Bianca Divito, Divito Studios

Bianca Divito is an Arklow based stained glass designer and conservator. Her work in glass includes glass art commissions in private homes and public spaces, as well as conservation of medieval church glass. Her latest innovation in glass art is the production of bespoke glass ornaments and panels for garden decoration, which led the Royal Horticultural Society to invite Bianca to exhibit at the renowned Chelsea Flower Show this month. Many thanks to Bianca for taking the time out to speak to us when she is so busy getting ready to head over to England. We wish Bianca the very best of luck at the 2012 Chelsea Flower Show!

 

What led you to starting your business?
I have always had a passion for glass design and creation and doing anything other than was not an option. I identified a gap in the market for expert stained glass conservation / contemporary glass art and decided to invest all my energies into setting up my own art based business.

How did you raise the start-up funds you needed?
Personal savings, a business overdraft and a start up grant from Wicklow County Enterprise Board.

What was the most significant lesson you learned in starting your business?
I was quick to invest in certain assets as I thought that I just “had to have” them but in actual fact over time and as the business developed, they turned out to be fairly useless! I would advise anyone starting up to take their time and build up as they go along.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read, business or non-business?
Blaise Brosnan’s “You are the Limiting Factor.” The book is a great reference especially for me as I completed The Owner Manager Business Development Programme with him. I couldn’t recommend the man highly enough!

Who is the entrepreneur you admire the most?
Jamie Oliver, he seems to have a great recipe for success!

What have been the biggest challenges in your business to date?
Finding the capital to fund new projects. Everything is on a shoestring budget at the moment and it is driving me mad!

What has been the proudest moment in your business so far?
Impressing the Head of the Royal Horticultural Society with my glass and crystal creations during what was essentially a chance meeting! He invited me there and then to exhibit in The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012.

What was the best piece of business advice you ever got?
Know what your “Key Money” is- basically what it costs you everyday to run your business even before you put the key in the door!

Can you recommend a good time management technique for other entrepreneurs out there?
I’m afraid I cannot- I’m probably the world’s worst business owner with regards to time management. Far too many nights / very early mornings are spent catching up on everything I was supposed to cover the day/week before.

What magazine do you never miss each month?
One form of trashy magazine or another- they are my guilty pleasure and they are wonderful for taking my mind off work!

What is your favourite film?
Limitless

What is your favourite ad?
I particularly enjoy the Meerkat adverts – simples!

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business?
I often speak to transition year students and I always tell them the same thing – if you get the right help/advice and you are totally motivated, you really can turn your passion into a viable business. I always tell them that I couldn’t imagine how awful it would be to be working everyday at something I didn’t love.

What do you like to do when you’re not running your business?
I love to walk and exercise in general. Catching up with friends every so often is great for the soul too.

Have you found the self-employed formula for a work/life balance?
Honestly, I find it difficult to strike a good balance as I’m often preoccupied with work. However, my partner who is also self-employed is trying his best to help me break bad habits i.e. checking emails, wrapping glass etc. during “down time”!

What’s your website?
divitostudios.com

Do you have a Facebook page?
facebook.com/pages/Divito-Studios-Art-Glass

Are you on Twitter?
twitter.com/DivitoStudios

How has Wicklow CEB helped you and/or your business?
Financially, they have really helped me over the years with various grants etc. And most importantly, I always know that they are there, at the other end of the phone line, offering support and advice when I need it!

If you could start up all over again, would you do anything differently?
No, I wouldn’t change anything really as there is no point looking backwards…it’s onwards and upwards from here!

Bianca Divito’s work is available through her website and at Damien Keane’s studio at Mount Usher Gardens in Ashford, Co. Wicklow.  She will be appearing at the Chelsea Flower Show from 22nd until 26th May 2012 and often exhibits at the annual Art Ireland show in the RDS, Dublin.

Ronan Minogue, Ability Software

Ability Software Ltd. was founded in 1999 by three software consultants with insurance industry backgrounds, Ronan Minogue, Darren McBride & Bart O’Connor. Today Ability Software employs over ten developers as a technology consultancy and software development company.

