The finalists - part one: making networking central to start-ups

Seven of the 14 finalists in the AIB Irish Times Start-up Academy tell their stories

The AIB Start-up Academy in association with The Irish Times. Photograph: Conor Mulhern

The AIB Start-up Academy in association with The Irish Times. Photograph: Conor Mulhern

 

The third year of the AIB Irish Times Start-up Academy began last week. More than 450 applications were whittled down to 22, then to the final 14 start-up companies who are now taking part in the eight-week accelerator programme. The programme aims to develop these companies, providing an opportunity to network and learn from entrepreneurs, industry experts and each other in their weekly mentoring and training programme.

At the end of their eight weeks they will pitch to a judging panel at the final in order to try to win the prize worth €200,000 to their business.

Here, seven of the 14 finalists tell their stories. Next month the remaining seven will tell theirs.

Frankman Grooming

Michael Swift: Frankman Grooming: “Our range . . . allows guys to achieve the look they want without a degree in hair styling.”
Michael Swift: Frankman Grooming: “Our range . . . allows guys to achieve the look they want without a degree in hair styling.”

“Frankman is a straight-talking male personal-care company that cuts through the bull. About 18 months ago, I was out shopping for some hair clay with my wife, Gill, and found it so confusing and annoying. A lot of the language, both in-store and online, can be overwhelming for your normal guy who’s interested in achieving a certain look but doesn’t know where to start. Gill was working in the beauty industry at the time and was witnessing huge growth in the sector. We both felt there was room for a male personal-care company that guys could relate to. After months of research, Frankman was born. We are Dublin-based and will begin trading in July both in-store and online. Our range of five innovative hair styling products (priced between €7-€9.50) allows guys to achieve the look they want without a degree in hair styling. Frankman is frank in how we interact with our end users, it’s inspired by normal guys.”– Michael Swift of Frankman Grooming.

Tipperary Boutique Distillery

Jennifer Nickerson of Tipperary Boutique Distillery: “Our eventual aim is to have an entire field-to-bottle operation on the farm.”
Jennifer Nickerson of Tipperary Boutique Distillery: “Our eventual aim is to have an entire field-to-bottle operation on the farm.”

“Our company was the natural result of the whiskey experience of my father (who managed some of Scotland’s biggest distilleries: Glenfiddich and Highland Park); the farming background of my fiance, Liam Ahearn; and my own background in whiskey and as a chartered accountant in KPMG. We provide small-batch, individually-numbered, single-malt Irish whiskeys. I grew up in the whiskey industry, living beside many of the Scottish distilleries which my father managed. My father saw Liam’s family farm outside Clonmel as an ideal location for a distillery when he visited, with fields of golden barley and fantastic water. We are the only whiskey start-up in Ireland aiming to diversify a farm with local heritage. Our co-founders, the Ahearns, have been farming at Ballindoney for generations. We launched our first product, an 11-year-old, single-malt Irish whiskey, the Rising, last March, which sold out. Our Watershed (€56 RRP) and Knockmealdowns (€75 RRP) whiskeys are non-chill filtered (47 per cent ABV). With planning permission for a distillery on Liam’s farm we will use the barley there distilling our own whiskeys very soon. We have established distribution channels in countries including Australia and China and are due to launch in the United States, the UK and Canada very soon. Our eventual aim is to have an entire field-to-bottle operation on the farm.” Jennifer Nickerson of Tipperary Boutique Distillery. For more see tipperarydistillery.ie

Bakers and Cakers

Bakers and Cakers founder Mary Toner: “While we are currently based in Dublin, we aim to be a nationwide service.”
Bakers and Cakers founder Mary Toner: “While we are currently based in Dublin, we aim to be a nationwide service.”

Bakers and Cakers is an online marketplace connecting those who want to find and buy their perfect cake with those who love to make them, and allows makers to showcase their work. I have experience in both sides of the food industry, both in Michelin-star restaurant Chapter One and then on the business side, which was my background, as brand manager for world-renowned patisserie brand Ladurée. It was while working (in Ladurée) and setting up my small bespoke cake company from home that the idea for the company was born. As I was working full-time I found I couldn’t meet the demand for every cake order enquiry. Customers would then ask if I could recommend another caker and I found I spent a lot of time acting as a referral service. I thought: ‘There must be a better way of doing this’; and Bakers and Cakers was born. For customers it is an easily searchable platform and database of suppliers. They can search for requirements such as budget and allergy requirements, and our system will match them with the suppliers. For the caker, we provide an e-commerce platform where they can showcase their work, be easily found and sell. We aim to launch this summer, and while we are currently based in Dublin, we aim to be a nationwide service. Mary Toner, founder of Bakers and Cakers. For more see bakersandcakers.com

Izzy Wheels

Ailbhe Keane of Izzy Wheels: “I named it after [my sister] and our tagline became: ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out.’”
Ailbhe Keane of Izzy Wheels: “I named it after [my sister] and our tagline became: ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out.’”

