The Foods of Athenry – what a story

Galway-based bakery Foods of Athenry was started in a converted shed on a farm when the dairy farming became unsustainable. Despite some serious ‘teething’ problems, the business is now one of the leading gluten-free food producers in the West.

It was a mix of necessity and opportunity. Paul was a dairy farmer and farming was difficult at the time so something had to be done to supplement the farm income, and so a small bakery business was born. Very quickly the opportunity for the bakery business outweighed the potential for the future of dairying for us. After a few years, the cows were sold and the bakery then moved into the empty milking parlour – where it remains today.
Any big breaks? 
There was no ‘big break’ for Foods of Athenry – more a series of smaller opportunities that were presented, and then combined with hard work and tenacity led to steady and sustained growth. 
“I regret not knowing more at the initial stages and having better knowledge to allow us to progress less painfully and without so many mistakes.”

I regret not knowing more at the initial stages and having better knowledge to allow us to progress less painfully and without so many mistakes. We branded and grew the brand organically, reinventing a few times as we learned more, but it was an exhausting process. But I am thankful for the mistakes as they made us better people. I regret the bakery burning down in 2011, that was a difficult and painful time, both personally and from a business point of view. But even that has made us more thankful for what we have achieved since.
“Do a gap analysis – check what is out there in your chosen category; do cost comparisons and formulate a rock solid USP.”

Any tips for food business starters? 
Learn as much as you can

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CivicQ and the way we view public opinions

Vanessa Liston from CivicQ was the recent winner of the Enterprise Ireland HPSU Sprint Programme pitch competition held at the Guinness Enterprise Centre. The aim of SPRINT is to help founders develop the skills needed to build a successful business.
CivicQ is a startup that looks at new ways to structure and visualise public opinion. The service can improve engagement between voters, governments and organisations on public issues.
Vanessa Liston holds a PhD in Political Science from Trinity College Dublin. Her research interests are democratic theory, Web 2.0 and emerging technologies for enabling innovations in political systems. 
CiviQ’s products and services are based on “recent ground-breaking innovations in deliberative democratic theory”.
Clients of CivicQ include the European Commission; Cork City Council; the Department of Health; Innovate Dublin and Irish Water.
Below is a video of Vanessa Liston presenting to the World Forum for Democracy.

Related Resource

To find out more about the HPSU SPRINT programme go here.

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Thinking business with Brendan Kenny

Brendan Kenny says the entrepreneurial culture in Galway is second to none. 
What’s your role?
I am the owner and managing director of BK Marketing – a new creative agency with offices in Galway and Berlin.  
What are you most interested in? 
I’m interested in developing and executing genuinely creative marketing communication plans using visual and audio to target specific audiences. I’m also fascinated by the challenge of building brands with personality – to deliver results by fusing creativity with business.  
What are your ambitions? 
Our vision is to make BK Marketing one of the leading creative agencies in Ireland and Germany.
What drives you? 
I’m really driven by new experiences in all aspects of work and life. Variety and travel have taught me that new experiences really are the fuel that drives creativity – in life and in business.
“On the back of the entrepreneurial culture, there is now a genuine community spirit in the business community which can be seen across all aspects of life in Galway.”
Who do you admire in business? 
I have a lot of admiration for Gary Vaynerchuk, Pat McDonagh, Tim Ferriss, Arianna Huffington and Richard Branson – five business people who stamp personality and creativity on their own businesses, and deliver results time after time after time.   
What are we doing well in Galway?
After decades of going about our business a little too quietly, Galway and its inhabitants (blow-ins and Galwegians alike) have done a great job over the past number of years in finally blowing our own trumpet – much to the envy of many outsiders. I believe that the city is finally beginning to maximise its potential as a centre for tourism, business (particularly as a tech hub), sport and ultimately, a brilliant place to live.  
This exposure can be seen in all aspects of life here. In business, the SME and startup scene has never been brighter, and we continue to