Many thanks to Ronan for taking a turn in April’s Hot Seat!

 

What led you to starting your business?
We were working for a company that was bought over. We did not wish to take up the roles offered in the new entity. We had a number of ideas on developing a business so we took a chance.

How did you raise the start-up funds you needed?
Small private investment by one of the founding directors.

What was the most significant lesson you learned in starting your business?
Trust your thinking – and learn from your mistakes.

What have been the biggest challenges in your business to date?
Operational costs are rising faster than revenues, causing significant pressure

What has been the proudest moment in your business so far?
There have been a number of “small victories” each of which have been a source of pride. We like to achieve small victories move forward from there.

What was the best piece of business advice you ever got?
Do not be afraid to make mistakes otherwise you will never start anything.

Is there one entrepreneur you admire the most?
You can learn skills from people all day every day and from all walks of life – not specifically entrepreneurs.

Can you recommend a good time management technique for other entrepreneurs out there?
At the start of the day list the goals & tasks you wish to achieve on that day. Avoid distractions that will definitely arise.

What magazine do you never miss each month?
I review news in a variety of forms rather than follow one particular magazine.

What is your favourite ad?
I like the ads for “Chill Insurance”

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business?
Trust your thinking but be open to advice.

What do you like to do when you’re not running your business?
Manage a Gaelic Football Team & Train in Taekwondo

Have you found the self-employed formula for a work/life balance?
No, this formula is a constant “work in progress”

What is your favourite film?
The Shawshank Redemption

What’s your website?

abilitysoftware

How has Wicklow CEB helped you and/or your business?

With business advisory sessions

If you could start up all over again, would you do anything differently?

Yes, too many things to list!  The most important lessons are do not be afraid to make
mistakes but learn from your mistakes.

 

Ability Software provides end-to-end solutions to business requirements for a range of customers in different industries, incorporating a combination of best-of-breed technology and in-depth business knowledge. Their client-base has dedicated customers across Ireland, Great Britain and Spain, in such industries as Insurance, Public Sector, Retail, Education, Travel and Finance. Clients include Zurich Insurance, Chaucer Insurance, Enterprise Ireland, Skillnets, TeeTimes.ie and the National Roads Authority, amongst others.

Catherine and Yvonne Whitty, Cathy’s Spelt for Health

Mother & daugher team Catherine & Yvonne Whitty run artisan food business Cathy’s Spelt for Health from their base in Tinahely, Co. Wicklow. Specialising in spelt, Cathy has developed a growing range of ready mix products from cakes to flapjacks to scones to pizza bases! Cathy first approached Wicklow CEB for start-up advice on the Enterprise Bus as far back as 2008, and within the year her business was up and running.  Both Cathy and her daughter Yvonne are now heavily involved in new product development, market research and building relationships with key retailers around Ireland and beyond.

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business?
Research your market, test the market, do a business plan and have a clear idea of all your costs before you invest money or give up the day job!. Look at all the supports that are out there. It may be a fantastic idea but ask yourself will it make you an income in the long run or will you be a busy fool.

What do you like to do when you’re not running your business?
Cathy: Interior design, going for coffee, gardening
Yvonne: Walking, music, film, crochet, visiting archaeology sites

Have you found the self-employed formula for a work/life balance?
We haven’t found it yet! We try to work 9 to 5 and take weekends off.

What is your favourite ad?

What is your favourite film?
Cathy: Little Miss Sunshine
Yvonne: Cinema Paradiso

How has Wicklow CEB helped you and/or your business?
Wicklow CEB has been a huge help. We attended may of the courses they run, completed a business plan and received excellent mentoring which really helped us to progress the business and get where we are today. We also received a Priming Grant which has enabled us to get our new packaging, freeing us up to allow us more time to grow the business. When we started we were labelling the bags by hand which was both costly and time consuming.

