EY Entrepreneur of the Year international finalists focusing on growth

Sectors include health and safety, pharma, crop protection and refrigeration

Mackin Group founder Andrew Mackin: “Spend time on personal development that will instil good habits.”

Mackin Group founder Andrew Mackin: “Spend time on personal development that will instil good habits.”

 

The first four of eight nominees in the International category of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year competition are profiled this week. The awards are run in association with Julius Baer, Enterprise Ireland, Invest NI, The Irish Times and Newstalk. The nominees will vie for the title of EY Entrepreneur of the Year at an awards ceremony later this year.

Andrew Mackin, Mackin Group

Originally from Dundalk, Andy Mackin moved to Co Cork to join the Naval Service at the age of 18. Having served for over more than decades with the service, he established Mackin Group in 2004, originally as a health-and-safety advisory company. Since then, the business has grown to encompass a talent solutions arm which has operations in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

Mackin’s health-and-safety business ensures companies meet their legal compliance requirements while it also offers consultancy services on safety policies and risk management, for example. The talent solutions arm of the business offers recruitment and consultancy services.

Over the past six years, the business has seen substantial growth, improving revenue from €378,000 at the end of 2014 to more than €11.5 million at the end of last year. The company expects revenue to come in at about €17 million for this year. Clients of the group, which remains headquartered in Cork with offices in Dublin, London, Zurich and Hong Kong as well as several US office bases, now include blue-chip names such as Airbnb, Twitter and Pepsi.

What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start up in business?

I was serving in the Irish Naval Service and just wondering what I would do when I completed my 21 years. I thought working for myself would be the way to go, seeing as I had taken orders for those 21 years.

What was your and back-to-the-wall moment and how did you overcome it?

This occurred during the national crisis in 2008 when we were unable to pay rent and feared removal from the building. I remember that Friday, wondering what to do. I took €600 in cash from the credit card to pay the rent on Monday. I contacted a few of our clients and asked them if they could pay us ahead of time, and they did, which completely saved the day.

What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

The worst advice was when someone told me to go to as many networking events as possible and to hand out my business cards everywhere. Later, after €300 and €400 spent in cards, no work had materialised, so I significantly changed that practice. The best advice was from an older engineer from Cork. When we were both travelling on the Dublin to Cork train in 2006, he told me: “Understand what you want to offer and how you are going to deliver it in the best way possible to create value for the client.” He explained that this always leads to more work, and we strive to include this in business today.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

Plans for the business would be to have revenue at €100 million with a projected revenue of €500 million by 2030.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business? Are you still feeling the effects?

Covid-19 definitely impacted us but we adapted and managed through the worst of the crisis. At Mackin EHS, we have been extremely busy developing plans and policies for companies going back to work and, at Mackin Talent, workflow has stabilised again. Even when it slowed, we were still recruiting talent for our multinational clients who were fortunate to remain operational.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

The importance of sales. You can do nothing with or in your business without generating sales. Spend time on personal development that will instil good habits. They are key to success.

Open Orphan co-founder Cathal Friel: “I believe fast decision-making is vastly more important than slow decision-making.”
Open Orphan co-founder Cathal Friel: “I believe fast decision-making is vastly more important than slow decision-making.”

Cathal Friel, Open Orphan Plc

Serial entrepreneur Cathal Friel is the executive chairman and co-founder of Open Orphan, a pharmaceutical services company which was listed on the Dublin and London stock exchanges in 2019. Friel has had a long-running and successful history in business.

At 16, he had to abruptly leave school to rescue his ill father’s troubled business. He then went on to complete his education through night classes and got an MBA from the University of Ulster in 1990.

In 2001, he was part of the team which successfully established Merrion Stockbrokers and, in 2007, he founded Raglan Capital, a company that creates new businesses to list on public markets. That led him to founding Amryt Pharma alongside Joe Wiley in 2015, a company now listed on the Nasdaq in New York. He also founded Fastnet Oil and Gas in 2011, a company which explores for oil and gas off the coasts of Ireland and Morocco.

Now, he’s at the helm of Open Orphan, a company which is a leader in testing vaccines and antiviral medicines through human challenge studies. The company is actively involved in the fight against Covid-19 and now has a market value near €80 million and a target to reach about €30 million in revenues this year. The company employs 300 staff across offices in Dublin, London, Paris, the Netherlands and the US.

What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start up in business?

My original start in business was as a 16-year-old and was a result of a family medical emergency. As such, I got thrown in at the deep end running the family business. Since then, I’ve started numerous different businesses, some more successful than others. My light-bulb moment has usually come from a moment of boredom or seeing someone else doing something similar and trying to be a fast follower.

What was your back-to-the-wall moment and how did you overcome it?

My biggest back-to-the-wall moment was the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. For the first couple of weeks of lockdown I was genuinely concerned Open Orphan may struggle to get through the summer of 2020 because many of our major customers simply stopped paying their bills overnight. However, our Open Orphan team pulled really well together and we took immediate remedial measures and, to our surprise, we pulled off a £12 million fundraise at the end of May which put Open Orphan on very secure footing for the years ahead.

What moment/deal would you cite as the game-changer or turning point for the company?

The acquisition of hVIVO plc by Open Orphan in January 2020. When we acquired it, nobody, particularly investors, was interested that hVIVO was the world leader in the testing of vaccines and antivirals. The business was close to being insolvent. However, three months later being the world leader in the testing of vaccines and antivirals suddenly became very interesting to almost everybody. Having done many deals in my life, I feel the acquisition of hVIVO plc will be the luckiest and most profitable deal I’ll ever do.

What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

The best was to ask lots of questions, show interest in the opinions of everybody regardless of their rank or stature within the company and to then make decisions with whatever information you have on hand and don’t be afraid of making wrong decisions. The worst was to take your time and don’t make decisions fast, as I believe fast decision-making is vastly more important than slow decision-making.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

To be one of the leading pharma services companies in Europe.

