From Lurgan to LA: The power of Inner City Enterprise

Matt Toman’s story shows how the charity helps unemployed and kick-starts start-ups

The launch of Inner city Enterprise (ICE), which aims to create employment for the long-term unemployed, in 2013. File photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

The launch of Inner city Enterprise (ICE), which aims to create employment for the long-term unemployed, in 2013. File photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

 

When Matt Toman was asked to prove his dedication to the movie business he jumped on a plane for Los Angeles, met some producers and came back with a portfolio of ideas.

That is commitment. But then, as Toman will quickly point out, the Inner City Enterprise (ICE), which nurtured his young production company and hundreds of other start-ups, do not expect applicants to travel the world, just to demonstrate passion.

Today, the 33-year-old regularly flies to the US where he hopes to continue partnering on projects. Such is the rapid impact of his company Bankhouse, he collected the “most creative/innovative” prize at the first annual ICE Awards on Thursday.

The charity, partially State-funded, was established to help unemployed people based in Dublin city to set up their own businesses by providing advice and supports.

Since 2011, it has helped more than 400 get off the ground, creating about 460 jobs. Hopefuls register for the “back-to-work enterprise allowance”, a social welfare payment allowing people focus on their fledgling enterprise.

“They said we like your idea, now go away and prove to us that you mean it, that it’s something you want to do,” says Toman, who is originally from Lurgan in Co Armagh.

“My company was registered on the 1st of August, 2014 and since I opened it I have worked every day.”

It could hardly have been a more contrasting turnaround. Having left school at 16, Toman went into refrigeration engineering and bought his first property at just 19. In keeping with the times, his bricks-and-mortar investments grew and when the global markets tumbled in 2008, he lost it all.

“I cut my losses and that was it,” he says. “I am now living what I feel is like a dream, owning my own company.”

Having decided to study as an actor, he landed a role in a small film where he quickly discovered a preference for life behind the camera. Later he learned the trade at a two-year, unpaid internship in a production company.

Diverse clientele

Today Bankhouse employs up to 11 people regularly and three full time. As well as film (it recently wrapped a movie called South) it also works in documentary and corporate production where its diversity of clientele counts Dublin City Council and the electronic music outfit Groove Armada.

“My message to everyone is if you are on the unemployment line, take that year that you need but find the strength to pick yourself back up,” he says. “I started my company 14 months ago and I am just back from a meeting with Dreamworks in LA. It’s all out there; you just have to find it.”

Thursday’s ICE awards also honoured best male entrepreneur Robert Giffney whose business “HIS Barbershop” aims to provide an upmarket experience at affordable prices, and life coach Sarah Doyle who took the best newcomer award for her “Better Life Project” tackling mental health issues.

Mia Tobin was named best woman entrepreneur for her company Brewery Hops, which offers three- or five-day tours of Ireland taking in visits to burgeoning craft breweries and conventional tourist attractions.

“I saw a renaissance in Ireland. It had been dead for a long time and we got on the wave of global brewing,” she says, with a nod to the 80 odd breweries around the country.

“ICE are always there to say: yes we will get you out there and here is the course you should go on.”

Today, 60 per cent of ICE clients remain trading two years after their establishment. Over the next two years, it hopes to boost another 160 businesses.