What’s your website?
cathysspeltforhealth .ie

Do you have a Facebook page?
We do! It’s facebook.com/CathysSpeltforHealth

Are you on Twitter?
We are indeed, follow us @CathysSpelt

What was the best piece of business advice you ever got?
Listen to all the advice in the world, take it with a pinch of salt but at the end of the day you have to be your own best solicitor, accountant and banker.

Can you recommend a good time management technique for other entrepreneurs out there?
No not at all! It’s the best thing and the worst thing in the world being your own boss. It is hard to switch off at times.

What led you to starting your business?
Cathy: My business started by accident in that I had suffered from anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction which left me hospitalised. I was on an exclusion diet and began baking with spelt flour as I was off wheat. Soon I was baking for our local health food store in Tinahely and supplying breads and cakes there weekly. My daughter entered me in the RTÉ SuperValu TV Series, Recipe for Success (2009) and I got to the final with my spelt bread. Following the series I received calls from all over the country and decided to look into the possibility of setting up a business! The publicity form the programme spurred me on to investigate the idea of selling spelt bread.

How did you raise the start-up funds you needed?
Initially we used our own money to pay for packaging etc. but we did not have huge overheads as we outsourced the production of our range. We started off with small orders which we sold to our distributor.  Once the paid us, we had more product made. This allowed us test the market without huge financial risk.

What was the most significant lesson you learned in starting your business?
It takes a lot of time and energy to grow any business.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read, business or non-business?
It’s a long way from Penny Apples, Bill Cullen.

Who is the entrepreneur you admire the most?
Gillian Bowler, founder of Budget Travel.
More info on Gillian here.

What have been the biggest challenges in your business to date?
Increasing our sales and breaking into export markets.

What has been the proudest moment in your business so far?
Seeing our product on the shelves for the first time!

What magazine do you never miss each month?
House and Home, Food and Wine, Easy Food

If you could start up all over again, would you do anything differently?
Not really, we would have completed the business plan earlier as it really helped us look at all our costs and establish what volumes we needed to sell in order to make a business a success.

 

The Cathy’s Spelt for Health growing range of ready mix products are available in Avoca, Dunnes Stores, Donnybrook Fair, Pettits, SuperValu, Londis and Fresh supermarket chains, The Village at Lyons, many cafés and a host of health food shops around the country.  Watch out for them overseas this year too!

Ciara Troy, Oishii Foods

Ciara Troy has run Oishii Foods Ltd in Co. Wicklow since 2006, now employing over 10 people in Bray. Winner of the 2011 IMAGE Magazine Young Businesswoman of the Year, Ciara’s wonderful sushi creations can be found in over 80 retail outlets in the Leinster area – for fish lovers and vegetarians alike!

What led you to starting your business?

Studying in Japan as part of my Business degree was a huge turning point for me. I absolutely loved it,  the language, the people I met & most of all…the food. My commitments here meant that I couldn’t return to Japan long term so I decided to bring a taste of Japan to Ireland! I had just finished the degree and had no job lined up so with encouragement from family & friends, I set up a food stall at farmers markets and started selling my homemade Japanese cuisine.

How did you raise the start-up funds you needed?

I jumped into the food venture so quickly I didn’t raise start-up funds straight away. I had worked my way through college and used whatever money I had to buy second hand equipment. It was definitely a good way to test the market and it’s amazing what you can do with very little! But it’s not a good way to get where you want to really go long term – it was a real struggle and I felt a lot of pressure. Any money made from sales was going straight back in to buy ingredients and packaging for the following week. I got quite caught up in surviving week to week and the markets are very physically demanding. It was only when I took a step back from it all and made a plan of where I wanted to go with my business idea and what was needed to get there that I could move forward with confidence. Over the years I formed good relationships with the bank, the credit union and the local enterprise Board (Wicklow). I took out personal loans, then business development loans and also received capital grant funding from WCEB once my business plan had been completed and reviewed.

What was the most significant lesson you learned in starting your business?

The meaning of hard work!

