EY Entrepreneur of the Year profiles – The Irish Times – The Irish Times

Twenty four finalists have been shortlisted for this year’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards.
Evelyn Kelly founded Orphan Drug Consulting in 2017 with the vision of supporting organisations across keys areas such as supply chain, quality assurance, technical operations and organisational development.
The company provides consulting services to pharmaceutical companies, enabling them to launch products to global markets. Its annual revenue last year was €3.8 million.
Evelyn Kelly founded Orphan Drug Consulting in 2017 to provide consulting services to pharmaceutical companies.
Q: What is your greatest business achievement to date?
A: When Orphan Drug Consulting went global. We are now established in Ireland, UK, US, and plan to expand our operations into the APAC region, with a new office in Australia this year. We are five years in business this September.
Q: What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
A: The moment I particularly remember was dealing with a difficult leader with our biggest client at the time. While this leader did not employ our services, she was making providing of the service difficult for the team in the organisation due to her behaviour.
I made the difficult decision to terminate the contract as these behaviours were not in line with the culture of Orphan Drug Consulting. This was a difficult decision as we were reliant on this income stream at the time.
However, I decided that it was more important to enjoy work and focus time on finding a contract the team and I would enjoy rather than dealing with difficult behaviour that we could not change or influence.
As it happened, the company did not accept the termination and subsequently managed the behaviour, but it was a key moment that made me evaluate what was truly important for me in business.
Q: What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
A: To outsource operational and administrative work as quickly as I could afford. In doing this, it allowed me to focus on the areas I truly excelled in rather than in areas where there are people far more skilled than me.
Another piece of excellent advice was not to name the company after myself – this has enabled the brand to expand beyond my expertise easily.
Q: Where would you like your business to be in three years?
A: In three years, we will increase sales three-fold, double in size, and be established in the APAC market and Swiss markets.
Q: What are the big disruptive forces in your industry?
A: Gene and cell therapy products, which are in development or being launched currently are also disrupting the mechanisms that are used for supply, manufacturing and reimbursement.
These treatments are forcing the pharmaceutical industry, agencies and governments to look at their processes to ensure that access to these treatments will be available to the patients who need them.
Q: How will your market look in three years?
A: The market for orphan drugs is constantly growing. There are over 7,000 rare diseases worldwide and 95 per cent have no treatment. These illnesses require treatment and key Government incentives exist to support development of these medicines.
The growth of cell and gene therapy research will be transformative to both the industry and people’s lives. We aim to support all medicines we work with across all global regions, ensuring faster access to these medicines for these patients.
Q: What makes your company a good place to work?
A: The culture here is more important to me than anything else we do. Some of the team have been working with me since the very beginning and their support over the last number of years has been incredible – they are not employees but friends.
I ensure that flexibility is a key part of our organisation – no one is at school, and we operate on a trust-based approach. We also operate in a flat structure where, while everyone has their role, everyone’s position is critical no matter what level it’s at.
We have a great gender balance in the company. The ratio from senior management down is 50/50. We also like to have fun.
Fionn Lahart and Christoph Hennersperger are co-founders of OneProjects, which was founded in 2017 and is developing an imaging and analysis platform to improve the lives of millions of patients suffering from cardiac diseases. It is currently pre-revenue.
Fionn Lahart and Christoph Hennersperger are co-founders of OneProjects.
Q: What vision/light bulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
A: We spent 10 months working with doctors to identify unmet needs in healthcare with a particular focus on cardiology. We filtered the many unmet needs we discovered down to one that we wanted to build a global, scalable business to solve.
Q: What is your greatest business achievement to date?
A: In the last two years we have raised a total of €25 million while growing the company from two employees to over 30 across two locations in Dublin and Munich, representing growth of over 500 per cent. In the same timeframe, we were successful in winning two large grants from the EU (€2.5 million) and the Irish Government (€5.1 million).
Q: What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
A: Raising our first investment in June 2020 while Covid overtook the world was a serious challenge. We used our close relationships with investors to ensure we could still complete the deal and maintain the momentum in our product development and grow the team.
