Inside Track: Andrea Doolan CEO Atlantia Food Clinical Trials
The Cork-based company specialises in trials on food and health supplements
Andrea Doolan: “We’re going to continue to grow the company and that’s our primary focus.”
Human clinical trials can sound a little like something from a Jason Bourne movie but it’s common practice for Cork-based company Atlantia. Specialising in trials on foods and health supplements, the team of 25 work hard on making sure that their clients’ products do exactly what they say on the tin, or food packaging.
What distinguishes your company from your competitors?
We are the only clinical trials company in Ireland that specialise in foods and supplements. Our competitors would be throughout Europe and North America.
All our studies are done to ICH GCP (International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use Good Clinical Practice) standards which is the standard for the conduct of clinical trials for drug studies.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in business?
We started out very much in the digestive health area and, over the years, have expanded into doing trials in many other health areas. Sometimes, it’s finding the experts, the people really from a medical perspective who understand the mechanism of action of some of these functional benefits.
What’s your major success to date?
Looking at our client base and the type of clients that we have, the calibre of clients. They are the top food companies in the world. To be able to engage with them, to be able to deliver their projects and, ultimately, getting some of their products on to market really has been a great success.
What more do you think the Government could do to help SMEs?
I think with all SMEs really, it’s probably the same thing – some tax incentives. When you are starting off, you know it can be a bit of a struggle getting that working capital. We are self-funding, we’ve never got investment. Sometimes really, it just can be having that working capital, having enough cash in the bank to grow and develop.
Do you think the banks are open for business?
We work with AIB and they’ve been really supportive. They understand our business, they understand our growth potential and they can see the future of Atlantia. So, in that sense, we’ve been very fortunate to have them as a partner. I can’t really talk about the other banks and how supportive they are but I guess we’ve had a positive experience.
What’s been the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
In hindsight, we should have probably scaled more quickly. We recognise there was an opportunity there when we started the business five years ago. We let the business grow organically by choice but I guess now, if we did have more working capital in the beginning, if we could get investment, possibly we could have scaled faster. We could have put more resources into the sales team.
Who do you admire most in business and why?
This is a tough one actually because there are so many brilliant people out there and I think any entrepreneur who takes that initial step, who starts off on their own, deserves to be acknowledged for their efforts.
Looking at one person in particular, I would say Richard Branson. What he’s achieved has been amazing. He started off from very humble beginnings, worked from home and really has built a business and a very strong brand. Really what it says to me is that, with the right team and the right idea, anything is possible.
What’s the best piece of business advice that you’ve ever received?
You’re only as good as the team around you. It’s important to recognise your own limitations and to hire people who will strengthen and complement you. No one person can do this alone and, by being one of a team, there’s a much greater chance of success.
How do you see the short-term future of your business?
Really it’s developing the sales team a bit more. We’ve expanded quite substantially. We now have clients in Japan, China and New Zealand, so we’re into that Asian market. I would say 50 per cent of our clients to date are from North America so it really is putting people on the ground and generating more sales.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
If the right partner was out there and they saw the clients we work with, it would be very interesting for them to be a part of Atlantia. But at the moment we are happy where we are, we’re going to continue to grow the company and that’s our primary focus.