I couldn’t understand why. Christmas was fast approaching, so I decided to take a week off and think about things. I closed the door to the office and I didn’t set foot in it again! Over the Christmas period I had family and friends over, the house was bustling, and I suddenly realised why I was feeling so down about my business – I was alone and I had been for 12 months.

Every day, all day I was at home in my office, working hard, talking to people on the phone and via email, but not face to face. I had gone from working in a building with over 1,000 employees and managing a large team to being on my own. I now realised if something didn’t change then I would give up. I could not face going back to the office, and I didn’t. A friend had previously told me about The Mill Enterprise Hub in Drogheda, a great facility for startup companies where you could rent affordable office space or even just a hot desk, which was more suitable for me being on my own.

As soon as Christmas was over, I went and paid them a visit and knew, straight after walking in, that I needed to be there. There was such a buzz and energy about the place, exactly what had been missing in my home office. I managed to persuade The Mill to let me move in the very next morning, and I have been there ever since. Starting off with a hot desk in a shared office, and – now that we have grown and there are 3 of us – moving into our own office space a few weeks ago. Moving out of my home office gave both my business and me a HUGE boost.

Making simple changes

Moving into a facility like The Mill is not possible for all, but I believe the most important thing for anyone in the early stages of a business, or for someone who runs a business single-handedly, is to not allow themselves to become so engrossed in working hard that they become isolated to the point at which it begins impacting them and the performance of their business.

In January, I also made some other changes which again have really helped:

Networking events

I have made the most of all local events and some further afield, most recently making my way to Clare and Waterford. But even simply popping into something for half an hour during the day that gives you a break from the desk can be invaluable. You never know who you will meet and what impact they could have on your business or you on theirs.

Business inspiration

I have become great friends with a fantastic local businesswoman, and we try to meet on a regular basis to chat about our respective businesses. This has really proved invaluable. It is important to be able to share the more detailed aspects of your business with someone you trust. It is fantastic when you are struggling with something and need to talk it through, especially when it is with someone who understands what it is like to run a business. We happen to be at very different stages – my business is still very new whereas her business is much more established – but we have learnt that we still have the same types of issues, the same doubts and insecurities.

Coffee shops!

I love coffee. It’s my treat to myself when I get a nice coffee and now they are popping up everywhere. There is so much choice and most have free Wi-Fi, so even though I am now based in an office with a couple of others, sometimes I still head out the door with my laptop and go to a local coffee shop to work for an hour. Again, the buzz about the place just gives me an extra boost. I also realise how lucky I am to have a job that allows me that freedom, so that in itself gives me a reason to work that bit harder to ensure I can continue doing it.

The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone from what I have learnt is to listen to your own advice. What do you tell those around you? Probably something like look after yourself, ask for help, you need a little break. Next time you give out some advice just actually think about the last time you took your own advice.

About the author

Georgina McKennaGeorgina McKenna New Frontiers

Georgina McKenna is a New Frontiers participant and the founder of startup Count Her In, a free online and offline social community for women. With an interest in mental health, Count Her In is a response to the difficulties of true communication in modern society.

Georgina worked for 12 years in a multinational corporation, enjoying the energy and buzz of being a project manager and senior finance shared service leader. However, it had always been a lifelong dream to run her own business, so when she was made redundant she took the opportunity to finally follow her true passion.

Participant Aisling Byrne Think outside the box to stay inside the circle New Frontiers

Economy: think outside the box to stay inside the circle

By New Frontiers blog

Participant Aisling Byrne Think outside the box to stay inside the circle New Frontiers

As the global economy continues to expand, the challenge of meeting the increasing demand for products and services means that most businesses have adopted growth strategies that are not sustainable long-term. But there is an alternative to the traditional open-ended economy, and many startups are adopting these business models to build profitable companies with a lower environmental impact.

The circular economy

Over the past number of years, the circular economy has grown in popularity. In some cases this is out of necessity, in others it stems from the realisation that as a society we have created unsustainable practices – and within this problem lie significant business opportunities for those who wish to provide sustainable solutions to ensure the stability of business in the future. In the natural world, there is no landfill. Plants and animals are born, they grow, eat each other, die and their nutrients return to the soil where the cycle begins again. Nature, being the most complex system known to man, operates using a seamless cycle, with each element integrating itself into a synergised system devoid of waste. It is a purely circular ecosystem.