What’s the best book you’ve ever read, business or non-business?

Nearly finished reading ‘Jack’ by Blaise Brosnan, very good and not preachy! Also liked ‘Women Mean Business’ by Rosemary Delaney.

Who is the entrepreneur you admire the most?

A controversial choice perhaps…but I’m a Michael O’Leary fan! He gets a lot of stick but I think he revolutionised air travel for Irish people and most of Europe. He opened up access to so many different locations and he’s a feisty character, challenging the status quo.

What have been the biggest challenges in your business to date?

Money…making it, getting it in, holding on to it! The retail arena is tough so there have been some stiff lessons there. It’s quite male dominated, margins are tight and outlets demanding.

What has been the proudest moment in your business so far?

In July 2011 we had a staff dinner as one member was leaving. I looked around the table, there were 10 of us. I just couldn’t believe the Oishii team had grown so much. 2 staff members are still with me from when we were in our first kitchen in Kilcoole and we were reminiscing about all the things that have happened over the years. It hit me then, how far we had come and I felt proud of myself and of everyone at that table.

Other proud moments are when previous staff keep in touch and tell me that it was such a positive work experience to have been a part of Oishii Foods. Also being a finalist in SFA’s Outstanding Small Business Award, winning the Wicklow Company Award, winning Image Magazine’s Young Businesswoman of the Year Award – all proud moments.

What was the best piece of business advice you ever got?

I have found Blaise Brosnan’s advice invaluable from attending his Management Development Course (also funded by WCEB). He stressed the importance of working smarter, not harder; the importance of having a good team of people around you – that if they’re not making you money or saving you money, they’re costing you money!!

Can you recommend a good time management technique for other entrepreneurs out there?

Not really, I have to say I’m not the greatest with time management! I live my life by the diary, if it’s not written down, it doesn’t get done. It works well for me but then, I always was a lover of lists…

What magazine do you never miss each month?

Shelf Life! Image or some girly mag if I’m in the hairdressers :)

What is your favourite film?

I’m not one for watching films a second time. Recently I thought ‘The Trip’ was quite funny.

What is your favourite ad?

It’s an oldie but never fails to bring a smile to my face – it’s the ‘big ad’ for Carlton Beer…Really like to recent Skoda ads on tv too.

 

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business?

I would advise them to research the area they’re thinking of getting into. I found tools like SWOT analysis to be simple to do and effective. Use the resources available to small / start up business (e.g.: Enterprise Ireland, local Enterprise Boards, other relevant government agencies – Bord Bia & the Food Safety Authority are brilliant resources for food companies) and put it down on paper what you plan to do. It’s true what they say: ‘if you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there?!’

I’d also say to aspiring entrepreneurs that if they really believe in their idea and have the stamina and enthusiasm to push it through to fruition – calculated risks are good so Go For It! If you don’t, you’ll never know what might have been…

What do you like to do when you’re not running your business?

I’m an absolute book worm – love to read 🙂 Love the outdoors: camping, surfing, skiing. Also look forward to my mid-week get together with friends where we take turns to cook and have a catch up.

Have you found the self-employed formula for a work/life balance?

For a long time I admit I didn’t have a balance, and this would apply whether self employed or not. For the first 3 years of setting up and running Oishii Foods, I felt like I didn’t come up for air. It was like trying to do everything and as fast as possible, foot to the floor with hands gripping the wheel. I blinked and I was about to turn 30! I thought, I can’t go on like this, not seeing friends, making time for the people I love. When things went wrong in the business, my reserves were running low and often thought about packing it all in for an easier life.

You actually need work/ life balance to keep you robust, to keep you loving what you do and to have the energy to keep doing it! So when I got engaged to be married, I started to approach the business in a different way, to put people and structures in place so that it could cope with my absence for a few weeks while I was on honeymoon. This was definitely a turning point and made the different areas of the business more self sufficient rather than relying on me 24 / 7.

