Thinking business – Paul Jacob, Smart Storage

Paul Jacob of Smart Storage secured Dragon’s Den investment in 2012. He has grown the business dramatically since then.

What’s your elevator pitch?
We supply modular under stairs storage units that fit under 11.5 million suburban homes across the UK and Ireland. Our units are designed to use the un-used space under your stairs by providing a modular system that slides out giving you storage for everything from shoes, school bags, and the vacuum cleaner. Simple clean and affordable storage solutions fitted in a matter of hours.
How long have you been in business?
Smart Storage is in business since 2011. I, on the other hand, have had various business ventures since 2004 (12 years).
What did you want to be ‘when you grew up’?
I wanted to be an archaeologist. I ended up as an engineer on motorway construction. The only similarity was I got to dig holes with bigger cooler machines instead of a small hand trowel.
“You need to listen to your customer and provide the service and sales route the customer wants. Otherwise, it’s like trying to turn an oil tanker in a bathtub.”
What’s your ambition now?
Professionally for Smart Storage I wan to see it as a global brand & business with sales across the EU and North America.
Personally – I love the opportunity to try different things. I would love to go back to college in the future and study law.
I also want to continue to travel with my family, and try new challenges each year. Something we all enjoy.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in business?
It’s hard work! So make sure you enjoy what you are doing otherwise it could be a long day. I love my job. I don’t see work as a chore. I see work as just one of the parts of my day.
What was your

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Thinking business – Guy de Bromhead, Emojitones

What’s your elevator pitch? 
Emojitones is the world’s first sound based messenger. The usual social cues from face-to-face interaction are absent or misconstrued in text-based communication. 
How long have you been in business?
In general, ten years. However, we raised €500k seed capital for Emojitones Messenger towards the end of 2015. The iOS and Android apps are now available in the app stores. 
What did you want to be ‘when you grew up’?
A stockbroker. I then read a book while studying my masters in finance at Smurfit Business School that changed my outlook. After qualifying as an accountant, I immediately left the workplace to start my own business.
What’s your ambition now?
For Emojitones Messenger I want, in the short term, to build a highly ambitious team focused on taking the product to a global user base. 
What’s the most important thing you have learned so far in business?
Start and never give up.
What has your biggest ‘mistake’ been, in business so far?
Overworking – sometimes it’s good to take a step back and try to view your activities from an outsider’s perspective. You can get stuck “in” the business on occasion.
“The risk, effort and time entrepreneurs put into growing their businesses, in most cases come with too little reward all things considered, mainly because of the tax system.”
Who inspires you in the business world?
Elon Musk, he has incredible drive. 
What historical figure would you choose to have dinner with? 
A round table dinner with the men that built America – John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and JP Morgan.
If you were ‘ruler for a day’ what would you do to change the business or social climate in this country?
It’s hard to say without studying the potential effects of any change. I do think entrepreneurs are the bread and butter of the economy. However, the risk, effort and

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The staff Christmas party – a survival guide

As an employer, you can be held liable for any injury or other health incident resulting from a work-related social event such as a Christmas party.

What is considered a work-related social event?

1: An event hosted on your premises.

2: An event sponsored or promoted by your business.

3: An event held during worktime, whether by your business or your employees.

4: An event organised elsewhere where an employee has been invited in their work capacity.

5: An event organised by you or your employees outside your premises.

Christmas parties

Gently remind everyone they are attending as employees

You should assess whether an event can be considered work-related and circulate details to all employees. Without being heavy-handed, you may also consider reminding everyone that they are attending such events as employees of your business. You should say that this comes under the code of conduct expected of employees and issue a reminder, if necessary, of what that means.

You should:

1: Circulate details of the venue in advance.

2: Consider whether it is best for staff that they arrive and leave an event together.

3: Organise transport to and from the venue.

4: Ensure the venue has public liability insurance if using an off-site premises.

5: Make yourself aware of local emergency numbers and distance to hospitals.

6: Check the exits and emergency routes on arrival.

