Entrepreneurs who can thrive in a testing environment
Lisa Smyth meets the founders of thermometer firm TriMedika and boutique roaster the Cinema Coffee Project as they get ready for Global Entrepreneurship Week
It is a well-known fact that over the years, women have faced more obstacles in the workplace than their male counterparts. It is now 2017 and you would expect that this is no longer the case.
But Julie Brien and Dr Roisin Molloy - who have decades of experience in the business world - know first-hand that this is not the case.
However, the founders of TriMedika - which designs, manufactures and distributes medical devices - are determined that outdated attitudes will not stop them from achieving their business goals.
"It's something we see day and daily," said Julie (54).
"I think it's getting better than it was but it's definitely challenging.
"I suppose that some of the markets in which we work, such as in the Middle East, there isn't a balance between males and females.
"At the same time, here in the UK, there are a number of situations where you are treated differently because you are a woman.
"There can be a different attitude and approach when they see two women sitting in front of them.
"The thing is, we're both quite strong women and won't allow that to stop us."
Belfast-based TriMedika was established and incorporated in February 2016.
The company translates leading technological advances into medical devices for clinical use.
Relying upon their extensive experience in medical research and exporting medical devices on a global scale, the partners are already enjoying success.
Roisin (48) has a PhD in biochemistry and has spent a large proportion of her career working for some of the most successful research companies in the world, including Randox and Pfizer.
Meanwhile, Julie has a post grad in communication, advertising and PR and has worked for a number of different firms around Northern Ireland.
They met five years ago when they both came to be working for the same company where they gained more experience selling medical devices directly into hospitals on an international scale.
When the US-owned company made the decision to return across the Atlantic, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for the women to come together and realised their dream of setting up a business.
Julie continued: "I think we both always had an inkling, or an itch that we wanted to scratch and we wanted to give it a go.
"I think it was quite soon after we met and we were chatting that we both said to one another that we would like to try starting up our own business one day.
"When it happened, it was the right time, the right opportunity, the market conditions were right, the product was right, it all lined up."
The device Julie is referring to is a thermometer that can take your temperature without actually making contact with your skin.
The business partners hope it will help to address infection control issues in hospitals, as well as reducing the cost of consumables.
Roisin explained: "We are still writing things down on pieces of paper in hospital.
"Yet at home we have all these high tech devices, our phones, our tablets, even our children know how to use our mobiles, so our first product is a non-contact thermometer.
"At the moment, if you are in hospital and they want to take your temperature they will most likely come at you with the thermometer and have to change the cap before it goes in your ear.
"With our thermometer, there is no contact so no consumables, no disposables, and therefore there is no additional cost.
"The device never actually touches the patient, the nurse holds the device up to the patient's forehead, they press a button and get the result.
"We have designed, developed, manufactured the device and now we are starting to distribute it internationally."
Roisin and Julie spent 2015 doing market research before turning their attention to product development and getting the required accreditation for the device.
Getting ISO status and CE marking for the device has been one of the greatest challenges of their journey to date.
During this process, they have found the support and expertise of other business people they have met through the likes of the E Spark programme invaluable.
Julie explained: "Networking is absolutely crucial to succeed in business.
"When we go to an event, we will look at the guest list beforehand and make a point of introducing ourselves to people who have significant influence in the area in which we work.
"We tell them a little bit about ourselves, how the device could help them and find out who are the best people we should speak to."
Roisin continued: "We have a strategic approach to this with regards to everything that we do.
"When we go to an event, we know who else is going and who can help us, to get the device into hospitals and how to get interest."
It appears that their strategy is working - having already shipped 250 of the non-contact thermometers out to markets.
So, what is their advice to anyone else thinking of taking the leap and starting up their own business?
"From my point of view, just go for it," Julie said.
"You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying."
Roisin added: "It's also important to have your vision in place.
"Work out where you are going and how you are going to get there.
"There are so many clever people out there who have really good ideas but when you ask them what is their vision is for the next five years and they say they don't really know, they haven't really thought about it.
"It's important to have that vision."
‘Getting out there is very important... and surrounding yourself with the right people’
Laura Chambers started her working life as a physiotherapist employed in a private practice. But she took a massive leap of faith and followed her heart to set up her own business with her husband, Gareth, roasting and selling coffee to retailers, restaurants and coffee shops.
Life for Laura has changed dramatically as a result.