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Thinking business with Dylan Commons

Dylan Commons is an entrepreneur who believes Galway is the best place to start a business in Ireland. He also thinks startups need to focus on sales, not just raising funds.
What’s your current role?
I founded Happi Digital with my business partner Rob, in June 2017. Since then it’s been hands-on, learning the different processes and making the business operate in a seamless and efficient manner. We are involved in all elements of business, from business development to video marketing, website design and helping clients reach and communicate better with their customers online.
What are you most interested in?
I am most interested in growing businesses, self-learning and meeting like-minded people. I have been obsessed with the business since I was in my teens, starting my first business in the first-year of college, which was a gym clothing company called Gym-Cross where I imported clothing from Pakistan with our brand and sold it through a website. Happi Digital is my third business.
“Being in a 9–5 job, working towards somebody else’s goal just isn’t for me.”
What are your ambitions?
On a micro level, my business partner and I are focused on providing a superior business to business service within the digital marketing space.
On a macro level, my ambition is to build multinational businesses, with the aim of accruing a significant amount of wealth. The objective is to give the majority of my wealth to charities focused on providing opportunities to people in the developing world. The times I have felt the most fulfilment is when I am giving back.
“If I am feeling down in the dumps, I just remind myself of how lucky I am to have been born in the developed world.”
What drives you?
The love for what I am doing and the fact that I take responsibility for the daily decisions that have to

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Turtle Bunbury and the business of History

Entrepreneurs come in all guises. Turtle Bunbury’s business, his product as such, is History. This is his fascinating story.

Turtle Bunbury pictured at his home in Oldfort, Tobinstown, County Carlow.

Some years ago, Turtle Bunbury, the well-known historian and author, took part in a mentoring programme at Trinity College Dublin, which was aimed at advising history students on how to make the most of their degree. He spoke about how a broad skill-set can help provide the freedom and financial independence, to work as a freelance historian. He has worked in a wide variety of areas as a TV presenter and radio guest; genealogist; public speaker and interviewer; travel writer, tour guide, film scriptwriter and festival organiser and takes us back to Co. Carlow, where his interest in history, first began.

“As a child, I was absorbed by historical swashbuckling movies and biblical epics.”

What inspires you to write on the topics you write about?

I grew up at Lisnavagh House in County Carlow, the walls of which were lined with scary portraits of ancestors from the 18th and 19th century. As a child, I was absorbed by historical swashbuckling movies and biblical epics. I also had an excellent history teacher at school called Charles Shiffner who showed us how the history of one part of the world, was so often influenced by what was going on in another. All up, I was a historical nerd by the time I was a teenager.

The topics I pursue tend to be quite broad – old people’s reflections on their life, big events like the Easter Rising and WW1, family histories, Irish pubs – but I am always interested in the experience of people, and how they reacted to the events and circumstances they found themselves living through. For instance, my recent book ‘1847 – A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity and Savagery’ has a strong focus on how different people responded to the crisis of the Great Famine in Ireland.

“My career is varied, and as the wonderful writer Peter Somerville Large once said to me, ‘your life shall never be dull’.”

Who is your target audience?

I have a pretty wide net really, so the most likely answer is ‘general readers’. My greatest hope is that I can hook people who had little or no interest in history and to make them excited by it. I want to bring the past to life for them, so it is not just a dull list of dates, dates, and dates. I want to show them that history has the juiciest plots, the greatest twists, the richest characters, the best lines – and ideally, I want them to consider their family origins and try to work out where they fit into it all.

“There is a perception that being a historian is not a real career or that it’s a glorified hobby.”

What aspect of Irish history excites you most?

I’m pretty interested in the whole spectrum, but I am presently homing in on the Georgian Age, which I find a fascinating era, especially when the principles of the American Revolution began to influence the debate in the time of Grattan’s Parliament.

