New Frontiers programme https://www.newfrontiers.ie An Enterprise Ireland programme Wed, 04 Dec 2019 10:36:09 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3 Male skin care firm is well groomed for online success https://www.newfrontiers.ie/blog/mohecan-groomed-for-online-success Wed, 04 Dec 2019 10:35:43 +0000 https://www.newfrontiers.ie/?p=15113 New Frontiers alumna, Charlotte Matabaro, was featured with her business partner Marc Power talking about their startup Mohecan Male Grooming as it launches its Amazon store in time for Christmas. Read about them on irishexaminer.com.

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New Frontiers alumna, Charlotte Matabaro, was featured with her business partner Marc Power talking about their startup, Mohecan Male Grooming, as it launches its Amazon store in time for Christmas. Read about them on irishexaminer.com.

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Advanced Photonics Systems wins at Seedcorn https://www.newfrontiers.ie/blog/advanced-photonics-systems-wins-at-seedcorn Fri, 29 Nov 2019 12:08:09 +0000 https://www.newfrontiers.ie/?p=15106 Congratulations to Rory Casey, founder of Advanced Photonics Systems, who beat off top-class competition to take the first prize of €50,000 in the 'New Start Company' category of the Intertrade Ireland Seedcorn Competition. The company has invented a non-invasive parasite treatment photonics technology and the first target is sea lice on farmed salmon, which costs €1bn in this €15bn market.

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Congratulations to Rory Casey, founder of Advanced Photonics Systems, who beat off top-class competition to take the first prize of €50,000 in the ‘New Start Company’ category of the Intertrade Ireland Seedcorn Competition. The company has invented a non-invasive parasite treatment photonics technology and the first target is sea lice on farmed salmon, which costs €1bn in this €15bn market.

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Coworking space vs the traditional office – which will you choose? https://www.newfrontiers.ie/blog/coworking-space-vs-the-traditional-office-which-will-you-choose Thu, 28 Nov 2019 16:05:26 +0000 https://www.newfrontiers.ie/?p=15108 The post Coworking space vs the traditional office – which will you choose? appeared first on New Frontiers programme.

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coworking vs traditional office - new frontiers programme Enterprise Ireland

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

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

Coworking spaces as a budget-friendly option

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

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

Compromising on security and productivity

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

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

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

How beneficial is networking for your business?

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

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

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

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

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5 tips for recruiting a stellar first hire for your startup! https://www.newfrontiers.ie/blog/5-tips-for-recruiting-a-stellar-first-hire-for-your-startup Tue, 29 Oct 2019 12:33:05 +0000 https://www.newfrontiers.ie/?p=14983 The post 5 tips for recruiting a stellar first hire for your startup! appeared first on New Frontiers programme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to successfully hire your first employee

1.      Identify your startup’s weak spots

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

2.      Document procedures for tasks

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

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

3.      Don’t underestimate the importance of culture fit

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

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

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

Sandra Whelan, Immersive VR Education
read our interview with Sandra

4.      Have them demonstrate their skills

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

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

5.      Have a trial period

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

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

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

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

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

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

Startup events to help you end 2019 on an entrepreneurial high

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The ‘Android for boats’ https://www.newfrontiers.ie/blog/the-android-for-boats Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:59:28 +0000 https://www.newfrontiers.ie/?p=14992 Co-founder of the boat technology startup Raceix, Aidan Foley, describes its operating system for the marine leisure sector as being 'Android for boats with the intuition of Apple and the dynamism of Tesla'. Irishtimes.com looks at their ‘game-changing’ software.

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Co-founder of the boat technology startup Raceix, Aidan Foley, describes its operating system for the marine leisure sector as being ‘Android for boats with the intuition of Apple and the dynamism of Tesla’. Irishtimes.com looks at their ‘game-changing’ software.

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Listen to your market and always be ready to pivot your idea https://www.newfrontiers.ie/blog/listen-to-your-market-and-always-be-ready-to-pivot-your-idea Thu, 03 Oct 2019 09:32:43 +0000 https://www.newfrontiers.ie/?p=14967 The post Listen to your market and always be ready to pivot your idea appeared first on New Frontiers programme.

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

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

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

The importance of validating your market

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

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

Always listen to your target customers

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

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

Early-stage development with support and funding

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

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

Our pivoted startup: Equine MediRecord

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

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

About the author

Pierce Dargan Equine MediRecord New Frontiers alumnusPierce Dargan

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

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

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

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

Startup events to help you end 2019 on an entrepreneurial high

4 actions entrepreneurs need to take to scale up quickly

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Winners of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur Awards (IBYE) announced https://www.newfrontiers.ie/blog/winners-of-irelands-best-young-entrepreneur-awards-ibye-announced Wed, 18 Sep 2019 14:21:44 +0000 https://www.newfrontiers.ie/?p=14942 The post Winners of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur Awards (IBYE) announced appeared first on New Frontiers programme.

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

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

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

The Best Young Entrepreneurs are #MakingItHappen

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

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

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

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

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

The 2019 winners and runners-up

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

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

Category Winners

Best Business Idea

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

Best Start-Up Business

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

Best Established Business

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

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

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

New Frontiers finalists at IBYE 2019

Best Business Idea category

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

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

Best Start-Up Business category

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

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

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

Best Established Business category

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

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

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

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

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

Startup events to help you end 2019 on an entrepreneurial high

4 actions entrepreneurs need to take to scale up quickly

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

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Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team https://www.newfrontiers.ie/blog/immersive-vr-education-startup-success-strong-team Thu, 12 Sep 2019 10:04:21 +0000 https://www.newfrontiers.ie/?p=14932 The post Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team appeared first on New Frontiers programme.

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Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q3. Did you have a recruitment strategy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

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

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