Q: To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your future plans?
A: Our first market will be the USA followed by the EU and Japan. Following these key markets, the ambition is to move into Asia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Central and South America.
Q: Where would you like your business to be in three years?
A: While continuing to develop the pipeline of world-class cardiology products that will save people’s lives, we will be fully commercial in the USA treating tens of thousands of patients annually and also beginning to commercialise in Europe and Japan.
Our team will continue to grow in Ireland and Germany, with a US base being added. The aim for our technology is to become the global reference standard for cardiac imaging and analysis.
Q: How will your market look in three years?
A: The market for OneProjects has been growing at double digit rates for several years and is forecast to continue with this trend for several years. Cardiology will have again a much stronger focus on the efficiency of procedures both in relation to outcomes and cost, based on strongly increasing numbers of procedures and a highly growing patient population suffering from heart problems.
Q: What makes your company a good place to work?
A: OneProjects shares a strong team culture with regular social activities such as mountain biking and hiking, and encourages regular exchange between our offices in Ireland and Germany.
We provide flexible work times and locations to work from and embrace our multinational and multicultural team. We have over 10 nationalities representing a range of cultures.
OneProjects strives to be as diverse and inclusive as possible and will continue to grow our percentage of female employees, which currently stands at over 33 per cent.
Health and wellbeing are high on our agenda and we have regular updates regarding mindfulness, mediation and mental resilience, which during the pandemic was more important than ever for us all. We provided access to wellbeing apps such as Headspace and Calm, which has benefited many in the company.
Q: How is the current inflationary environment impacting your business?
A: We have purchased ahead of time the materials we need to take us through the short and medium term as we expect this uncertain environment to continue for the foreseeable as the world adapts to changes post-Covid and geopolitical pressures and events.
Q: What is the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
A: Assuming that entrepreneurship is about the quick win to build and sell a company quickly. Entrepreneurship is about endurance, dealing with the unknown, and being prepared to take risk and solve upcoming challenges creatively every single day.
Q: What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
A: To surround yourself with the best team possible. Team is the most important aspect and entrepreneurs will have to drive towards success, and this includes both employees and advisers/mentors and members of the board.
Michael Dixon has been managing director of international transport company Dixon International Logistics since forming the company in 1998.
The company specialises in temperature-controlled logistics, and services the top 10 life science and medical device companies in Ireland directly or through partners. It operates with a fleet of over 160 trucks and expects turnover to exceed €50 million this year.
Michael Dixon has been managing director of international transport company Dixon International Logistics since forming the company in 1998.
Q: What vision/light bulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
A: For me, it was being around my father’s international transport business when I was a child. Unfortunately, he died in 1988 when I was 13 years of age, but by that stage the seed was planted with me. My mother sold the business at the time of my father’s passing, and 10 years after that, in 1998, I bought my first truck, having driven trucks around Europe for the previous four years.
Q: What is your greatest business achievement to date?
A: The Erisbeg investment in 2021 represented a significant personal milestone as well as a great recognition of the progress which the entire business has achieved since 1998.
In 2016 we constructed a purpose-built site and have grown our storage capacity to 20,000 pallet spaces in a five-year period, with work already under way to add 33,000 pallet spaces in 2023.
Our business evolved completely when we moved to Dublin, allowing us to build a warehouse and grow our transport fleet to over 170 trucks and 300 temperature-controlled trailers.
Q: What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
A: When the Celtic Tiger boom ended and the recession hit. Our biggest issue then was a lack of credit from suppliers, lack of finance from banks and protecting our cash flow. In a business with such fine margins, these were the toughest moments in the last 25 years.
Q: What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
A: As I touched on before, the game changer was moving the business to Dublin, which allowed us to move into the warehousing market. Also, shifting the focus of the business to high-value pharmaceutical and retail transport moved us into a different sector.
Q: What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
A: The best piece of advice was some action coaching I received for a company promotional video we were making. This was to “eat the frog”, which basically is the process of identifying your most difficult task of the day and completing it before you do any other work. I think this is relevant in all aspects of business and life.