I love stories that put Ireland in its global context. My ‘1847’ book is replete with tales of Irishmen who served in faraway wars, as well as women who made a major impact on the world stage. I’m particularly excited by the links between Ireland and the Americas in the Tudor and Stuart period, not least because the brother of the first ‘Irish’ Bunbury emigrated to Virginia in 1660.

“As a freelance historian, I am marketing what is essentially a luxury commodity.”

What obstacles do you encounter in your career?

Focusing on history has been a two-edged sword. I’ve always loved it, but I was not a professional historian. I earned a BA degree from Trinity in history (after initially starting a law degree), but I suspected it would be challenging to make a career out of it. There is a perception that being a historian is not a real career or that it’s a glorified hobby, which can be reflected in the pay packages on offer. I did not want to be a teacher although I do enjoy giving lectures on historical subjects, which I now do quite regularly. I started out being a travel writer but then realised it was vital that I establish historical credibility if I was to be taken seriously with works such as my World War One book ‘The Glorious Madness’ or my 1916 book, ‘Easter Dawn’.

As a freelance historian, I am marketing what is essentially a luxury commodity. Although history is not that high on the radar, I passionately believe the past should be much more important than it is, and it is my hope that comes through in my writing.

I’ve found it necessary to wear many historical hats over the years, and some of them are starting to fit quite comfortably at this stage. From writing books to giving talks, presenting TV shows to historical consultancy to writing private family histories … my career is varied, and as the wonderful writer Peter Somerville Large once said to me, “your life shall never be dull”.

“I think you need to have that combination of persistence, optimism, and humour along with a generous dollop of luck.”

Turtle Bunbury pictured at his home in Oldfort, Tobinstown, County Carlow.

What advice would you give someone wishing to publish a book?

I self-published my first two books in 2004 and 2005, and that was a very useful exercise. It gave me an insight into how the publishing industry works from the inside out and taught me how to reach my target audience. I learned that if a book is ‘face out’ in a bookshop, its chances of selling are greatly better than if the book is on its spine. I learned that if you’re going on the radio to talk about your book, you have to let the book trade know in advance and then they will make sure your book is ‘face out’. When the opportunity arises, it is certainly an easier ride to go with a publisher, particularly regarding distribution.

I recently visited the Eason’s warehouse to sign books and saw the hundreds of thousands of books stacked up there. It made me feel very fortunate that my books have somehow stood out amongst such a vast number. It also highlighted the challenge of focusing on specialist subjects. Regarding making it all happen, I think you need to have that combination of persistence, optimism, and humour along with a generous dollop of luck.

The future

My present focus is on getting myself into a broader market, primarily in the UK and USA. I’ve also moved deeper into fiction, conceptualising historical films and TV series, as well as a novel. The bottom line is, if you want to make it as a freelance historian, you’ve got to go at it, hammer and tongs, full steam ahead, and be prepared to become a jack of many historical trades.

Interview by Brendan Byrne. 

Photos by Dylan Vaughan.

Related Resource

Ten ideas, conceived in Ireland, that went on to leave an indelible mark on human history. 

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Wicklow startup leading the bedding industry

White&Green was set up by mum Sari and her two daughters Rebecca and Danielle, and has grown to become a very successful bedding company. Rebecca talks to ThinkBusiness about the journey of White&Green to date.

How did White&Green come about?

As an interior designer, Sari was becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of quality bed sheets on the market. Shopping for bed linen for her clients involved traipsing through large department stores, swamped by endless shelves of bed linen in fancy packaging that didn’t necessarily translate to high quality products. So, she set about creating a range of really high-quality bedding that consumers could trust and that didn’t cost the earth.

Running a family business has its dangers, how did you each of you come about to create the company?