7: Store all work equipment safely if using the business premises.

8: Check the hygiene standard of caterers if they bring food to the premises.

9: Drink moderately and monitor if anyone is drinking excessively.

10: Be aware if anyone is acting inappropriately.

11: Make sure staff aged under 18 are not served alcohol.

And finally, have a good time and avoid the bores and the moaners.

VIDEO: No probably about it, one of the best beers in the world is made in Wicklow.

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UCC to invest €241 million in its development

‘This is the largest investment in capital projects at UCC in our history.’
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is lending €100 million to University College Cork. 
The investment is part of an ambitious €241 million development plan for UCC. 
More than 500 new construction sector jobs are likely to be created as a result of the development.
“This is the largest investment in capital projects at UCC in our history,” says UCC President Dr Michael Murphy.
More than €60 million will be invested in student accommodation.
The investments breakdown is as follows:

€64 million investment in student accommodation;
€37 million to build a new Cork University Dental School, Research Centre and Hospital;
€27 million to fund Western Campus Development including the Cork Science & Innovation Park (Phase 1) and outdoor sports facilities;
€90 million for a new student hub, ICT services, facilities upgrade, refurbishment, building extensions as well as flood remedial works and Western Gateway infrastructure;
€23 million to fund new clinical medical school for the Cork hospitals;
The funding will also help facilitate a €10 million University investment across University Hospital Waterford, University Hospital Kerry and South Tipperary General Hospital.

The total development programme is valued at €241 million. The EIB is lending €100 million, with the rest of the money coming from capital grants, borrowings and philanthropy.
READ MORE: The best Universities and colleges in Ireland for student entrepreneurs.

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A dream invention turns into a business

Declan Cosgrave is living proof that people can follow their dream and be successful.
After a career in corporate insurance and a stint running a successful web business, forty-five-year-old Declan Cosgrove (pictured below with George Hook) retired to restore his thatched cottage near Ballymitty, Co. Wexford. His new business is to inspire people to play music. He is the inventor of the world’s fastest learned piano method –
How quickly can someone learn to play the piano?
Most people can play a song using both hands within the first hour, using the DecPlay method. The best way to demonstrate this is to have a look at a couple of examples. 
The video below shows Mel playing Silent Night within one hour, having never learned piano before and shows her surprise and fun of being able to play so well, so quickly.

In another video, you can see Hannah, also with no background in music, playing Fairytale of New York, from scratch in less than an hour.
Why do you want to inspire people to play the piano?
Playing music can be one of the greatest joys in life and is a powerful way to build confidence, express yourself, have fun and create deep connections with others. My passion is inspiring people to unlock their natural musical abilities. Also, contributing to the community and personal growth gives me a great sense of fulfilment. 

What’s so innovative about your method? 
DecPlay enables you to start playing fun songs within one hour, which would often take over a year of traditional tuition. This rapid progress and fun approach motivates you to practice and develop your skills further. This is the opposite of the traditional piano tuition I experienced as a child, where the focus was passing exam grades, which took years and still didn’t equip me to play fun music at parties. 

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Start a part-time business, before going full-time

When you are starting, you have to start somewhere. Most people start small and build big, writes Martin Brennan. 
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” Lao Tzu
What a relevant quotation to kick off a guide to starting a business. It has never been as easy to make a living from what you are passionate about, but the thought of starting can seem a thousand miles away. 
Not everyone can make a living from what they enjoy. However, many others can. It is advisable to use a stepped approach when starting a new business. Once your bills and other financial commitments are covered each month (by your day job), you may feel the need to explore your passion.   
Here are some ways you can explore your dream before you commit to jumping in full-time.  
Start small
It’s the obvious first step. Starting out you don’t have to have a 100% complete service or product, all you have to do is make a start. 
There are some ways to test your products, goods or service. Friends, family and work colleges are usually a business’s first customers. If you are in the food or crafts sectors, popular options include local markets. These are an excellent way to test your goods. See this site for your nearest market. 
DOWNLOAD: A free business model canvas – the first step to business planning.
Concentrate on one thing at a time
A big mistake many startups make is that the more they talk and the more they dream, the more ideas they have. Anyone can have ideas. It’s starting one, just one, that matters. 
Start selling what you make or offer on a part-time basis. It is important to concentrate on just one thing at a time and not to get ahead of yourself. Doing too much too quickly can have

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Killowen Farm is dazzling the world

Killowen Farm’s yogurt is the only yogurt sold in the world’s most luxurious hotel, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. How did this small Irish firm achieve this?

