"I'm very lucky in to be in the situation where we are all equal, and there is a safety net, to a degree, of it being a family business. We have been working together a long time, we have learned a lot in terms of our strengths and weaknesses – but also where we clash. I'm interested in the issue of conflict-resolution, not only in terms of the big political picture, but also in business. It's not necessarily that you have to compromise – you have to resolve any conflicts. As a family, we are very close, but in business we tend to let it all out. We tend to say it as we see it. Which, in a way, is why the business has been a success.
I would love to see women getting to the stage where their desire to realise their ambition is not held back in any way. Why are there not more women in business? I still feel something of a stranger in my own country in that regard, as virtually none of my friends work outside the home anymore. When they had children, they decided the family came first. And I absolutely understand that.
But we certainly have a very different attitude here than somewhere like Scandinavia. We are still a few decades behind when it comes to fostering entrepreneurship among women. But I suspect this recession will change everything. Necessity will be the mother of invention and because of that you will see more women succeed in business. It's time.
When I left college in the mid 1980s, everybody else left Ireland too. It was the norm. And at that time, you weren't proud to be Irish – when you went to the UK, people would laugh and do Paddy jokes. That's changed, but so too have attitudes about emigrating – young people have much higher expectation now because they have experienced that boom. When you are in the middle of anything, it's difficult. When we were in the middle of the Celtic Tiger years, we had no idea we were in the middle of a bubble about to burst. Similarly, we are now in the midst of a recession and no one knows how prolonged it may be, or indeed, if we might come out of quicker than expected.
I would love to see more women in business, more women in power. I wonder if there had been more women in decision-making positions in the past decade that things might not have slipped so far in terms of the banking system, the property market, the regulator's office, the government itself. But I don't know if women go in and jostle for position in the way men do. There is that culture surrounding the male ego, and with some men feeling they have to prove themselves with the flashy car, etc. Can women be too nice to compete? When you're in business, you have to be flexibile, to see everything from all angles. It's not a game. That's why my prop is the sword – I always visualise having an imaginary sword by my side. It's light, it's flexible, it brings me confidence.
Even though it's one of the first subjects up for discussion on any Going for Growth document, I refuse to discuss that whole thing about childcare or balancing family life. The reason is that I'm not going to spend an entire morning addressing potential women entrepreneurs at a conference on that subject is because you would never have a similar conference where male entrepreneurs would discuss it. Men are very lucky. They have an ideal work/life balance. Women can become eaten up with guilt it. I believe that they have to get over that guilt, be prepared to make their sacrifices willingly and then get on with realising their ambition. It's a waste of time and energy complaining about it.
Advice like that is not something you can easily condense, but I always think of the quote my dad offers: You tend to love what you are good at, and you tend to be good at what you love. Something I'm very enthusiastic about is making lists – even the big important lists where you put your dream job at the top and then work out how to get there. Giving yourself a challenge is the big thing in life; setting and achieving goals – it's what we are all made for."
"I completed an MBA in London and stayed on working there as a management consultant. In 2006, I bumped into a friend of my father's who was talking to Blanchardstown Shopping Centre about finding a way to replace its paper voucher system with an electronic one. I knew that pre-paid credit was coming to the European market and felt that putting in a bespoke system would work.
It took a while to persuade companies with our business plan, but in the end Mastercard gave me the licence to operate. And once that happened, Blanchardstown Shopping Centre realised there was scope for the product, and so PerfectCard was born.
I think people need to see the opportunities out there. Most business ideas are not amazing, not outstanding. There's no eureka moment in most cases. It's just someone with a good idea.
When I finally got the business going the recession began to bite. The one advantage of that is you don't have the fat, you don't have the big overheads. So you adapt.
Women will always try to find a less tough way to negotiate. And a certain type of person will take advantage of that, take you for a ride. But it only has to happen to you once in a business – so you develop a necessary amount of toughness pretty quickly.