“Izzy Wheels was inspired by my little sister Isabel, who was born with spina bifida and as a result is paralysed from her waist down. She has been a wheelchair user all her life and growing up it really frustrated her how little was available to her to personalise her chair. Izzy Wheels is a range of personalised spoke guards for wheelchairs that transforms them from more than a medical device: it also becomes a piece of fashion and self-expression. When I was in my final year in the National College of Art and Design I created Izzy Wheels to make Isabel feel empowered about her wheelchair. I named it after her and our tagline became: ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out.’ They come in a range of prints and patterns. We are Dublin-based and launched our online store, izzywheels.com, in September 2016 and have been taking orders from Ireland, Europe and the United States. A set of spoke guards costs €99 and we recently launched our ‘Roll Models’ collection where we collaborated with nine of Ireland’s best-known illustrators. These cost €149 and a donation from every sale goes to the Irish Wheelchair Association. Izzy Wheels are easily attached to the wheel and swapped to go with different outfits or occasions. I see the impact and delight Izzy Wheels have made on my sister’s life, and I want wheelchair users everywhere to experience this sense of pride.” – Ailbhe Keane of Izzy Wheels. For more see izzywheels.com

Kiki Moon

Keelin O’Keefe of Kiki Moon: “I love strong, vibrant colours, especially for babies, but there was nothing like that out there.”
Keelin O’Keefe of Kiki Moon: “I love strong, vibrant colours, especially for babies, but there was nothing like that out there.”

“My business journey began four years ago while I was expecting my first child. As I was researching all of the various baby products you need for a newborn, I was incredibly frustrated by children’s textiles on offer in Ireland and the UK. I love strong, vibrant colours, especially for babies, but there was nothing like that out there. With a background in both business and design, I felt compelled to create a boutique textile label that challenged the status quo in children’s textile design. Kiki Moon is a boutique textile label that combines vibrant colour combinations and strong, bold designs. Each of our organic cotton blankets is wrapped in delicate, silk-coloured tissue and presented in a luxury gift box. Our current collection serves the baby and toddler market but soon we will introduce a ‘home’ collection as a response to huge customer demand. This will start off with throws and eventually other homeware products. We sell, primarily, from our online store and ship worldwide to more than 30 countries, offering free delivery in Ireland, the UK and US. We have just started selling to retail and will be available in a select number of outlets later this year. – Keelin O’Keefe of Kiki Moon. For more see lovekikimoon.com

Origin Bars

Origin Bars chief executive Niall Harty: “Our bars have 17g of protein and, due to the prebiotic fibre, they ensure slow-release energy, so keep you full for longer.”
Origin Bars chief executive Niall Harty: “Our bars have 17g of protein and, due to the prebiotic fibre, they ensure slow-release energy, so keep you full for longer.”

“After lots of research we found a gap in a growing market for naturally-positioned protein bars. We did a lot of testing and researching and I developed it with an innovative, plant-based prebiotic fibre, for its numerous nutritional benefits. Origin was born. We manufacture handmade, high-fibre protein bars made with 100 per cent natural, quality ingredients. We are based in Kerry and are now currently trading, as we launched our business this year as part of the SuperValu Food Academy. We are available in all SuperValu stores and you can buy on our website, our bars are selling at €2.99. Our bars are different from the sugar-laden, low-fibre energy bars and the highly-processed protein bars with artificial sweeteners. Our bars have 17g of protein and, due to the prebiotic fibre, they ensure slow-release energy, so keep you full for longer. Origin protein bars are ideal for all the in-between moments: on the go, in the office, to fuel a walk, run or cycle and great for recovery. – Niall Harty, chief executive of Origin Bars. For more see originbars.ie

Ostoform

Ostoform co-founder Kevin Kelleher: “We are still pre-revenue, and raising investment in order to get set up with an efficient manufacturing process.”
Ostoform co-founder Kevin Kelleher: “We are still pre-revenue, and raising investment in order to get set up with an efficient manufacturing process.”

“My co-founder Rhona Hunt and I did a programme called BioInnovate, which gave us access to hospitals to identify unmet clinical needs. Skin complications for people with ileostomies was a problem that kept coming up as we spoke to clinicians, so we started brainstorming solutions. (An ileostomy is where the small bowel is diverted through an opening in the abdomen and this opening is known as a stoma. A special bag is placed over it to collect waste products.) Often, people suffer from skin complications as a result of output from their stoma leaking on to their skin. Our device prevents the output from the ileostomy leaking on to the patient’s skin, keeping the patient’s skin healthy and giving the patient confidence. We did some patient studies in the University of Limerick and the patient feedback and clinical outcomes were very encouraging, so Ostoform was founded. We are still pre-revenue, and raising investment in order to get set up with an efficient manufacturing process. We plan to launch in the first quarter of 2018. – Kevin Kelleher, co-founder of Ostform. For more see Ostoform.

Meet the other seven finalists next month: Atturos, the Little Pharma Ltd, Oathello Network Limited, Feed, Hydrasure, Dynomed and Fresh from the Pier.

To find out more visit aibstartupacademy.com

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