The linear system

In contrast, for the past 250 years, humans have been favouring the alternative linear system – take, make, and dispose – fueled by the availability of plentiful and inexpensive natural resources. To date, this system has been attractive and successful for both business owners and consumers reaping the short-term rewards. When environmental and social impact is not a concern, businesses can take any necessary means to become more efficient, reach more customers, and sell more of their product. However, we are rapidly reaching the point of no return and the global economy is increasingly using finite resources at a rate which the planet is unable to replenish the raw materials.

Over the last century, we have watched prices decline as consumers demand cheaper and cheaper goods, yet we have never been in a situation where the price of resources has been so volatile. Renewable resources such as trees are being cut down faster than they can grow, clean water is being polluted and non-renewables, such as metals and fossil fuels, are fast depleting in an effort to keep up with global demand. The danger is that if we continue to operate using liner systems that the planet cannot sustain, our businesses, much like our finite resources, will cease to exist. After all – when all the trees have been cut down and all the rivers have dried up, we cannot eat money. Where will your business be then?

The future of business

Prof. William McDonough at Stanford remarked to the World Economic Forum:

“The ‘problem’ we find ourselves in is also the largest business opportunity ever seen by our species. The leaders of the economic future will be those that understand that by design we can create perpetual assets and optimise them to create businesses that thrive and are enjoyed by people everywhere, all the time, forever. Why would we want to miss that?”

Every traditional industry using a linear system has all the hallmarks of an industry ready to be disrupted. The long-term problem is unworkable, unavoidable, urgent, and underserved. This is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur, as here lies the opportunity to be part of global business solutions that fundamentally reinvent our economic model and build businesses that will shape the future of our planet.

So, what is the alternative? The circular economy! The circular economy is not reliant on the use of scarce resources to achieve economic growth, instead it uses disruptive technology and business models to profit from product longevity, renewability, reuse, repair, upgrade, refurbishment, capacity sharing, and dematerialization. Circular models do not focus on driving volume and squeezing lower costs through ‘efficiency’ measures in their supply chain. Instead, they design products to be ‘future-proof’, to fit within the limitations of our planet’s resources. There are five circular business models:

  • circular supplies
  • resource recovery
  • product life extension
  • sharing platforms
  • product as a service

Case study: The Nu Wardrobe

I will delve into a circular solution through the lens of my own company, Nu. Our startup has developed a platform that lets you bring your wardrobe online so you can share and swap your clothes with friends and other Nu. members. Our solution combines the thriving fashion industry and the rapidly growing sharing economy. The fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting industry, after oil. 25% of the world’s chemicals are used for textile production and the industry contributes 10% of the world’s global carbon emissions. The textile industry uses more water than any other industry, apart from agriculture. The rate at which apparel is created and consumed is unsustainable and the fashion industry is becoming ever more scrutinised for its lack of progress towards sustainable practices.

After conducting market validation, we found that although the fashion industry’s supply chain is highly efficient, this model is completely inefficient for the consumer. People invest in outfits that they may never wear or rarely wear. In cases like this, it would be far more efficient for people to borrow or rent clothes, rather than buy. This ties into the product life extension model, and sharing platforms which are part of the circular economy. In short, people have a lot of clothes and have made a huge investment in their wardrobe.

People want a constantly changing wardrobe, but the current model insists that consumers must make a purchase each time they want something different to wear. By providing a sharing platform, people can leverage the value already in their wardrobe to borrow clothes from other members. This cuts down on textile waste and extends the life-cycle of products already in circulation. Nu. profits by providing a service that connects users with people they can share or swap clothes with.

Changes like this can be seen disrupting industries the world over – prime examples being Airbnb, Lyft, and Guest to Guest. The sharing economy is set to boom over the next decade, estimated to be worth upwards of $335 billion by 2025. It is actually profitable, when setting out on a new business venture, to consider the future and how the business will thrive with it.