It's do-able. My husband is currently a stay-at-home dad, but while getting the business up and running, it was all juggling. We won the contract for PerfectCard Dundrum on 31 October 2007; Oscar was born on 14 December. Nearly ever relative looked after him during that first year. Now we have a daughter as well. My family is a huge support – I couldn't have done it without them. Once I got the business off its feet, the juggling became easier.
You need finance to start any business. Cash flow in the first year is one of the toughest things to cope with. So, if you are in a situation where you have to raise money, double your costs, halve your revenue, and then look for twice as much as that figure."
"Business and IT has always been my main area, providing training on a freelance basis to semi-state bodies, including Fás, and to third-level IT colleges. Liam, my husband, is a cabinet maker. He had been working with another company which went under. So we took the big decision to marry our skills after our second child was born. He's obviously the furniture expert, I do the strategic planning.
One of our strengths is that I have a lot of technical knowledge and that keeps us super-efficient in those areas. I also like to keep our website constantly updated.
Working closely with a partner can be difficult at times. While we both would have similar ideals in life, there are times when I will want to take the company in a particular direction, and so there is an awful lot of discussion, shall we say! But we always work it out in the end. I find myself talking work constantly because it's so huge a part of my life – so I make a conscious effort not to talk shop 24/7.
We have a staff of 28, 18 of whom are permanent, the remainder on contract. We had to temporarily scale back staff numbers because of the economic climate.Starting up a company is one thing, but growing it constantly is another. But there is great support out there for women. The Going for Growth programme is really fantastic. I've had men saying it sounds great, and how can they get on it. And I tell them, you have to be a woman, sorry. It's amazing – the wheel has certainly turned.
We are in one of the hardest-hit sectors because of the connection with construction. The end of last year was a worrying time and of course we were hit like everyone else. I felt there was such negativity around. I actually had to stop listening to the radio just to stay positive. When you are running a business, you need to know what's going on, but you don't need to hear every scrap of analysis about the financial world. Basically, if you focus on what your business is about, set your goals, work back from that, and just be a little more creative, you will survive.
I work in a very male-orientated industry but I find that with more women getting involved in decision-making we share a lot more, whereas perhaps with men in some cases, being in business is very much to do with their ego, and being in competition. Good communication is key, and we are so good at that. Women are also good at getting to the point, to the nub of things. Perhaps that is something to do with juggling work and family life. I almost feel as if the age of women is upon us – if that doesn't sound a terrible cliché.
My two children, age 12 and seven, came along in the middle of my deliberating on whether or not to go into business. When my youngest daughter arrived, she proved the catalyst to get the company off the ground. I really had to make the decision to commit to it. For the first couple of years I had kept my foot in the IT world while trying to grow the business as well. So I decided to put all of my energy into the one company.
If you have a good idea, believe in yourself. We started from nothing really, and we've done okay. And it's needn't be work 24/7. And never underestimate the power of word of mouth to get your business noticed."
"My first son was born prematurely and had to remain in an incubator for quite a few weeks. He was quite ill and being tube-fed. I wanted to use a soother so he could associate the sucking reflex with feeding. I has assumed at that time that all soothers were pre-sterilised.
When I discovered that you had to pop it into sterilising fluid and wait 15 minutes, it seemed like a ridiculous amount of time to wait, especially when he was so fragile. I subsequently did a search on the internet and discovered that a quick and convenient method for sterilising soothers wasn't available anywhere in the world. So I did some testing, created the product and it really took off here and in the UK. I started thinking more about the baby market – which isn't as crowded with practical products as one might think.
I focused again on the sterilisation process and while steam is fast, relatively convenient and effective, the problem with it is that it doesn't travel. Busy parents who need to travel have to basically bring another bag to transport the equipment.
That's what led me to develop what is now recognised as the world's first compact baby bottle steriliser, which does the job in 30 seconds and is portable enough to bring anywhere. It's patented in Ireland, and patent- pending in 140 countries. And it's all hugely exciting.