Q: To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your future plans/ambitions?
A: Our business has 170 trucks and 50 per cent of our fleet is focused on EU transport and 50 per cent on Ireland/UK. Our plans and ambitions for the future are to grow that business internationally and to double in size within the next 12 months through acquisition. We plan to have a 300-strong fleet focused on European and UK destinations by 2023.
Q: What are the big disruptive forces in your industry?
A: The biggest disruptive forces in our industry currently are fuel prices, inflation, and staff recruitment.
More so this year than any, recruitment has become an issue, with this affecting not only the driver market, which has always been challenging, but now also for office-based roles it is becoming difficult to recruit and retain good staff.
Q: What are you doing to disrupt, innovate and improve the products or services you offer?
A: Transport and storage essentially do what they say on the tin, so we are improving by constantly looking for alternative ways to be greener as a company.
Q: What makes your company a good place to work?
A: In terms of inclusivity and diversity, 85 per cent of our new staff hires in the past year for both office and warehouse roles have been female. This is particularly pleasing, as transport would traditionally be a male-dominated environment.
Jacqueline O’Reilly is co-founder and joint owner of KonFloor alongside her sister and four brothers. KonFloor is a specialist industrial flooring contractor. It works closely with partners and provides a full design and installation service for concrete floor slabs.
It provides access to in-house specialist labour and machinery, installation techniques and technical advice. It also provide flooring solutions to various sectors including warehousing, manufacturing and data centres. It has revenues in excess of £20 million.
Jacqueline O’Reilly is co-founder and joint owner of KonFloor alongside her sister and four brothers.
Q: What vision/light bulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
A: My siblings and I really wanted to start our own business together. We sat around the kitchen table and brainstormed ideas. We settled on our current business because each of us had particular skills and experience that when combined translated to a viable business.
Q: What is your business model and what makes your business unique?
A: Our business model is very democratic and flat in structure. We all have our key areas and shared goals and values. This allows us to respect the others area of expertise and steer the company by consensus.
Q: What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
A: It was from 2008 to 2010 when the economy went into meltdown. We had significant exposure to most of the big construction players that either folded or forced their supply chain to take a financial haircut. To survive this we had to display considerable dexterity in juggling our creditors and our personal mortgage repayments. It was a case of rotating everything in a managed fashion.
Q: What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
A: I would say it was successfully tendering and completing our first data-centre project, as this was the catalyst for opening new markets in Europe.
Q: What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
The best advice was not to fund your assets with debt, as this allowed us to survive the recession. The worst advice was not to work with family.
Q: To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your future plans?
A: We are well established within the northern European market and we have plans to expand our markets within Europe.
Q: What is your growth funding path?
A: To date we have self-funded.
Q: Where would you like your business to be in three years?
A: We would really like to see increased growth within our data-centre contracts.
Q: What are the big disruptive forces in your industry?
A: Lack of labour and supply chain issues both due to shortages and inflationary cost increases.
Q: How will your market look in three years?
A: I think the challenges mentioned before are set to continue and will create a difficult environment for construction.
Q: What are you doing to disrupt, innovate and improve the products or services you offer?
A: We continuously look to innovate how we deliver solutions for our clients, be it the delivery of concrete in Arctic conditions, or the specification of a concrete mix without sand.
Q: What makes your company a good place to work?
A: We support our staff by facilitating ongoing skills development and learning. Where able, we provide flexible working conditions. We are a diverse and inclusive employer.
Approximately 40 per cent of our workforce is from outside Ireland. In addition, we financially support our employees in extenuating circumstances. We promote a familial ethos throughout the business.
Q: How is the current inflationary environment impacting your business?
A: It is presenting enormous challenges and we see no relief from this in the medium term. Our estimating and purchasing teams are actively engaged in price renegotiation and getting price-holding agreements daily where feasible. Unfortunately, like many businesses, we will have to absorb what we can’t mitigate.
Q: What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
Actively make decisions. Don’t just drift because you are unsure what decision to make. The wrong decision is no decision.

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