Instead of treating patients at a private physiotherapy practice in Banbridge, the 32-year-old now heads up Cinema Coffee Project, which counts Avoca as one of its customers.
A typical working day includes sourcing the best possible beans for the best price to be roasted at the company's premises in Newry.
She is involved in the roasting process, as well as product development, she secures buyers for the produce, oversees Cinema Coffee Project's social media presence - the list is endless.
"It is a lot of hard work," said Laura.
"I sometimes think it can be overwhelming, it can seem daunting, but equally it is immensely rewarding and that outweighs any other difficulties or challenges that you come up against.
"It's so satisfying when you get a sale, especially when you have been working hard to get it.
"There is no better feeling and for me, the satisfaction when you've been preparing an order and it's boxed up and labelled up and ready to go.
"It's so satisfying when you've had a productive day and you see your product going out to a customer."
So, how did Laura and Gareth, also 32, come to the decision to set up the business?
"It was about four years ago and it started out initially because Gareth and I are so passionate about coffee, I always have been," explained Laura.
"We love to travel and everywhere we go we make it our business to hunt out the nicest coffee and speciality coffee suppliers.
"We started roasting on a small scale at our own house as a hobby and it actually grew organically from there."
"I had always been interested in being business and working for myself, and with my love of coffee, I suppose the two just went hand in hand.
"We basically explored and learned as much as possible, we went to a training course, and the more we learned the more interested we became and ended up buying a 5kg coffee roaster.
"It just seemed interesting and it was something that I was passionate about so it actually wasn't a difficult decision to make to go into business."
As they embarked upon their business venture, the couple came across premises in Carlingford in Co Louth, they believed were perfect and helped them select a name for their fledgling business.
"It was a disused cinema from the 1940s that we came across by accident," said Laura.
"It was ideal because of the open spaces, which lent itself to the roasting process and the packing stage and everything that goes with that.
"It wasn't long before we were selling coffee in the local area and the brand became known as Cinema Coffee Project."
Despite having no experience in sales before setting up the business, Laura has enjoyed success in this area.
The business moved to a 1,000 sq ft warehouse in Newry last year after it outgrew the original premises in Carlingford.
They have also recently purchased a 15kg roaster, to be used in addition to the 5kg roaster they already have.
"This is something we have invested in for 2018 and is part of our growth plan," said Laura.
"We're very excited about it, it's a big deal for us."
Laura said that networking and making use of the support offered by the Entrepreneurial Spark programme has proven crucial in the growth of the business so far.
"For me, one of the biggest challenges of owning your own small business, the fact that you have to do a little bit of everything has improved my time management," she said.
"This has been essential to ensure that I'm being efficient.
"This year we have been fortunate to be a part of the E Spark programme and they have been great help in helping me focus on the growth of the business.
"There are problems to solve in any business, but that's what keeps things interesting and you learn something new every day.
"That's definitely one of things I love about it." The beans sold by Cinema Coffee Project are currently bought direct from wholesalers.
They are originally from a variety of countries, including Guatemala, Colombia, Ethiopia and Nicaragua.
Starting out, they have showed at the Dublin Tea and Coffee Festival where they have made contacts in the industry, which has allowed them to secure business.
However, with the importance of building contacts and networking in mind, Laura is also hoping to visit Vietnam and South America to allow her to deal directly with the coffee bean farmers. "It's just a matter of getting out there," she said.
"I can't stress how important networking is, actually getting out there, surrounding yourself with the right people.
"If you do that, if you have a good product that you are passionate about, then I believe it will sell itself."
To date, a single origin bean from Guatemala has been the company's most popular product.
Laura continued: "It's definitely my favourite as it is a really nice, smooth coffee."
But they work continually to update and change their product range, according to seasons and customer preferences.
"We have different blends we do for different customers," said Laura.
We also do some single origins, and we change our products with the different seasons which also makes it interesting.
"We do our research and get a list of the beans available and order what beans we think will be popular."
Laura also said that working with her husband to build up a successful business has been an enjoyable experience.
"It's absolutely fine, there have been no issues at all," she explained.
"We get on really well and we've actually found that when we are supposed to taking time off and relaxing, we end up talking about work.
"We're constantly looking for nice coffees, talking about it, thinking about our own set up, no matter where we go, work is in the background.
"But that's okay because that's what we like, it isn't a problem.
"Coffee is like wine, it's subjective - what one person likes another person might not.
"We're constantly trying to come up with new blends and trying out new crops, just to explore and learn as much as possible."