A small Wexford firm, Killowen Farm, transformed its traditional farm assets and diversified into the yogurt market.

It now successfully sells its products around the world against lots of global brands with big marketing budgets. The company is doing this with authority and conviction in the premium segment in particular. Alan O’Neill joins them to discuss how a small firm can still dazzle the world’s best.

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Alan O’Neill – supercharge your business

O’Neill has a reputation for making the complex simple with a commercial focus that brings everything back to the customer.

The current business climate is experiencing more change than ever before. Indeed – the volume, speed and complexity of change is growing exponentially. Brexit is of course one big example. But so also is the digital revolution, the political environment, the economy roller-coaster and customer behaviours are causing us all to rethink what and how we do things.
What does all this mean for the SME that is trying to compete against the big guys? While large corporates usually have lots of people to share the load, SMEs have to do the best they can with limited resources. The answer is partly about having a compelling proposition that makes you stand out. It’s also about taking time out for yourself to work on your business and not just in your business – and learn from each other.
WATCH: Alan O’Neill visits Wicklow Brewery, undoubtedly the best beer in the world.
For more than 25 years, Alan O’Neill has been guiding global brands across industry through change.
A visiting professor with Ashridge, O’Neill is also a trusted mentor to many chief executives and board directors who seek his advice on a range of issues. O’Neill has a reputation for making the complex simple – for being down-to-earth and practical – with a commercial focus that brings everything back to the customer.
WATCH: Alan O’Neill visits Killowen Farm to discuss diversification and growth.
Main photo by Kevin McFeely.

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Wicklow brewery makes ‘best beer in the world’

A small craft beer firm in Wicklow brews one of the world’s best beers. Alan O’Neill talks to Wicklow Brewery about scaling up and winning in a competitive industry.

The global drinks industry is dominated by a number of big brands with deep pockets. While the craft beer industry is populated with a number of small artisan brewers.
In Wicklow there is one such family-run business that’s won a global best beer award. The founders are successfully punching above their weight already. Alan O’Neill explores how they are scaling up and taking their business to the next level.

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Talk to ThinkBusiness – Gavin Fogarty,

Mustard recently raised a €400,000 pre-seed investment from

Pitch your concept, please
The concept is simple. Instead of software engineers applying to work for companies, companies use Mustard to apply to interview and hire pre-screened developers. 
How long have you been in business?
Mustard was formed in 2014, but this version of the product has only been open to the public for the last 60 days or so. Previously we had built and run a web app focused on the hospitality market, but because of our successes in building a tech team, we quickly refocused our efforts on the industry we know and love. (Mustard recently raised a €400,000 pre-seed investment from
What did you want to be ‘when you grew up’?
An architect. I’ve always loved building things. I studied Venture Management and Computer Science in University,  and now I get to build things online, which suits me more I think.
What’s your ambition now?
If we can maintain the atmosphere we get to work in every day and still keep growing at this rate, I will be a very happy man. 
What’s the most important thing you have learned so far in business?
I think a lot of people in tech suffer from imposter syndrome, including me, but having the courage just to get started was one of the pivotal points so far for me. 
What was your biggest ‘mistake’ in business so far?
Forgetting to take it easy. Earlier in my career, before Mustard, I got way too wound up by the small things, and eventually burned out. I think that happens to a lot of people with big ambitions, so I suppose I’m lucky that I have had the chance to learn from those mistakes and now I make sure to find time to do things other than work. 
Who inspires you in the business world?
It’s usually friends who I

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