I have kept those structures in place and although not perfect (what is in a constantly changing environment?!), it allows me to work on a more flexible basis and also enjoy spending time with my family. It also allows me some head space to think about the business rather than getting bogged down with the day to day stuff all the time.

What’s your website?

OishiiFoods .com

Do you have a Facebook page?

www.facebook.com/oishiifoodsltd

Are you on Twitter?

I have actually never been on Twitter…

How has Wicklow CEB helped you and/or your business?

Wicklow CEB has been such a support in numerous ways over the last few years. Initially it was financial support and then when I was struggling with a period of rapid business growth, business mentoring services were offered and I benefited greatly from the sessions. Taking part of the Wicklow Enterprise Awards and winning the Company Award in 2009 was a huge boost for the business and as part of the prize I was lucky to receive further mentoring with Lisa Cunningham who is an inspirational and motivating person.

If you could start up all over again, would you do anything differently?

I’d probably say I’d do a million things differently! But then if I changed the route I took, the decisions made, the hard lessons learnt…maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today ;) When you look back at where you started and how far you’ve come, all you can say is that you made the best decisions possible at that particular time.

Oishii Foods make high quality, authentic Japanese food products, offering customers a true taste of Japan. The word ‘oishii’ means delicious or tasty in Japanese!

Oishii Sushi products are currently available in over 80 retail outlets and delicatessans in and around Dublin. Launched in 2009, the Oishii Teriyaki Sauce is also fat free, and coming soon to the market is the Oishii Spring Roll range: Duck Hoi Sin, Chicken Satay & Ebi Sweet Chilli – oishii!

John Brophy, Carrig Solutions

John Brophy started Carrig Solutions in 2009, with 30 years in the IT Industry behind him. We asked him to take a turn in January’s Hot Seat to share some of his experiences with us. Thank you so much John!

What led you to starting your business?

I am what might be called a “necessity entrepreneur”. I had thought of starting my own business for ages but always seemed to find a good reason to do it “next year.” However, after never experiencing unemployment in 32 years of working for major corporations, I was unexpectedly called in to the office early one morning, thanked for all my work and shown the door. After the shock wore off, I decided that all my excuses had been used up and it was time to do things the way I thought they should be done and that meant following the dream. The “necessity” was essentially that I was too young to retire and too poor to quit, so I had to earn a living.

How did you raise the start-up funds you needed?

I was fortunate that I had a redundancy payment from my last employer, and that was enough to tide me over the first 4-6 months. I decided to invest the entire sum in the business and it was the best financial decision I ever made. In addition, by involving my Bank from day one, and by keeping my promises to them, I found it relatively easy to obtain credit facilities after we had built up a track record. Banks will not support a badly-thought out scheme and they will always look for figures – not words. We need to understand that Banks cannot make money unless they lend, but they do not have as much to lend as in previous times so they are more selective than ever in who they lend to.

What was the most significant lesson you learned in starting your business?

Watch your Cash-flow. I never understood how a profitable business could go broke. I do now.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read, business or non-business?

The best Business book I read has to be Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry (Author Stephen Denny). It demonstrates that size isn’t everything and is a great confidence booster for the small guy. This book is essential reading in terms of a strategy for any small business. Of course I would be remiss in not mentioning “You are the Limiting Factor” by Blaise Brosnan. Essential to have by your desk and dip into anytime you’re wondering what to do next. Just open it at random and I guarantee you’ll spot something you should be doing or doing better. Oh, and if you decide to buy either, please buy them at your local bookshop. Amazon won’t put any business your way – your bookshop might!

Who is the entrepreneur you admire the most?

I have taken advice from lots of people (and you should always look for advice – even if you don’t use it) and in general the entrepreneurs I admire most are the unsung heroes rather than the high publicity merchants. My late Father ran his own business for years, and while I had no desire to follow in his footsteps at the time, I find myself thinking back to things he said and did 20, 30, 40 years ago and realising that either he was way ahead of his time, or the old values still apply. Service, putting the Customer at the root of everything you do, being reliable and punctual and delivering a Quality product or Service consistently – all the great entrepreneurs do the simple things but do them very well.