Sari pitched the idea for White&Green to us as she saw it as an opportunity for myself and Danielle to build careers in the areas we are passionate about. We decided to make our production 100% certified organic and Fairtrade and that I would take the reins on this, and that our products would be cleverly designed so they are luxury quality, but classic (they won’t go out of fashion) and durable, for the busy consumer. Danielle and Sari decided to take the reins on product development. Certainly, running a family company is difficult as it crosses the natural boundaries of family relationships. Thankfully, we have learnt to divide up certain areas of the company based on our passions.

“(We) set about creating a range of really high-quality bedding that consumers could trust and that didn’t cost the earth.”


In a competitive market, how do you make the company stand out?

No doubt about it, bed linen is not the most innovative product in the world. Yet, ask any consumer their favourite brand of bed linen, and most wouldn’t be able to answer. That was our goal – to create one range of high-quality, affordable bed linen that consumers could trust. The quality of our product speaks for itself and we’ve had zero returns in a year and a half of trading.

What’s your USP?

Our USP definitely is the family aspect of our brand. In the era of globalisation, commercialisation and huge faceless brands with questionable supply chain management, consumers are ever searching for smaller brands with a story they can relate to.

“The quality of our product speaks for itself and we’ve had zero returns in a year and a half of trading.”


What impact did appearing on Dragon’s Den give the brand?

We were really sceptical about appearing on Dragon’s Den and we had very heated discussions about it. We were nervous about putting ourselves out there so publically but we are really happy that we did it in the end. We had nothing but a positive experience and it was a fantastic marketing platform for us.

Social media has a massive influence on your brand, how did you grow this? 

Danielle and I both attended various digital media courses but in the end, we learnt the most by getting stuck in ourselves and figuring things out by trial and error. The content we share is very natural and I must admit that we probably should plan more than we do. Really eye-catching imagery is probably our most important social media asset.

Do you think Brexit will have any influence on your business?

We are still unsure as to how Brexit will specifically affect us. Our company is heavily reliant on working with the UK for a number of reasons as we share the same language and the same bed sizes. Right now, we are forging ahead with marketing in the UK and we’ll make back up plans should the need arise down the line. 

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Thinking business with Colm O’Brien

Colm O’Brien is the founder of Carambola, amongst other things. He believes Limerick is edgy and that the city and region needs to embrace that edginess and market it to the world.

What’s your role?
Founder and MD of Carambola a school meals business that is 14 years in existence, with 130 staff, and a €8.5m annual turnover. I’m also the founder of The Sounding Board – helping SMEs and business owners scale sustainably and profitably; the owner of Colm O’Brien Motivation, inspirational after dinner and general motivation speaker for the Business Community; a volunteer chairman of the Board Lime Tree Theatre; and a volunteer board member of the Irish Chamber Orchestra. 
What are you most interested in?
I am most interested in leadership. Leadership is an attitude, not a position. I regularly speak to groups ranging from 10 to 12-year-olds (5th/6th class) through to senior execs and SME owners and motivate them to get better, to lead by example. Our businesses can never outgrow us.
What are your ambitions?
To build something significant. Significant in terms of scale. Significant in terms of impact. Significant in terms of revenues. Significant in terms of Limerick and the Midwest. Significant regarding Ireland Inc.
“Leadership is an attitude, not a position.”
What drives you?
Contribution. We all have talents. I believe we should all use what we have. The world will be a poorer place if we hide our gifts and think small. I believe if we do the right job right long enough the rewards (including the few bob) follow.
Who do you admire in business?
Sir Richard Branson – he portrays himself as the epitome of casual success and seems to effortlessly attract and retain great business deals, by attracting and retaining great people. Also, the Collison brothers, Limerick boys playing on a global stage and JP McManus and Chuck Feeney. I

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‘I wanted to test myself in a startup’

