My start-up story: Aoife Kelly, founder of ÍON herbal tonics

Entrepreneur on a mission to help firms achieve a healthier and more energised workforce

1. Give us your pitch: Why should someone buy one of your products/service?

We help companies achieve a healthier and more energised workforce where notable health benefits are experienced directly from ÍON herbal tonics. Whether the requirement is for more energy to combat the afternoon slump, immune support, or reducing stress, our specialist tonics deliver a targeted health boost that’s all natural and derived from whole herbs. Our company ÍON is an Irish term meaning pure and this element of transparency is maintained from initial sourcing of ethically grown organic herbs, right through to manufacturing of the tonics with absolutely no sugar, sweeteners, preservatives or additives.

2. How did your business come about?

As a sensitive person, I struggled to cope myself with the pressures within large multinationals when I was based in China, the UK and Ireland. It was during these challenges that I developed herbal formulations that supported my own emotional, mental and physical health during the working day. Very quickly I realized I had stumbled upon my passion and before long, learning herbal medicine and testing formulations was all that I cared about. I realised I could help an organisation more from the outside with my tonics than from within it.

3. What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Because I’m passionate about my business, it could take over 100 per cent of my life. The challenge for me is to devote regular time to the things I enjoy like dancing and yoga because this keeps me strong and robust. It’s so true that your business is only as good as you are.

4. What has been your biggest influence thus far as an entrepreneur?

The moment I set foot on my path as an entrepreneur I could feel I was aligned with my true mission in life. That purpose was to enable people to reach greater heights of health with herbs. It was to make the health benefits of herbs more accessible in a ready-to-drink format and to show people that prevention of illness is possible and how herbs can help with that. It’s my commitment to this vision of a healthier and happier workforce thanks to herbs that has been my biggest influence to date and has kept me resilient when things got difficult.

5. In the next 12 months, what would you like to achieve in your business?

I would like to scale up the supply of our herbal tonics to enable ÍON to support the health of more employees. Currently the teams at EirGen Pharma and Bluefin Payment Systems Ireland have adopted our alternative wellness programme and I'd like to grow that number of companies by the end of the year. Our business model is to sell direct to companies and for the employee to receive the tonics complimentary. ÍON tonics will also be available in Lloyds Pharmacies in May, but retail is a challenging route to market, so we need lots of luck with that.

6. What’s your best piece of advice for other people setting up start-ups?

Get on an accelerator programme like New Frontiers or the DCU Ryan Academy because you’ll get an all-rounded practical business education, but be careful not to be moulded by too many advisors. You’ve got to be very clear on the core of why you’re doing what you’re doing and stick to it. Every day remind yourself of the core purpose of your business and let that direct your decisions.

7. What is the worst business advice you ever received, and did you follow it?

A business consultant once suggested that should we be awarded the Enterprise Ireland €50,000 competitive start fund, to give most of it to him and he would get the business up and running. When I received this funding I certainly didn’t do this. Nobody else can make your dreams happen.

8. What is the best thing about being your own boss?

The freedom – it has to be the freedom: I make my own decisions; I work according to my own schedule; I can dream as big as I want to dream and there’s nobody to stop me from achieving that but myself. When you are your own boss, you are captain of your ship – there’s nothing more freeing and exhilarating.