Inside Track Q&A: Paul Gough, founder of Nualtra, maker of oral nutritional supplements

UK success a taste of things to come for small start-up

 

Dietician Paul Gough set up Nualtra, a company making oral nutritional supplements to treat disease-related malnutrition, in 2012. It now has a market share in Ireland of between 10 and 17 per cent for its three products and was recently approved by the NHS for prescribing in the UK.

It was named emerging business of the year by Limerick Chamber of Commerce last year and has now won a €300,000 grant from Enterprise Ireland for R&D research with Teagasc.

What sets your business apart from the competition?
Taste has always been a problem for oral nutritional supplements. Research shows that up to 50 per cent of patients will not complete their prescription for nutritional supplements, mainly for this reason. We set out to formulate a product which tastes a lot better than the competition. Independent analysis has shown that we’ve done that.

Also we are the only Irish-owned company in this market. The other three companies supplying these products to the market [Nutricia, Abbott Nutrition and Fresenius Kabi] are multinationals. And our competitive prices have set new reference prices for these products.

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
Never give up. My father-in-law Sean Corkery [chief executive and chairman of Siteserv] is one of our main investors and mentors, along with Leslie Buckley [Independent News and Media chairman]. Those guys have been there and done that, and that’s their advice. Once you’re in it, you have to get over every obstacle that’s thrown at you. You’re in it to win it.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
As a start-up business I’m sure we’ve made mistakes every day but I suppose the biggest mistake I made was being too eager at first, trying to do too much, too fast. You have to do all the research first, do due diligence and then go for it.

And your major success to date?
Convincing the HSE that a new entrant into this market was the way to go for cost savings. Getting our products listed on the NHS was the next success. The Irish market is worth about €14 million a year whereas the UK market is worth £120 million (€146 million).

Who do you most admire in business and why?
It has to be my two mentors Sean Corkery and Leslie Buckley. They are two self-made men. They started out as young guys in business and they’ve had multiple successes with many companies. They are tough, they are hard but you can only learn from people like that. If I could be half as successful as those two that would be a major success.

Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
I think they are, but it’s a lot harder now to get money than it used to be. We were dealing with AIB in Limerick long before we launched the business.

Even a year before we needed financing, we had regular meetings with their business relationship manager because we knew that getting money off the banks was going to be a challenge. So when we launched we got the credit facility we looked for.

Now that we are expanding into the UK, we need to increase our credit facilities so that’s proving challenging because this is a business with very little collateral.

What one piece of advice would you give to the Government to help stimulate the economy?
As a start-up business, we need to hire people who have experience and can hit the ground running so there should be more incentives for employing people. It takes a lot of money. They might be on a salary of €35,000 but it ends up costing about €55,000 to employ them with PRSI and all that. For every new person a start-up business employs, they should get a six-month or one-year break on PRSI. Something like that would make a massive difference to us.

What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Keeping the business well-capitalised as you grow is definitely the biggest challenge. It’s very easy to go into a position of overtrading which is dangerous. But we’re in a much better position now with the Enterprise Ireland fund.

How do you see the short- term future for your business?
We want to get to 25-30 per cent market share in Ireland within three years and we want to get into double figures market share in the UK within two to three years as well. We also want to have another three products on the market this year. We are working on a gel to add to products for people with swallowing difficulties, and that can and will be manufactured in Ireland.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
I honestly have no idea what it’s worth. Would I sell it? Absolutely not. We’re having too much fun growing it. It’s definitely not for sale at the moment. We plan to grow it into a fabulous business.