BY EMMA CONNOLLY
FROM Bantry Bay foraged seaweed pesto, to creating treasure hunt experiences for kids using augmented reality – a group of West Cork women are at the forefront of cutting-edge new business ideas.
The four were among those who showcased their ideas at County Hall last week after completing the Exxcel Programme at the Rubicon Centre at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT).
They are: Lena Ni Mhurchu, Innishannon; Susan O'Flaherty, Clonakilty; and Cathriona Tobin and Claire O’Sullivan, Bantry who were among a group of nine in total.
Now in its 5th year, the six month, part-time Exxcel Programme is the only programme in Ireland supported by Enterprise Ireland that is dedicated to supporting STEM female entrepreneurs. The programme is designed to work around the participants daily demands as they balance very busy personal and professional lives.
Programme Manager, Lucy O’Donoghue said: ‘For the past six months they have worked closely with our team of trainers and mentors, guiding them through the complex process of validating their business ideas, completing investor ready business plans and learning how to professionally pitch their ideas to potential backers. They are a highly skilled, resilient, hard-working, confident and motivated group of entrepreneurs who took a leap of faith in themselves and pursed their dream of starting a new business.’
Applications for the next Exxcel programme from January to June 2020 are now open. Those interested in learning more about the programme should visit www.rubiconcentre.ie and register their interest or call Lucy at 021-4928903.
Here's what the West Cork women had to say about it...
Claire O’Sullivan, Bantry
FORAGING seaweed is something I have done for as long as I can remember. My mom and myself collected it to make a feed for her garden just like she did with her mother.
I studied Diet and Nutrition where I learned about the benefits seaweed has for the human body, since then I’ve spent years experimenting to get the most nutrition from it. More and more people are learning about the benefits of this super food, but not everyone knows how to prepare it well. That’s why I concocted seaweed pestos, to make it as easy and delicious as possible to incorporate it into our daily diets.
My partner Eli and I were making different flavours of seaweed pesto at home for years. Then, with the encouragement of Hannah Dare from Organico Health Food Shop in Bantry, we made our first official batch of just 24 jars and they flew off the shelves. It’s gone from strength to strength since then. Now Wild Atlantic Seaweed Ireland supply stores across Ireland and are beginning to expand into European markets for 2020. Last year we had a seaweed stall in the English Market in Cork for the Christmas season; this is where I met Alison Walsh from the Rubicon Centre. She was incredibly enthusiastic about our products and encouraged me to get involved in the Exxcel program. The mentoring I received through the program was second to none. Starting a business is like crawling through mud in the dark and praying you’re on the right path. It has been invaluable to have someone with expertise on the other end of the phone to turn to for advice. Most importantly, we’ve come to learn that we can achieve absolutely anything when we have support from a community of women.
I GRADUATED from UCC in 2001, and spent 10 years in Edinburgh working as an accountant in the financial services industry before moving to London for my current job, managing director of Pelgrane Press (a tabletop games company) which I co-own.
I moved back to Bantry in 2015, and have been working remotely from there since then, andtravelling frequently to the UK, USA and Europe for my work.
After having moved back to Ireland, I was excited to improve my long-neglected Irish, and went looking for online resources to develop my comprehension skills. I found some basic Irish language courses, but nothing that gave me a sense of the poetry and beauty of the language, and as a voracious reader and publisher, I naturally looked for books. Finding very few Irish language titles available, I decided to set up an Irish language ebook publisher, Teaspaí Press, to extend the range of Irish language ebooks available.
I realised that setting up a new company in Ireland was very different from running a UK-based company, and having done some research, I discovered the Exxcel program for women entrepreneurs in the Rubicon Centre in CIT, the curriculum of which would plug the gaps in my knowledge.
As well as having helped me develop my sales, marketing and business planning skills, the Exxcel program has introduced me to a number of other women entrepreneurs, and the support I've got from them, as well as from the knowledgeable mentors I worked with during the program, has given me the confidence boost I needed to start working on this new venture. I'm excited to create new media in the Irish language, and now I feel like I have the skills and the local network in Cork to bring that new media to a wider audience online
Lena Ní Mhurchú,
I GREW up in the picturesque village of Innishannon and loved it so much I moved back there seven years ago with my husband. Since settling back we have had Ellie (6), Tim (3) and are expecting a new arrival in January.
I work as a software manager in Pilz Ireland, a German Safe Automation Company. We create software experiences that help manage workplace machinery safety, ensuring factory workers get home safely to their families every evening.
Through Pilz I am familiar with Augmented Reality, I love orienteering and wondered by combining both could I add ‘a sense of magic, to a simple outdoor walk’.
The premise behind Wanderful is to get kids active, outdoors and learning and it’s something for the whole family. Through a simple app on a mobile device, trails come to life and help children discover the likes of animated fairies in the woods, identify rarely seen native animals, even go on African safari on a local trail. We are also exploring the potential of Wanderful supporting schools with their digital learning objectives.
I had neither the knowhow nor the time to do anything with my idea. Then by chance I came across the Exxcel Program who were seeking ladies with a STEM related idea, and proposed the potential to balance it around work/life commitments. I have now a clear vision on how to propel Wanderful forward.
un-harnessed potential in women that really have every excuse in the world not to move an idea forward.
I’M originally from Dublin, but have been living in Clonakilty with my family since 2001, when I moved back from Brussels. For the last five years, I have been working as operations manager at XD Consulting, alongside my husband, a consulting engineer in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Our mission is to empower people, organisations and communities in making the transition to a low-carbon, resilient future. We do this by working with range of experts in the sustainable energy field providing consultancy and project management services to public bodies and communities. As we all know, climate change is a massive challenge and since housing represents a quarter of all CO2 emissions in Ireland, improving the energy efficiency of our homes is essential.
So, over the last two and a half years, together with a very talented team of engineers, software developers and designers, and with a research grant from SEAI, one of our most ambitious projects so far was creating RetroKit.
It’s a software solution designed for engineers and managers in local authorities and housing associations to help them to decide on the best way to invest in the energy upgrades of their housing stock. It also provides a reporting and benchmarking tool to demonstrate progress made against energy performance targets.
The Exxcel Programme was recommended to me by our Local Enterprise Office mentor and it felt like the perfect opportunity. I couldn’t recommend the course highly enough. It was a fantastic opportunity and the level of training and mentoring exceptional. Network West Cork are also a great support.
We are currently working on a pilot project with Cork City Council, who will be trialling RetroKit with us next month. By the end of the year RetroKit will be available as a digital platform on the cloud and we hope to have our first customer onboard and ready to start using the tool.