Belfast Telegraph

Invest NI propelling growing businesses to another level

Companies are benefiting from a programme to enhance development, writes David Elliott

Getting a business off the ground takes hard work and needs plenty of help if it’s to be a success.

That’s a part of the business cycle which is well-publicised but the difficulties for companies which survive through that initial phase don’t tend to get as much attention

Taking an established business to the next stage of development can be as, if not more, daunting than starting one |up.

A helping hand is needed to take the next step to break into export markets or to ramp up employee numbers and that’s where Invest NI’s Propel programme comes in.

It offers both practical and financial help and has given 56 firms over £4m of investment and created 100 jobs in the last three years.

Taking the reins in race to develop an equestrian first

Rolltack: Equestrian enthusiast Clare Medland is currently a participant on Invest NI's Propel programme where she is working to develop her business idea – a versatile saddle trolley, the Rolltack.

Having unsuccessfully searched websites and equestrian magazines for a well-designed tack trolley which would double as a car saddle rack and has a built-in mounting block, Clare took the matter into her own hands.

After trialling a rough prototype using discarded items in her garage, she realised an opportunity existed for a marketable new product and her business 'Rolltack Ltd' was born.

"I wanted to find a product which would allow for the easy transportation of heavy, awkward equipment, but one which would also protect the equipment during travel. I knew that if I could find this product it would make life much easier, but unfortunately it didn't seem to exist in the marketplace. And that's when I decided – if I can't buy it I'll make it!" said Clare.

Over the next few months, Clare invested time and energy into designing a multi-use product which was versatile yet functional. Working with Invest NI to develop a prototype, Clare launched her product earlier this year at Birmingham's BETA International, the world-renowned exhibition for the equestrian, pet products and country clothing sectors.

"Having developed the prototype and secured some market interest, I was keen to take my business to the next level. I was made aware of the Invest NI Propel programme and immediately saw the opportunity for growth and development."

Mentor: Pat Killen

As the former chief executive of the Tyrone Crystal group of companies, Pat Killen has in-depth experience of industry in all its complexities.

Now an independent management consultant and mentor on the Invest NI Propel Programme, Pat has acted as a mentor for Clare Medland. Pat says: "Clare is a fantastic example of someone who found a real gap in the market and used her passion to create a viable solution. Throughout I have encouraged her to undertake in-depth market research and design the best possible product and develop stand-out business branding."

The strictly natural beauty brand targeting organic growth

Lucy Annabella Organics: Colleen Harte, from Co Tyrone, hopes that with the help and support of the Propel Programme she will be able to see her beauty brand Lucy Annabella Organics propel towards success.

Colleen's passion for all things organic began when she was a child, eating home-made food free of preservatives or harmful chemicals. This ethos followed her into her career as a complementary therapist, where she discovered a lack of good quality organically derived products.

She says: "Working with clients with various skin types and issues reinforced the need for 'chemically clean' cosmetics, and I knew I could achieve this by using the best organic ingredients sourced from authentic organic farmers.

"Since I was unable to find high-quality organic products on the high street, I decided to take matters into my own hands and make them myself."

In 2011, after travelling around the world in search of knowledge and the finest ingredients, Colleen started formulating organic ingredients to create a range of body moisturisers, bath milks, treatment oils and candles, creating the core products of her online business.

"The internet has allowed me to set up my business quickly and at relatively low cost," she explains.

"The greatest benefit of e-retailing for me has been the ability to connect with such a broad base of customers. Whilst the products will also be available in a selection of stores around the country, the internet keeps me in touch with wider markets."

Colleen sought to join the Invest Northern Ireland Propel scheme to take Lucy Annabella Organics to the next stage of growth through high-quality training, one-to-one mentoring, workshops and financial support.

Mentor: Fiona Flynn

Former head of sales for Eircom, marketing strategist and a high-tech sales consultant, Fiona, is working with Colleen Harte to work on a sales and revenue strategy which in turn will appeal to investors.

She says: "Colleen is a focused individual with a fantastic attitude, bags of courage and most important of all, a strong belief in her product.

"As well as helping her with her sales strategy I have been working on connecting her with business contacts.

"Entrepreneurs tend to be so engaged with their idea that mentoring allows them the opportunity to stand back and look at their business with a 'helicopter view'."

Out to taste sweet success with novel feeding system

Varifed: Nigel Woodside developed his unique in-parlour feeding system after a local yeast importer approached him about finding a cost effective solution to ensuring dairy cattle are fed consistent amounts of minerals and supplements.

"I had been working on the project in my spare time for a number of months and had installed a prototype system on a farm in Cork. After hearing about the Propel Programme through LEDCOM in Larne I decided it was the right time for me to seek help and support so I could turn my idea into a business venture."

The Varifed micro feed system can be manually operated by the farmer via a push button in the milking parlour or it can be operated automatically using a signal from the cow's electronic ear tag or collar which is picked up by an RFID scanner. Individual or batched animals can be fed depending on the animal's diet requirements or fodder quality.

The system can dispense amounts from 1/2 gram to 200 grams in 1/2 gram increments and has a 'real time' animal feed data recording and storage capability.

An "out of parlour" micro feed system offering is also in the pipeline which will satisfy beef and suckler cow farms.

The Propel team are teaching Nigel about all the elements involved in running his Varifed – such as managing cash flow, understanding legal implications, venture capital and product development.

"In this super technological age I've realised how important it is to get a new business and products to market quickly, while avoiding costly mistakes.

"The experience of the team and robustness of the Propel Programme ensures that these mistakes can be bypassed and the time to market can be compressed. Over the next few months I look forward to gaining advice and support from my mentor specifically with marketing and raising finance."

Mentor: Stephen Houston

Stephen, is an investor, business angel and non-executive director of software giant Sophia.

He has been working with Nigel Woodside to determine Varifed's business needs, develop a go-to-market strategy and build a sales model.

He said: "With Nigel's Varifed micro-feed system, I'm in the fortunate position as a mentor that we have a working and viable product fit for market.

"Together we have developed an easy to understand business pitch, succinct and simple, allowing us to whet the farmer's appetite for this innovative, efficient, everyday agri solution."

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