About the author


Aisling ByrneAisling Byrne Nu New Frontiers

Aisling is a New Frontiers participant and the co-founder founder of Nu. – a platform which lets individuals take their wardrobe online so they can share and swap clothes with friends and other Nu. members with a circular economy ethos… [Read Aisling’s profile]

New Frontiers programme How personal experience shapes my startup vision

How personal experience shaped my startup vision

By New Frontiers blog

New Frontiers programme How personal experience shapes my startup vision

According to Sir Richard Branson, “The ideas for the best businesses tend to come from personal experience. There are many great ideas that have arisen by other means… but when you are generating ideas for a business, first-hand experience is essential.” This certainly resonates with me and reflects the inspiration behind my company, Itchy Little Monkeys.

My startup offers solutions for kids with eczema. Our products are designed to remove the stress eczema can cause both children and their parents, which is something that I have experienced first hand. Let’s examine why Richard Branson feels personal experience is important and what that means for my business.

1. “Personal connection equals commitment”

My daughter Sienna is the inspiration behind setting up the business. She has suffered badly from eczema since she was a baby. I came up with the idea when searching for solutions that could help her and through the frustration of not being able to find products that worked for us. With 1 in 5 kids having eczema, I knew there must be many parents out there that were going through what we went through with our daughter; i.e. the sleepless nights due to unrelenting itching, not knowing what condition her skin was going to be in the following morning, and the ongoing risk of infection from the scratching. Eczema can be very distressing for both parent and child and there is no cure for it – it can only be managed and it’s all about maintenance.

Having a deep personal knowledge of the problem keeps you focused on finding a solution, and means you have the passion to persevere through the tough times.

2. “Building a business is like riding a roller coaster”

There are inevitable ups and downs when starting a business. Experience of the industry from the customer’s perspective will give you an edge.

We currently offer 2 products, with plans underway to extend the product range.

Our Shruggi is a form of scratch mitten that protects the child’s skin from the damage of scratching. It goes on like a cardigan/shrug over the child’s shoulders, making it easy for parents to put on but difficult for the child to remove. We found that traditional scratch mittens just wouldn’t stay on our daughter, so our Shruggi does just that. It is made from organic cotton and silk and comes in bright, colourful, child-friendly designs.

Our fun storybooks feature the characters of the Itchy Little Monkeys (Max and Mimi). These are characters that children relate to. The stories are fun for kids while also providing top tips and advice for parents to help them manage their child’s eczema, which complement standard clinical treatments their child may be receiving.

3. “You’ll have a competitive advantage”

Having experienced what other parents with kids that have eczema have, we know what our customers are looking for so that gives us a competitive advantage.

I AM the customer I’m targeting, so I know what other parents are going through and what it is they are searching for. I have parents regularly contacting me looking for advice on how they can best manage their little one’s eczema.

4. “You know your customer base”

With 1 in 5 kids globally suffering from eczema (more in some countries), we know there is a market for what we are selling. And since we’re able to relate to our customers, we should be positioned to make better decisions that meet their specific needs and wants.

There is no cure for eczema, it can only be managed.

The Shruggi breaks the itch-scratch cycle of eczema. When kids are itchy, they scratch. The more they scratch, the itchier their skin becomes. Scratching damages skin, with the increased risk of causing infection. Our product prevents the damage caused by scratching, therefore reducing the risk of infection and allowing skin to heal quicker, meaning less stress for child and parent.

I know from experience that looking after a child with eczema can be very stressful. When developing our brand, we aimed to remove the stress or eczema by making it as fun as possible for the child.

5. “You will keep refining your ideas”

Because our daughter lives with eczema daily, we are constantly aware of it and are always looking for better ways to help her and therefore our customers too.

As well as our Shruggi and storybooks, plans are underway to extend the product range. We are constantly thinking of the next way we can help make life easier for kids suffering from eczema.

Because our stories are based on personal experiences of dealing with a child with eczema, I haven’t run out of ideas for writing yet – there is so much we have learnt along the way that we can share with other children and parents.

So, although I have a business background and have previous experience of running a business day-to-day, it is the deep personal knowledge I have of this subject matter that makes me passionate about this business in my quest to help other kids (and their parents!) manage their eczema.

About the author

Nicola McDonnell New FrontiersNicola McDonnell

Nicola McDonnell is a New Frontiers alumna and the founder of Itchy Little Monkeys. The startup provides solutions for young children with eczema; its product range currently consists of the Shruggi – an innovative form of scratch mitten – and a range of fun storybooks.

