Inside Track: Fountain of youth sourced from our heritage

Ógra is tapping export markets with peat-based skincare products


What is special about your business?
The unique selling point of Ógra Skincare products is that they all contain the unique preservative qualities of peat. Ógra is made from one of the most perfectly designed natural ecosystems on the planet – a 9,000-year old plant and vegetation rich, oxygen-free bog in Co Offaly.

Extensive research has been carried out worldwide in relation to bogs and to raised bogs in particular. The findings of the research show that Ireland has the best quality peat in the world for skincare applications and that, within this, the best quality peat was located in county Offaly. It has 98-99 per cent organic matter and 98 per cent water retention properties.

What sets your products apart in your sector?

We harness the natural power of peat to bring breakthrough skincare products with proven results to the market.

What has been your major success to date?

There have been a number, including successfully establishing ourselves as an emerging global brand and entering into successful partnerships with channel partners in Ireland and in Russia. We recently attained High Potential Start-Up status with Enterprise Ireland. This will allow us to access their network of market experts globally and will give us access to various funding options and potential innovation partnerships.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The typical growing pains of any start-up business – getting the initial customers, branding, positioning, pricing, and managing cash flow.

What piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business?

Be passionate about your idea and have the patience, persistence and conviction to follow it through to success.
Who do you admire most in business and why?

People who inspire and have the tenacity to follow their dreams. For example Ryanair's Michael O’Leary, who is entirely focused on results.

What two things could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment?

The new realities of business must be recognised. Many of the provisions within the Companies Acts, orders and regulations as they apply to start-ups are simply not applicable to the types of business that must be nurtured if the economy is to grow. Existing rigid structures do not allow for the innovative, dynamic and enterprising approaches necessary in today’s business climate.

We would like to see a lower CGT tax set for entrepreneurs. CGT should be reduced significantly to 20 per cent for entrepreneurs to incentivise and reward risk taking. It seems unfair to apply the same level of CGT to an entrepreneur, who is risking so much to establish an enterprise, as to a citizen who, for example, is investing in shares in the stock market.

It would also help if start-ups could offset corporation tax against other taxes due. A company should be able to offset trading losses against other taxes in the initial start-up phase for a period of three years. This would assist with cash flow (a constant obstacle), which is a vital ingredient to enable entrepreneurs overcome the most challenging period in the development of their company.

In your experience are the banks lending to SMEs currently?

Not without personal guarantees and handing over your firstborn!

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?

We have made many, but one that turned around in our favour was that our original trademark, ÓG Ireland, clashed with a company in the UK. This forced a complete rethink about our brand, packaging and position, and ultimately helped us position ourselves as a high-end product.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it?

Priceless! It would be difficult to let it go at this stage given the amount of blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights that have gone into it. That said, at the right price . . . who knows?

In conversation with Olive Keogh