To develop the bottle steriliser took a lot more skill than the steri-soother. I was funded through the local enterprise board in Co Longford, got a loan to finance the development of the product, and also leaned very heavily on Athlone IT for the research. I worked with the school of science for microbial testing, and the school of engineering to build the prototype.
I still can't believe that this initial idea I had has come through all of the development stages to a final product. Seeing this on pharmacy and store shelves will be the ultimate thrill – I can't wait to see it happen.
I feel I've already been in a recession for the past five years. I gave up paid employment and have had very little income while developing these products. The cash flow isn't there – you need patent finance either from the state or investors. On the positive side, I can say that I have had unwavering support from the everyone, and also from the Going for Growth programme. Networking is essential and I can't place a high enough emphasis on learning from the experience of others in industry. It's also important to take people on board who have skills which you don't have.
Any entrepreneur, male or female, has to be very resilient, and to have the energy as well to meet the challenges. And meet the setbacks – which can be many. I think people are supporting women entrepreneurs more – but it's also up to women themselves to put themselves forward and access that support.
I don't ever get enough time. There is that element of guilt of course, but I do my absolute best and that's all anyone can do. The fact that I'm based in the innovation and research centre in college gives me a more structured day that I can work around. But you couldn't do this without having the support of a great family. And I think sometimes too, people forget to mention the husband in all of this.
Looking at some of the mistakes I've made, I would say it's really important to do the research at an early stage. I have a tendency to get stuck in, run with my idea – and I think many people in business have that tendency too. But hold back, do the research, validate the market and make sure there is a demand for the product or service you want to provide."
"A decade ago I was lecturing in management, running a consultancy, doing a number of different things, and always seemed to be up to my eyes. Then someone asked me 'what do you really want to do, Paula?' And no one had ever asked me that before. Up until then, I had spent my time either looking after other executives, or students, or family, always in a supportive capacity. I took about six months to really think about that – what did I want to do? At the end of it, I decided that my real passion is for entrepreneurship and it is an area where I could really make a difference. But I also realised it's not only about starting a business, it's about growing that business too.
Of the women who set up in business here, many of them have less of a strong aspiration for growth. And the thing is that women can become entrepreneurs at any age. There are women who set up in business in their 30s, others in their 50s. I would encourage women to look for the opportunities, especially in this recession, where a product or a service could be provided. And you can spot those opportunities to create something when you look around. When you go out to a restaurant, well someone had to set that up; you go to the theatre, and think about someone coming up with the idea for that theatre company.
Women should look at their skills and find a way to grow that into a business. And it's no longer Dublin-centric – you can run a business from anywhere in the country, especially with all the technological developments available. Being your own boss, especially for a woman, offers a level of control and independence over your life, which is both challenging and enjoyable.
You don't necessarily have to work harder in the current climate, you have to work smarter. And you have to delegate. My mission is to say to women, don't just fill diaries with appointments, but create the business in such a way that if they are sick, or want to take a holiday, that the business can still run itself when they need to be absent. You can end up working yourself to death and still not achieve an awful lot.
We have an equal number of men and women in the population, but we know that fewer women set up in business. At the moment, there are three men to every one woman setting up. Women often don't have the same confidence and self-belief as men. You also find that women look more for help than men tend to. Women entrepreneurs should not be seen as unusual, but rather as role models for other women, and to show what is possible.
It isn't as much about the work- life balance these days as you might think. The women who come to Going for Growth ask more about business issues specifically because these women have already made the decision to become entrepreneurs. Having a family shouldn't hold someone back. It's about choosing their stage in life at which they want to set up and grow a business. Raising a family also brings skills that are key in business – multi-tasking and budgeting, for example. I did an MBA when I had a two-, four- and a six-year-old. It's about choices, and there is always a way to manage.
I believe people have to get that sense of self-belief that the business they are in at the moment can be taken to the next level. If everyone takes on one more person, we have substantial growth. And if enough people in Ireland do that, it will be the way to save the entire country."
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