Nicola comes from a business background. Before founding her startup, she had worked in senior management for 15 years, in roles that encompassed a wide range of  responsibilities.

rachel hanna new frontiers startup journey

My startup story: belief, support, action!

By New Frontiers blog

rachel hanna new frontiers startup journey

“All roads lead to Damascus.” Someone very close to me once said these words when I was having one of my mental blocks, and it has come to be a bit of a mantra I tend to use on this roller-coaster entrepreneurial journey.

Believe and Do!

The belief part of this equation is at times difficult, and we can all have periods of doubt, questioning and “what the hell am I doing?” moments, but it is the inaction that stifles any startup and I am convinced that it is the latter part of this equation that separates the winners and losers in business.

We can all read and buy into a lot of the self help books and entrepreneurial success stories out there and belief is a huge part of making something happen, but action – follow through and a relentless, endless pursuit of the end goal – is imperative if you are to realise your ideas.

My own entrepreneurial journey probably started when I fled the nest at 17 and headed to Dublin City University to study for a Communications degree. This was actually my second choice, having fallen short of the points for English and Drama in Trinity.

I was not too disappointed, though, as the Communications degree was also right up my alley – covering TV, radio, broadcasting and a host of other interesting topics such as linguistics and social and cultural perspectives. I also managed to satisfy my theatrical bent through part time employment at Andrew’s Lane Theatre and claiming the role of President of the Drama Society.

Following college, I spent a summer performing with Shannon Heritage, completed a course with the Gaiety School of Acting, and started an MA in Drama in UCD at the tender age of 21. I continued to work in the theatre industry and around this time I secured an agent and had some minor successes with a number of TV commercials, plays and my ’15 minutes of fame’ in Damien O’Donnell’s Inside I’m Dancing (including an on-screen kiss with JAMES MCAVOY – a movie moment that I will be able to show the grand-kids some day!).

When life changes course

Trying to make it as an actress and failing to make the elusive breakthrough into the big time proved to be a great foundation for what was to come next, and furnished me with some very important tools to bounce back.

I learned that ‘no’ is not necessarily a definitive “NO!” and that the word “NEXT” is just a step closer to the next part – not an indication that it’s time for you to exit stage left (or right)!!

As the story unfolded, I did actually exit… or at least sidestep slightly. Trying to keep a roof over your head while living hand to mouth goes hand in hand with this type of career, and in order to keep going I fell into a number of so-called ‘stop gap’ promotional jobs. I found that working in events, public relations and publishing was more suited to my skill set and I also liked the novelty of suddenly having a slight jingle in my pocket for a change.

With hindsight, I now realise that there is a close similarity between being a starving artist and a budding entrepreneur!

The move into publishing

Having worked in events for a number of years, I started working for a publishing company in my late twenties and spent several years working across a variety of titles and with a number of publishers before setting up on my own in 2010. I spent a few years working on contract publications, but was eager to launch my own title and in 2012 I identified a niche in the market for a lifestyle publication for secondary schools.

Acting quickly, I gave birth to Bell TIME Magazine in 2013, sending an inaugural copy to every secondary school in Ireland to test the market from both a consumer and commercial perspective. We had great feedback from advertisers and schools alike and with that Bell Media Ltd was established in 2014.

And so the story begins

Getting used to rejection at an early stage in life has, I believe, proved to be a great life lesson for me as a budding entrepreneur – something which gives me the resilience needed to continue in difficult moments.

I was lucky to have had some good people around me who supported me in the delicate and difficult startup period. I had energy, passion and good marketing skills and a vision for where BellTime could go, but there were a host of other gifts I needed which were not in my own repertoire. Graphic design, customer care, distribution, sophisticated IT skills were some of the more obvious deficits that needed attention, but there was also the need for what might be called the ‘softer’ support systems such as encouragement, prudence, patience and wisdom.

This is where having a support network is imperative to survival. My family, my partner and a few close friends were my ‘go to’ people, who nourished and protected me in fraught moments when I thought I had taken on too much and that I was in over my head. They also kept me balanced and helped me take time out to avoid becoming totally absorbed by my work; this helped to recharge my batteries and to keep me sane when life had become all too hectic and work all too engrossing.

