InterTradeIreland sowing seeds of future success

Seedcorn competition fostering success under supervision of cross-Border business development body

Seedcorn winners Antonio Ruzelli and Seamus Porter of Wattics with Martin Cronin.

Seedcorn winners Antonio Ruzelli and Seamus Porter of Wattics with Martin Cronin.


Desperately seeking finance? Imagine, then, what it would be like to get your hands on €100,000 in cash – no strings attached.

Belfast-based Catagen is in the happy position of knowing exactly how this feels. The Queen’s University Belfast spin-out, which develops catalyst research and low-emission testing equipment for the car industry, walked away with the overall prize in the 2012 Seedcorn competition.

But the cash was not the only reward, according to Catagen chief executive Dr Andrew Woods. He says the competition, run by InterTradeIreland, “opened doors” for the spin- out thanks to its reputation for backing promising businesses.

Winning Seedcorn can give businesses a “credibility” they cannot buy, says Woods, because it makes potential investors take notice.

It has certainly worked for both Catagen and Dublin-based Wattics, which was named the best emerging company last year, receiving a cash prize of €50,000. Antonio Ruzzelli, chief executive of the UCD spin-out, which develops software solutions that manage energy consumption, says it has since signed new customers in Ireland, Britain, Europe and South Africa.

This year, Seedcorn has a cash prize fund totalling €280,000. It is open to all businesses less than five years old in Ireland, which are at seed level, start-up or in early-stage development. The deadline for entries is this Friday.

In the past 11 years, more than 1,645 aspiring businesses have taken part in Seedcorn. InterTradeIreland research suggests some of them went on to secure more than €165 million of new equity to fund their ambitions. This shows just how important it is for start-ups to be able to promote what they are doing to the right audience.

It also underlines the role that InterTradeIreland – set up under the Belfast Agreement – continues to play North and South. It’s a role InterTradeIreland chief executive Thomas Hunter McGowan believes has become even more crucial in light of the economic challenges both parts of the island face.

“The economies in the North and in the South have changed dramatically since the establishment of InterTradeIreland and that has forced businesses to change the way they think and the way they operate,” he says.

“Businesses today face the same problems whether they are in Cork or Tyrone – issues like cashflow, distressed prop- erty debt and working capital finance are island-wide.”

InterTradeIreland is the only body funded by both governments with a remit to boost economic co-operation.

“One of the really important things we do is put people together. We get businesspeople from the North and the South together and we get them talking and that is vital because that is where it all starts . . . We also help establish new partnerships and help companies innovate.”

Latest statistics from the organisation suggest £650 million (€666 million) of trade and business development has been supported by InterTrade- Ireland. It estimates this has helped generate 3,000 jobs across the island.

Growth opportunities
According to McGowan, the downturn has made firms more open to doing business across the island. “Businesses are definitely looking outside of their own domestic market for opportunities to grow.”

McGowan has noticed some subtle differences about doing business in the North as opposed to the South. He jokes that people in the North have “spicier tastes” – or at least that is what Dee Collins, managing director of Cork-based Dee’s Wholefoods, tells him.

Collins participated in an InterTradeIreland sales development programme to help her get her products into Northern Ireland. She won a deal with Sainsbury’s and the secret of her success came down to accommodating consumer tastes in the North – it turned out the spicier the better in Belfast.

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