Start-up Night Letterkenny: Learning from mistakes of other businesses

Entrepreneurs hear from Dragons’ Den star and founder of first Irish rapeseed oil firm

Austin Duignan of Donegal Rapeseed Oil, Gary Quinn of The Irish Times and Peter Casey of Claddagh Resources at the AIB Start Up Academy in Letterkenny. Photo Clive Wasson

Austin Duignan of Donegal Rapeseed Oil, Gary Quinn of The Irish Times and Peter Casey of Claddagh Resources at the AIB Start Up Academy in Letterkenny. Photo Clive Wasson


Dragons’ Den star Peter Casey talked about the pitfalls that caused him to go broke twice at Start-up Night in Letterkenny.

“Normally I talk about entrepreneurship and how to make money, and I thought today I’ll talk about the mistakes I made so perhaps these entrepreneurs can avoid them,” said Casey, founder and executive chairman of global recruitment business Claddagh Resources.

Among the mistakes were not thinking big enough, fearing failure and not understanding his competition.

AIB and The Irish Times have teamed up for a series of Start-up Nights across the country in the lead-up to this year’s AIB Start-up Academy. The tour has made stops in Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway so far. The events are an opportunity for entrepreneurs to engage with each other and with industry experts.

Austin Duignan, managing director of Donegal Rapeseed Oil, talked about the “serious initial challenges” of starting the first domestic rapeseed oil business in the height of the recession. He said doing something different and having regular contact with customers helped the company succeed.

“I was surprised at the response we got. People were very happy to see a local product that would do something for the economy and displace imports. And the price was right.”

There were pitches from local entrepreneurs. Helen Haworth of Portsalon Luxury Camping talked yurts with king-size beds, wood burning stoves and all the mod cons in north Donegal.

Neil Barrett pitched Fit-Hub Ireland, the largest standalone fitness facility in Ulster

Jason and Gareth Devenney talked about their company, Farmflo, a farmer-friendly tech solution designed to help farmers reduce paperwork and stay compliant during inspections. Last year’s AIB Start-up Academy winner was Herdwatch, a company in the same sector.

Local entrepreneur Henry O’Donnell from Inishowen said he went to the event because he has “a relatively new agricultural consultancy business and we’re here to see what we might learn”.

It was Clare McCarron’s first business event. She opened the Elite Dance Academy in Buncrana last year, and her dancers are representing Ireland in the world hip-hop championships in Scotland this summer.

“I’m so passionate about it I forget about the business side. Tonight was exactly what I needed, and I know myself my business is going to go somewhere. I know what it’s going to be in years to come.” What is the AIB Start-up Academy all about? The AIB Start-up Academy is a joint venture between The Irish Times and AIB to help people start or strengthen their businesses by providing information, networking opportunities and the chance to win a place on an intensive training course run by Irish Times Training.

AIB teamed up with The Irish Times to launch the inaugural Start-up Academy last year.

The 2015/16 Academy involves a series of Start-up Nights, events across the country where industry leaders share their insights and experiences with entrepreneurs and people interested in starting their own business.

The nights, which run until November, connect entrepreneurs with like-minded people and the wider start-up community.

The Academy also wants to find the top start-up talent in the country. Entrepreneurs can apply for a spot on the intensive eight-week training course that begins in early 2016.