The next step in this process is to get busy living – I relate this to the now immortalised line in one of my favourite films, The Shawshank Redemption:

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

My Phase 1: BELIEF

Being a one-woman band back in 2014 – and not having the first idea how to even play a musical instrument – I quickly tapped into a number of resources that were available to start ups.  Through the help of our Local Enterprise Office, The New Frontiers programme, InterTrade Ireland, Plato, The Regional Development Centre, and DKIT Dundalk, as well as support from Enterprise Ireland, we have been able to reach our third year in business and launch phase three of our business plan.

Making the right decisions in employing the right people is imperative if you are to realise your dreams. Having key staff members, a support network and people you can trust who will tell you what you don’t want to hear is crucial. Being surrounded by “Yes Men” is a sure key to failure.

My Phase 2: SUPPORT

Having valuable experience across a number of industry sectors relevant to your business startup are essential ingredients for the success of your company; if you excel in a certain aspect of the business, apply the majority of your efforts to this area.

Employ other people to do the jobs you can’t. People who are better and more talented than you! Life has a funny way of leading you down many meandering country lanes, allowing you to experience different career paths. You can get very competent passing through these routes and even feel like an accomplished driver before you finally reach the motorway and suddenly…

Oh my God!  you’re in the fast lane for the first time now and you have to overtake competitors, only you have never done this before or driven this fast!

This is where what you have learned thus far – your successes and failures to date, the preparation, blood, sweat and tears you have put in to your startup – kicks in. With a bit of tunnel vision and some, albeit, blind ambition, it’s time to accelerate.

My Phase 3: ACTION

We are about to climb a summit – hope to see some of you guys on the other side!

Some of my tips for startups

  • BELIEVE – DO
  • WRITE IT DOWN – WRITE IT DOWN – WRITE IT DOWN
  • GET IT DONE – GET IT DONE – GET IT DONE
  • GET UP – DRESS UP – SHOW UP

For those mental block moments, I use the following:

“The blank page is the place to begin. Open your mind and fill the page in.”

About the author


rachel hanna bell media new frontiersRachel Hanna

Rachel Hanna is a New Frontiers alumna and the founder of Bell Media, a media company with an ambition to foster a culture of innovation in school communities and inspire young people internationally.

Rachel brings a rich and varied background to her role as founder, with over 20 years’ experience working within the media and communications industry and has worked on numerous lifestyle events since 2010.

Bell Media Ltd was established in September 2014, and is currently focused on establishing itself as the go-to events and publishing company within the education/lifestyle sector, with plans to expand the Bell Time brand domestically and further afield.

becoming an expert in your field new frontiers advice

Startup PR: increasing awareness and becoming an expert

By New Frontiers blog

becoming an expert in your field new frontiers advice

For new businesses, raising brand awareness is the key to building a community of fans and driving sales. A good way to do this is to highlight the expertise of the founder or co-founders with public appearances and authoritative content. 

When I started Mummy Cooks, there was no such thing as a ‘weaning expert’ in Ireland. By virtue of being the first person to start talking about this topic, I became the weaning and feeding expert – initially for Eumom and then for MummyPages. I also became the weaning expert for the Pregnancy & Baby fair; talking at events in Dublin, Belfast and Cork.

In order to promote my fledgling business, I started to work on my PR. I have a friend who helps me write up my press releases, and then I contact the various media contacts myself to see if they’re interested in the story. This personal touch goes a long way. I’ve also found it useful to reach out to mums in the media – I send my products to new mums and they almost always feature me in their magazine or paper.

Getting on television

I’ve also been able to get some appearances on TV, which has been incredibly helpful to the brand. My daughter and I appeared on a few slots on Ireland Am, and then on RTE’s Today. Often, openings like these are down to luck, and being in the right place at the right time. However, it’s also about creating these opportunities and putting yourself out there. In my case, the RTE appearance came about because I was producing online content for the RTE Food website. We were filming a video for this, which the Today show producer saw, and he asked if I would come to Cork to cook on the show.

Being on TV wasn’t something I had ever thought about, or in fact wanted to do, but when it can drive traffic to your website you soon lose the nerves! Becoming an expert in a particular area means that you have to be confident when speaking about the topic. Contact the media and let them know that you are prepared to write about your subject area, or go on TV. Don’t be shy!

