Lessons to be learnt from Ireland’s teenage entrepreneurs

From outsourcing to China, negotiating deals with global firms and securing patents, the country’s youngest business leaders could teach everyone a thing or two about business and innovation


In today’s economy, young people face an ultracompetitive jobs market, where many college graduates are unemployed, underemployed, or emigrating. As a result, no buzz word has given more hope to the latest crop of secondary school students than “entrepreneurship”.

Entrepreneurship builds confidence, encourages creativity and teaches problem-solving skills, which will help young people when they enter the workforce. Those who want to get ahead are already launching their own businesses, companies which are capable of competing in the real world marketplace.

School mini companies are nothing new but easy access to a global marketplace is. It used to be a case where students would make cakes or bracelets or games and sell them to classmates as part of their mini company experience. Now, however, students are getting their products manufactured professionally, often in the UK and China. They have websites through which you can buy their product, they are exporting and negotiating deals with global firms, all before they can even drive.

These young entrepreneurs are ambitious, driven and focused. They can also teach us a few things about entrepreneurship and setting up a business.

Lack of funds shouldn’t be an excuse
Meath teenager Emma McCabe hasn’t let a lack of funds be an obstacle to developing her business – Sheep Watch. The 13-year-old student, who attends St Oliver’s Post Primary School in Oldcastle, came up with the idea for the Sheep Watch electronic collar when talking to her dad about the problem of sheep worrying.

“The sheep wear a collar which has a pulse monitor. When the sheep are under attack or being chased by a dog their heart rate quickens. The monitor will alert the farmer by text to let him know his sheep are being attacked. It will also activate an ultra-sonic sounder, which only the dog can hear.”

She says the collar can save the farmers from expensive veterinarian bills for treating injured sheep, as well as saving the lives of the sheep.

All a great idea, except Emma and her team didn’t have the money to bring the product to market. They thus set up a Fund It campaign, and so far they have raised almost €6,000 from the public.

She says money received from the crowd-funding campaign will go towards the development of the Sheep Watch collar, which the team hopes to have on shelves by the end of 2014.

And they won’t just be targeting the Irish market. The team has patented and trademarked the idea and has set up Sheep Watch website domain names in several countries.

Last week the team took home the junior category award at the Student Enterprise Awards for the innovative product.

Embrace technology
Ian Moloney had no clue how to make an app, but didn’t let that get in the way of his idea for a mathematical one. The Coláiste Chiaráin pupil teamed up with four classmates who were A-grade maths students and set about developing the app.

“Ian found junior certificate maths very difficult and so came up with the idea for a maths app, which would allow you to learn at your own pace and in an interactive way,” principal apps team member Fiona Hogan said. “We built the app from scratch. There was a lot of trial and error. We watched videos on how to make an app, read books and websites to find out how to do it,” she added.

The Professor Maths app was launched at the end of March, with 300 downloads in the first week. Ian says its unique selling point is simple and easy to understand language. The app has five sections, the first being co-ordinate geometry, which is free to students. Each additional section including theorems and trigonometry will cost €1.99.

Solve your own problems
Wicklow student Joshua Dargan Hayes likes to be connected at all times. Whether it’s surfing the net, playing games or talking to friends on social networking sites he likes to be online and on his smartphone or tablet. This proved problematic while on holidays in Italy last year.

“I spent every day on the beach and there was nowhere for me to charge my phone and no wifi. I went online to see if I could put some sort of solar-powered portable device for charging my devices and connecting a USB wifi dongle but found nothing.”

The 14-year-old posed as a corporation when contacting manufacturers to make a prototype of his invention – a sun shade which uses solar energy to re-charge your smartphone/tablet at the beach. He contacted 80 manufacturers around the world, ultimately selecting a company in China after he was unable to get one in Ireland. “You can plug in your phone or tablet to charge them, or even a fan to keep you cool. You can also plug in a dongle if you want wifi. The sun shade has three USB ports so multiple devices can be plugged in.”

He has already secured a 10-year patent for his product, to ensure no Irish firm can copy his idea.

Don’t be afraid of the competition
Beauty enthusiast Niamh O’Donnell loved the make-up brushes made by US cosmetics firm Mac. However, her love of make-up was proving to be an expensive habit with each Mac brush costing between €30 and €40. While there were cheaper brushes on the market, she didn’t feel they were the same quality as Mac. So she set about researching whether she could do her own high quality brush

es with the same materials as Mac for cheaper.

“All the make-up brushes like Mac were expensive and none of them are stylish. They are usually just plain black. I researched what components Mac use in their brushes, and then contacted manufacturers to see if they could make them for cheaper.

“I ultimately settled with a manufacturing company in China. While they weren’t the cheapest, I had contacted another company they supply to and received a good review. I retail my brushes at €15 each for the larger ones or €30 for an entire set of brushes. I have sold several thousand through my website, to people in Ireland, the UK and Tunisia.”

No goal is unattainable
Fifteen-year-old Jonathan White’s parents didn’t let him play video games despite his love for them. In fact, they only let him use the computer at weekends and on school holidays. They eventually conceded that if he wanted to play a video game, he’d have to make it himself. And so he did. The game – Recineration – has already had 26,000 downloads from the Google Play store.

“I love graphics and visual effects so put a lot of effort into designing them for the game. It took me a few months to make the game as I only had limited access to the computer. It’s a 3D first person shooter game, and the aim is to kill zombies.”

“I have introduced advertising and in-app purchases to make money. I didn’t want to intrude on people’s game play though, so there are no ads during the game. I have no distribution or manufacturing costs, so everything I make is 100 per cent profit.”

He says greater importance should be placed on the teaching of graphics and visual effects to kids. “They are all learning to code and coding initiatives such as CoderDojo are great. But the visual look of a game or app is important too.”