What have been the biggest challenges in your business to date?

Perhaps surprisingly the biggest challenges to date have been getting the right staff and finding the right premises. We are an IT support company and the availability of skilled staff, with the right attitude, has been a consistent challenge. The poor broadband infrastructure in Wicklow has also restricted us in terms of suitable premises.

What has been the proudest moment in your business so far?

In truth, the day the sign went up over the door brought a tear to my eye. Even though I had been in business for nearly six months at that stage, somehow seeing the sign up made it very real. I have to say that building a team, respecting everyone’s talents and seeing that team gel is a source of ongoing pride. We are only as good as the people on our team and seeing the team punch above its weight by working together is extremely satisfying.

What was the best piece of business advice you ever got?

Surround yourself with people who are better than you are.

Can you recommend a good time management technique for other entrepreneurs out there?

Set aside a period of time, preferably the same time every week, to handle all the small jobs and when you are doing them, handle each piece of paper (or email) once.

What magazine do you never miss each month?

I read Bloomberg Business Weekly and Scientific American monthly. It’s important to keep an international perspective and see what’s coming down the tracks in any business but especially in the IT industry.

What is your favourite film?

The Magnificent Seven. I have the poster for the film framed in my office and the tag line is “They fought like 700”. Not a bad motto for any small business. I also enjoy Apollo 13 and love the line –  “failure is not an option”

What is your favourite ad?

Some of the Volkswagen Internet ads are extremely funny. Not quite politically correct but very funny and they get the message across. Just key in Volkswagen Polo and terrorist into Youtube and you’ll get the gist of them.

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business?

You will always find a reason not to do it, but once you have the bug it will never go away. So go for it – the worst that can happen is that it fails, but you will learn so much from running your own business that it will stand to you if you end up applying for jobs. BUT – be ready to work longer, harder and more intensely that you have ever worked before. Running your own business can be all consuming. Finally, find yourself a Mentor – someone who will act as a sounding board for you, preferably someone with experience of running a small business. People are incredibly generous with their time and support and they will want you to succeed.

What do you like to do when you’re not running your business?

It is essential that you find some space in your week when you don’t think about business. I hit a golf ball, run around a tennis court or cycle my bike to de-stress. Our dog, Millie, seems to feel that she is much more important than any business so she gets a walk every now and again as well.

Have you found the self-employed formula for a work/life balance? 

No. The day I do is the day I make a fortune telling everyone what it is. The fact is though, that I have had more fun and more enjoyment running my own business than I ever had working for someone else.

What’s your website?

carrigsolutions. ie We’re currently based in Broomhall Business Park.

Do you have a Facebook page?

We do have a Facebook page, but the reality is that our target market is other business, and not directly to consumers, so Facebook and Twitter are not very important to us. Linkedin is a much more valuable resource for us.

Are you on Twitter?

We are on Twitter, but we use it to follow trends rather than as active users.

How has Wicklow CEB helped you and/or your business?

From day one, we have held Quarterly Reviews with Wicklow CEB and they have been very supportive. The Management Development Program was excellent, as much for the fact that once a week you get to meet with people from a variety of businesses who are facing the same issues you are, as for what you learn.

If you could start up all over again, would you do anything differently?

It’s very easy to say I would have done it sooner, but in truth we are all made up of our life experiences and the skills we pick up along the way. I am a great believer in the Shakespeare quote: “There is a time in the affairs of men, which when taken at the flood leads on to greater things”. I guess the tide and time were right for me. I’ve made loads of mistakes, and will probably make plenty more, but so long as I don’t make the same mistake twice I reckon I wouldn’t do anything differently.

Carrig Solutions is a provider of high quality IT Infrastructure Support services to major corporations in Ireland and the UK. They provide all the skills and processes you would expect from a major supplier but they tailor these solutions to your business, no matter how big or small it is. Carrig Infrastructure are the business-friendly IT company.