Blogging and content partnerships

I started writing blog posts about weaning and feeding young children, and we also started writing recipes. I saw an opportunity to share our content with other online content sites, so we partnered with media providers as a way to grow our brand without a huge marketing spend. I used my network to get an introduction to the content editor of RTE, and because she could see that we were already producing great content, she gave us a weekly slot on their website. They get our content, and in exchange we get links back to the website. We have nurtured similar partnerships with Xposé Parenting, MyDealDoc, SuperValu, MummyPages and GloHealth. We also recently took part in the Tesco Back to School campaign – creating recipes and food hacks for parents.

Increasing awareness of our brand does not lead to instant sales, and it has possibly been a slower road for us than if we had invested in direct marketing. But our hard work is now paying off, as we’ve been able to see with our recent food flask product launch… mums who had previously purchased from us or connected through our recipes have been buying this new product because they trust the brand. Sales since January have been really strong and we are now planning to launch other colours.

Engaging social media content

Social media is another place where you can build your reputation, and once again it’s about producing good quality content that’s helpful and raises awareness of your product. Here too, brand image is important, so on social media we pay attention to our message, language and image. We keep the way we write content consistent across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Each post is friendly and helpful and I always sign it myself. Because I’m a mum of two young children, customers know that I’ve experienced the same issues around weaning and food as they have, and that helps to build trust.

I get emails every day from other mums asking if I can help them. Obviously, I’m not a doctor, so it’s important to seek professional advice from a doctor or dietitian if the problem persists. However, there are tactics and improvements I can share with them that can help. Simple things, like asking someone else to feed the child so that they don’t pick up on mum’s stress, can have a huge impact. Sharing these insights with other mums is an important part of what our brand is about, and it’s a great way to build our community of loyal fans.

Our next step is creating videos to get our message out there and drive product sales. This has been a difficult step, mostly down to cost. We’ve been focusing on growing organically, and we don’t have a large marketing budget to call on. At first, we went for a budget option, but the videos weren’t really in line with our expectations. It’s crucial when you’re building brand reputation in this way that everything fits with the image you are creating, so I’m always thinking about the overall brand experience. We were recommended another video producer, and although this time the cost was higher, we’re really happy with the results. We’ve created a series of recipe videos that back up our core messaging about weaning and show how useful our products are. These will be great for brand awareness, and we can share them with our media partners.

Choose opportunities carefully

Becoming an expert and raising awareness is as much about what you don’t do as anything else. For instance, I was asked to become a brand ambassador for a company that had had some very bad press. While I would have been well paid for it, I knew that there wouldn’t have been any positives for the brand image I had spent a long time building, and luckily I declined. Listen to your gut and if it feels wrong, don’t do it!

Also, be careful not to associate yourself with too many brands. Make sure the companies you partner with are a good fit in terms of their ethos as well as their relevance to what you do. You should also consider whether they want to partner with you because they are thinking about moving into your space in the future – in these cases there’s no point you giving them a boost just so that they can take over your market share!

Obviously, some partnerships come with financial compensation, and some don’t… so when doing any free promotion for other brands, think about how you will be able to build on it for the benefit of your own brand. For instance, I’ve done talks at baby & toddler events, which I’m happy to do for free because I’m able to present my products to an interested audience, and the organisers also promote our business on social media.

It’s all a case of balance. Although I do events for free, it is important to make sure you are getting enough back – for instance, that the audience is large enough and you will get good PR from it. In the past, I wasn’t always as cautious. I agreed to do one event on the basis that there would be lots of people attending and I was likely to make plenty of sales. I interrupted a family holiday to travel to the event, only to find that just four people had turned up.

Becoming an expert in your field is about looking for, and being open to, opportunities to talk about your expert topic and share your experiences. You’ll need to work on your confidence and be prepared to put yourself out there, of course! And the other key element is to consider any channel, and balance any offers you get, to make sure the opportunity is of benefit to your brand.

About the author

Siobhan Berry MummyCooks New Frontiers alumnaSiobhan Berry

Siobhan Berry is a New Frontiers alumna and the founder of Mummy Cooks. The startup has developed a range of storage solutions to help parents with weaning, and provides practical and simple feeding advice and recipes to inspire, educate and empower parents to feed their young families healthy, homemade food.