Having worked for the likes of Barclays Capital, Deutsche Bank, Hewlett Packard, and Accenture, Kevin Deasy struck out on his own. Here he talks about self-belief, delegating, and inspirations.
Why I started
If I am honest, I felt I had developed a static mindset and thought I had achieved what I could accomplish in the corporate sphere. I wanted to break out and test myself in a startup and see how it went. It was difficult to do, but I went for it and helped a tech startup from 2015-2016 to develop, launch and commercialise an app for mobile compliance. This led to my startup, Accounting Pro, a service aimed at contractors, startups and SMEs.
Finding the gap
There is a gap in the market for a service like this aimed directly at contract workers and startups.
The best thing so far?
We have built steadily and put together a great team. We have grown steadily throughout 2017 and are on track to meet our targets. However, I think the best thing about the whole experience (so far) is satisfying the needs of our client base and receiving great reviews.
“There are a lot of people who will be cynical. I call them dream squashers.”
The toughest part?
You need to realise that not everything is within your control and if you grow (and grow relatively quickly) you will need to delegate. This can be difficult. Also, when you have a business, you strive for perfection. However, mistakes and problems happen, but you need to fix them quickly. Don’t dwell, take action.
Five years from now?
I would like to grow internationally.

If you started all over again is there anything you would do differently?
I wouldn’t do anything differently. I don’t look back. I am about the here and now and planning for the future.
Regarding advice for anyone starting out, I would

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‘We have sold over 500,000 fairy doors’

The Irish Fairy Door Company was started four years ago when two married couples, sat around a kitchen table, suddenly had an idea. Co-founder Niamh Sherwin Barry talks to ThinkBusiness about growing a business in the face of adversity.
How did the business come about?
The Irish Fairy Door Company started as a wonderful idea but with absolutely no money to make it happen. Having been hit incredibly hard by the recession, we were all facing imminent emigration. We knew that our idea was good but there was simply no capital to invest. That is when my mother stepped in and gave us €8,500. Apart from really wanting me to stay in the country, she also believed that we had a really great idea and wanted to be part of it. The business was launched on Facebook in August 2013 and we have not looked back since. We have sold over 500,000 Fairy Door products in Ireland and around the world. We have distributors in Australia, the U.K., Mexico and North America.
“In my opinion it’s all about making the emotional connection with your customer.”

How long did it take from having the idea to selling the first fairy door?
The idea is quite simple, but I think that is the charm of it. The original idea was in June 2013 and we sold our first fairy door on August 28, 2013. Very quick really. Just shows what you can do when you really need to make money.
Looking back, would you change anything about setting up the company or bringing the idea to market? 
Not really. But I suppose knowing the difference between an ‘eager amateur’ and an actual expert would have helped along the way. Lots of people contacted us telling us what they could bring to the table. Some were fantastic, while others weren’t so great.
You have a huge social media

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Thinking innovation with Gillian Barry

Gillian Barry, Head of Innovation & Enterprise at LIT, talks about paying it forward and how to build an innovation system between industry, higher education, government and the people of Limerick. 
What’s your role?
Head of Innovation and Enterprise at LIT.
What interests you the most?
I have a passion for innovation, design and technology and helping entrepreneurs through the most critical stages of their startup journey or supporting business leaders and their teams through their innovation and business improvement journeys. I’m passionate also about community, social and economic development and I work with numerous organisations to support growth in our regions. I also have a real interest in psychology and sociology.
“For every high-value job created five other jobs are formed in the economy.”
What are your ambitions?
This might sound far-fetched, but my ambition is to help make our region and country one of the best place in the world to live. I know I can’t do anything about the weather, but I can help ambitious, creative, entrepreneurial people to create great companies, impactful products and services and ultimately create jobs which help to improve the lives not just of their direct employees, but they have an impact downstream too. For every high-value job created five other jobs are formed in the economy. I can help a little and appreciating it takes a community to support any ambitious entrepreneur I am delighted to be part of that. I can also help our fantastic youth and social organisations to make an impact in our region. I believe that every little does help and we need to make it a goal and give all these organisations our time – pay it forward – work it into your goals. We all benefit.
What drives you?
I’m a highly positive person and get energy from creative people with ambitions as wild

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