What are the big disruptive forces in your industry?

Government regulation, the dysfunctional North American healthcare market, and the knock-on effect, both positive and negative from the current pandemic.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Making people redundant, particularly people who did not expect it or see the day of reckoning coming.

Life Scientific founder Nuala Mitchell: the coronavirus pandemic “has brought about a renewed appreciation for food and agricultural technology”.
Life Scientific founder Nicola Mitchell: the coronavirus pandemic “has brought about a renewed appreciation for food and agricultural technology”.

Nicola Mitchell, Life Scientific

Some 25 years ago, Nicola Mitchell established Life Scientific from a room on the UCD campus, having previously worked with a generic agrochemicals manufacturer for 10 years. Life Scientific, a manufacturer of generic crop-protection products, has since successfully pivoted from service provider to a developer of its own products and sales.

Mitchell’s goal now is to be the most successful innovator of crop-protection products. Reaching that goal will be supported by the company’s team of 70 staff, more than half of whom are scientists based at the company’s headquartered adjacent to the UCD campus. There, the scientists navigate complex chemistry and regulatory requirements to develop new formulations which the business commercialises to keep crops healthy and protect them from diseases and insects.

The group racked up sales of €60 million last year and had earnings of €16 million. In the next five years, the group hopes to have €250 million in revenues and it will then examine options for external investment.

What was your back-to-the-wall moment and how did you overcome it?

Our backs were to the wall for a full 20 years living hand to mouth before we pivoted our business model from being a services to a product company. In 2012 we pivoted from being a contract research organisation offering research and development services, to developing our own products.

In the first year of our first distribution partnership worth €3 million, bad weather saw the distributor pull the plug on selling our products with little notice – we had fully committed millions on stock and were without a customer. And we had said goodbye to all our former contract customers. I spent the day in bed writing a plan, I felt back in control and very quickly after went into action mode.

What moment/deal would you cite as the game-changer or turning point for the company?

Pivoting the business and selling 50 per cent of it to InVivo in return for market access in France were amongst the game-changing moments.

What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

“Better before cheaper” was a piece of good advice I received. In other words, compete on differentiators other than price. Amongst the worst advice I received was once, when struggling to achieve a goal, I was advised to lower my standards.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We’ve always been a global business, purchasing in Asia, manufacturing and selling in the EU and now planning regulatory filings in North and South America.

What are the big disruptive forces in your industry?

Lack of public understanding around the need for, and benefits of, safe, effective and highly-regulated agrochemical products and the essential role they play in helping to meet all of our demands for healthy, affordable, nutritious and diverse food.

What are you doing to disrupt, innovate and improve the products or services you offer?

We reverse engineer multinational product recipes, break them down into their component parts and reconstitute them in new ways, for example to increase efficacy by 30 per cent.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business? Are you still feeling the effects?

In a positive sense it has brought about a renewed appreciation for food and agricultural technology. In terms of product sales, we were lucky with the business cycle: we’re highly dependent on China for raw material, but we had all of our purchasing for 2019-2020 complete before China shut down. All of our toll formulation is done in plants in the EU, we’re particularly reliant on two plants in Italy. And, again, we had just finished production as the wave struck there.

Rodney Lowry of Lowe Rental: “Get a good mentor and listen.”
Rodney Lowry of Lowe Rental: “Get a good mentor and listen.”

Rodney Lowry, Lowe Rental

Having started his working life as an electrician, Rodney Lowry decided to start his own business in the early 1990s in the construction sector which, at the time of its sale in 2005, employed about 200 staff.

Having made a success of that business, Lowe decided to exit and look for other opportunities. In 2008, he led the acquisition of Lowe Refrigeration, a then 30-year-old business which was in need of new thinking.

During his tenure at the business, sales have grown by about 900 per cent and today Lowe is a provider of refrigeration, catering equipment and portable kitchens to the events, exhibitions, retail and food service sectors working out of 12 distribution centres across three continents. Clients include PGA Golf, Formula One and Wimbledon as well as companies such as Walmart, Tesco, Rolls-Royce and Harrods.

Originally founded in Northern Ireland in 1977, Lowe has grown substantially under Lowry’s leadership and last year acquired temporary kitchen specialist PKL. The group employs more than 250 staff and its headquarters are based in Lisburn out of which it supplies services into 45 countries and sells directly into more than 140 countries.

What was your back-to-the-wall moment and how did you overcome it?

Buying a rental business in early 2008 that required a lot of funding to rejuvenate equipment and capital expenditure to grow, and realising banks wouldn’t be keeping their promises was our back-to-the-wall moment.

Describe your growth funding path.

It is difficult in the current environment and the only limiting factor to our aggressive growth plans. If we only had the ability to have banks on the same playing field as the country, life would be very rosy indeed.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

We have a very detailed plan on that and suffice it to say it would be at least twice the size it is today.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business? Are you still feeling the effects?

In short, yes, and we will do for the foreseeable future. We are working extremely hard to bring on more resilient service lines and innovative products. We learn very quickly indeed.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Telling someone they are not suitable for the job.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Get a good mentor and listen.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Having a successful and dynamic business that gives people high levels of opportunity.

What moment/deal would you cite as the game-changer or turning point for the company?

Getting a private-equity deal.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We had on-the-ground activities in 45 countries last year, which is up from the year before. My plans are multilayered and very ambitious.

What are the big disruptive forces in your industry?

Dealing with less detail-orientated competitors that want to copy you without understanding the dynamics of the market.

What are you doing to disrupt, innovate and improve the products or services you offer?

In short we are a restless organisation, we need to do what we do better, quicker and more efficiently. Simple, really.

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