With a background in asset management, the entrepreneurial journey started for Siobhan after she became a mother. She started giving classes in baby food cooking, and after seeing how many parents were looking for advice and support with weaning, she decided to found Mummy Cooks in 2013.

My two babies: being a parent and running a business

By New Frontiers blog

gail-condon-new-frontiers

Someone in this world calls me Mummy (well not quite yet, she is only one year old). Being Rosie’s Mummy is the most wonderful and most important role of my life. And the toughest. I also have a business – a new business. People refer to it as my other baby, and they’re right.

Becoming a parent and starting a business are similar experiences.

1. Sleepless nights

It is a given that when you become a mother, you are never going to sleep again. Never, ever. The same thing happens when you start a business. They both need your attention, your time, your patience… and, of course, you worry about them at all times. People ask me if I sleep when she sleeps, I don’t. When she naps, I go back to my desk and work. There is always work to do.  I will sleep when Rosie is an adult and when my business is where it needs to be, i.e. the successful children’s publishing house that I know it can be. Slumber is over rated anyway, isn’t it?!

2. If I don’t do it, who will?

My daughter Rosie is glued to me at all times. She is a mummy’s girl and although she has an amazing dad and we both have supportive families, sometimes she just wants me and no one else will do. My business is the same. It needs me all the time and delegating is tough when you have nobody to delegate to! You have to be a master of all trades to run a startup.  If I’m not working, the business isn’t working. It is normal to be stretched in the early days of a new business and it is often easier to do things yourself rather than explain what you need done to somebody else. Prioritisation is the key! My daily to do list is my best friend.

3. Social life

Obviously, I mean the lack of of a social life. Although I wouldn’t say that I have no social life, I would say that it is a whole new social life. Two new worlds of socialising have opened up for me: with Rosie I see my friends much more in the daytime, which is lovely, and since starting a business I have been exposed to a huge secret start up world and culture. You learn a new start up language, eat start up food and suddenly you have new idols and new friends. It really is an adventure.

4. The future

The worry! I worry about Rosie all day. Most of the time it is sweating the small stuff: her next bath, what I have in the fridge, if she’s getting a varied diet, if she’ll behave for my mum when I go that meeting… On top of that, I worry about the world. I am not just worried about my little bubble, but the whole world. I feel so vulnerable in it. I want the world to be a better place for Rosie. I worry about pollution, waste, war, child and animal rights much more now than I did before. The future needs to be carefully planned when you have a child, Mick and I must select schools, save up, look ahead.

That is similar to the worry and planning involved in a business. I worry about the business every second; again, most of the time it is the small stuff, but I worry nonetheless. The future is a little hazy in the startup world, I plan as much as I can, but every day there is a new opportunity, or a new disaster to fix. So my plan is to plan as much as I can!

My advice to a new start up is to try to embrace the unknown. It is exciting to steer your business in your chosen direction, but there are icebergs, storms and sharks waiting for you. Plain sailing it ain’t. But there are also sandy beaches, calm seas and glorious sunshine ahead.

5. Love

Love, love, love! As the Beatles said, “All you need is love.” This song also has some other inspirational messages, they could be words of encouragement to new mums or to new businesses:

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn
How to play the game
It’s easy.
Nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn
How to be you in time
It’s easy.

OK, it isn’t easy. You’ll need a lot more than love, but it is a good place to start. I love being a mother. I could not love my daughter more. She fills me and all those around her with so much love. You also need to love your startup, which I do. It is a childhood dream to do this – to write children’s books. Like a baby it can be challenging, tiring and all-consuming. Nevertheless, you need to be passionate about it and to believe in it. If you don’t believe in it, who will? Without love, you cannot survive in this start up world or in the parent world. No, it is not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.

About the author

gail-condon-new-frontiers-writingfortinyGail Condon

Gail is a New Frontiers participant at DIT. Her startup, Writing for Tiny, creates personalised books to help children understand important life events and situations. The inspiration for her business came from Gail’s experience as a paediatric nurse, when she would draw illustrations to distract patients from unpleasant procedures or explain their condition to them.