Setting up a business on return to Ireland? This mentoring scheme might help

Back for Business programme supports emigrant entrepreneurs to make connections

Adam Kennedy-Ripon still lives in Prague, but plans to relocate to Ireland this year and bring his new business Surfstr with him.

Adam Kennedy-Ripon still lives in Prague, but plans to relocate to Ireland this year and bring his new business Surfstr with him.

 

While emigrant entrepeneurs may have built up great knowledge of other markets, new language skills and international connections while working abroad, when it comes to setting up a business on their return to Ireland, they can struggle with a lack of local knowledge, a small contact base, or an underdeveloped professional network compared to those who have always worked here.

The Back for Business programme helps to connect recently returned emigrants with mentors who can help to bridge these knowledge gaps. With the application deadline for this year’s programme approaching on Friday, three past participants share what they gained from taking part in the pilot programme in 2018.

For more information, skip to Back for Business: Who is it for, and how to apply

Eilín O’Carroll, Firmount House firmounthouse.com

Eilín O’Carroll: ‘I had been away longer than I had lived in Ireland so I didn’t know how anything worked... I didn’t have a network.’
Eilín O’Carroll: ‘I had been away longer than I had lived in Ireland so I didn’t know how anything worked... I didn’t have a network.’

Eilín O’Carroll and her husband David were living in London when they bought Firmount House in Clane, Co Kildare back in 2012. The 17th century house had been vacant for several years, having formerly acted as a hospital during the first World War, as well as a nuclear bunker and tracking centre. Since then the couple have been renovating the house, which opened as a venue for weddings, pop-ups, retreats and community and corporate events last year.

Eilín left Dublin for Germany 15 years ago. She ended up in London, via Australia, where she was working as a funds consultant. As their children grew older the couple wanted to move back to Ireland. Eiín spent two years commuting back and forth between London and Louth after they bought Firmount House, before moving here full-time in 2014.

“The issue I had when I moved home was that I had been away longer than I had lived in Ireland so I didn’t know how anything worked. But most importantly, I didn’t have a network. The people I did know were working in funds management and I was not meeting other entrepreneurs. Back for Business was so important for me to build up a network of like-minded people who were also in the same boat. We are all still in touch and it is an amazing network of people,” she says.

Adam Kennedy-Ripon, founder Surfstr surfstr.com

Adam Kennedy-Ripon moved to Prague in 2012. While working as a digital marketing manager with consultancy firm McKinsey, and the world’s largest advertising company WPP, he noticed how many blue-chip multinational companies struggled to connect with potential customers in China.

So he set up his own company, Surfstr, to connect western brands to a Chinese-speaking audience on Chinese digital platforms.

‘’It has been a very exciting first year for the company, with demand proliferating across a number of business sectors, including hospitality, tourism and third-level education institutions. Clients come from countries across Europe, in particular, Austria, Germany and Switzerland,” he says.

Kennedy-Ripon still lives in Prague, but plans to relocate to Ireland this year and bring the business with him, moving from contract employees to full-time staff. He participated on the Back to Business programme last year and says it was very important in helping him get Surfstr up and running.

“Working with your group and your lead entrepreneur helps you think strategically about your business. The lead entrepreneur gave tremendous help and guidance on many issues, as well as business introductions.

‘’The participants in my group were also hugely supportive. While we were all in different business sectors, we were sharing similar issues and could learn so much from each other.”

Lisa Caffrey, co-founder Cabochon & Co. cabochonandco.com

Lisa Caffrey and Leanne Campbell set up Cabochon & Co, a jewellery company specialiasing in synthetic diamonds.
Lisa Caffrey and Leanne Campbell set up Cabochon & Co, a jewellery company specialiasing in synthetic diamonds.

When her husband was offered a job in Saudi Arabia in 2007, Lisa Caffrey moved there to join him with their six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son.

“My husband wanted to move for three years, I said five and we ended up there for ten years,” she says.

While living there, she came across diamond simulants, which are created in a lab and are therefore conflict-free, and much more affordable than real diamonds. She and her sister Leanne Campbell, who was living in Louth, decided to set up a business distributing jewellery on behalf of a Saudi company.

“I returned home in August 2016 and we thought we could do this ourselves, so we spent some time researching it and in July 2017 Cabochon & Co was born. It has gone brilliantly since - we have had phenomenal growth. We funded it all ourselves with no investors or loans, and are now selling our own designs all over the world,” she says.

“Back for Business was a huge part of our success. The contacts I made and the mentoring I received from my lead entrepreneur (Donegal-based Irish technology entrepreneur and angel investor Mary McKenna) were invaluable. When I moved back home, it was so difficult to even think of starting a business. I didn’t know where to start but being part of Back for Business gave me the information I needed - and the courage to go forward.”

Cabochon & Co now sells diamond stimulant jewellery designed by the sisters online, not only to customers in Ireland but in Britain, the US, New Zealand and Australia.

“When we launched, we thought we would only be selling in Ireland but we have reached such a large audience and a lot of that is down to the support of other Back for Business participants and leads.”

Back for Business: Who is it for, and how to apply

Now in its second year, Back for Business is a Government-funded mentoring programme supporting returning emigrants who want to set up their own business.

The five-month long scheme has been specifically designed for people who have moved back to live in Ireland in the past three years, having lived away for at least 12 months. Those who are still based abroad, but plan to relocate in the near future, are also encouraged to apply.

Those who have spent time living abroad may have less local knowledge, a smaller contact base or an underdeveloped professional network compared to typical entrepreneurs, and Back for Business “aims to bridge this gap”, according to the website.

Applications can be made by anyone who has started a new business (with no sales prior to October 2016), or who have acquired an existing business.

A pilot programme with 38 participants ran last year with all of the businesses taking part seeing a doubling of turnover during the six-months in which they participated. In addition, 27 jobs were created by participating companies, while six started exporting while the initiative was running.

“More and more Irish emigrants are returning home to Ireland to live and to work and as we have seen in the pilot, this is an initiative that can make a real difference to returned and returning emigrants who have a keen desire and ambition to be entrepreneurs,” says Minister of State for the Diaspora Ciaran Cannon.

“It is designed to support them to go beyond just creating a job for themselves and to aim higher and create a thriving business that can provide employment for others and value added in their local community.”

Among the advisors on the programme are technology entrepreneur and angel investor Mary McKenna, Merlyn Bathrooms founder Michael Hoyne and PerfectCard founder Niiki Evans.

Up to 50 entrepreneurs will be accepted onto this year’s programme, which runs from February to July. It is free for participants. The application deadline is this Friday, January 25th. See backforbusiness.com

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