Getting your business ideas in the bag

Entrepreneurship is all about meeting a need, attracting buyers and growing a viable business

 

A quick trawl of projects assisted by Enterprise Boards throughout Ireland over the last year shows a wide breath of new business activity.

The ideas may not be as mind blowing as creating the next Facebook, but they meet a need, attract buyers and become viable small businesses.

“There’s a view that innovation in business is about people in white coats working in labs with R&D written on the door,” says Aidan Gough, CEO of InterTrade Ireland.

“In fact, for the majority of companies coming up with new ideas and creating new products and services does not involve R&D at a scientific level or links with third level colleges. R&D is only one aspect of the process and perhaps it gets over emphasised.”

Oisin Geoghegan, CEO of the Fingal County Enterprise Board, says the “vast majority of the projects we see are ‘ordinary’ rather than high-tech”.

“That said they can be highly innovative in their own right. They often come from someone fulfilling a need they’ve identified through personal experience or from adding value to a product that’s already out there.”
Amphibia
On the face of it a new sports bag is hardly ground-breaking. However, triathlete Adrian McGreevy has taken the humble kit bag and given it a sophisticated new twist.

Serious outdoor sports enthusiasts have been quick to recognise its practicality and buy. The bags, which sell under the Amphibia brand name, are exported to eight countries.

“I began doing triathlons a few years ago and there’s quite a bit of gear involved. People use all sorts of bags and boxes to carry stuff and most are not ideal. You end up with everything getting wet and smelly.

“My first product, the X Bag, was designed to fit all of the gear you need and it also comes with a waterproof pouch to store wetsuits and wet gear, a fold-out changing mat and a velcro loop to attach your helmet, pump and so on.”

McGreevy had been mulling over his bag design while working as a brand manager for a drinks company. When he was made redundant in December 2010 this was the push he needed.

Having completed a start your own business course with Fingal Enterprise Board, he approached a product design company to turn his sketches into technical drawings that could be sent to prospective manufacturers for quotes.

“Nailing the design and specification is very important,” McGreevy says. “The tighter the brief the more likely you are to get what you want reasonably quickly. Every sample costs money and takes time.”


Problematic
Amphibia’s second product was the smaller, Evo Bag. This was followed by the Irish-made dry mat and the silicone ring guard that ensures rings don’t get damaged or lost while playing sport.

“I decided to do the dry mat on its own because the feedback was so good,” says McGreevy. “It works in any setting where you want something to stand on while you change.

“I came up with it in the first place because I don’t like putting my towel on a wet changing room floor or mucky ground. It’s a high-spec mat that’s washable, non-slip and very absorbent. It sells at €5, so it’s an easy grab.

“ The idea for the ring cover came from a friend. It was quite problematic to develop, as I couldn’t get the moulds made in Ireland or the UK. I had to go to China.”

Dry mats excepted, Amphibia’s manufacturing is sub-contracted to China and Pakistan, which McGreevy says can be tricky to manage.

“If you had the money to keep visiting them you could monitor quality that way, but I don’t.

“What I’ve done on advice is go with recommended manufacturers and employ an inspection company to check the product as it comes off the line. It doesn’t guarantee perfection but it gives you some peace of mind.”


Radical Oats
Feeding four constantly hungry teenagers prompted Miriam Cox-Monahan to get creative with the humble oat.

“The kids were starving by mid-morning in spite of having eaten breakfast, so I figured they needed something that would sustain them for longer,” she says.

“Personally, I hated porridge and so did the kids even though we all know it’s good for you. I started experimenting with recipes that used oats but not as porridge and came up a combination of wholegrain oats blended with low fat probiotic yogurt and fruit in a snack pot. The kids called it Radical Oats and the name stuck.”


Edubills
Sandra Maguire ’s experience as a mum and as a school secretary prompted her to start the online payments and ordering system, EduBills in 2010.

As a parent, Maguire was very familiar with regular requests for money for school and wished the payments could all be made in one go.

Then as a school secretary she saw the process from the other side as she was dealing with an ongoing stream of small amounts of money that had to be verified and kept safe.

Maguire devised EduBills to solve the dual problem and it works by allowing participating schools to upload book lists and other charges and costs, and parents to order and pay for everything online.