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How Winning the AIB Start-up Academy Has Impacted Martin O’Connell’s Life
In April of this year, Martin O’Connell was crowned the winner of the AIB Start-Up Academy 2016 and his life changed forever. For Martin, it’s difficult to underestimate the impact the win has had on him both professionally and personally.
If you can apply to the Academy, absolutely do. It was the best thing I ever did and it completely changed our business,” he says. “If you speak to the rest of the finalists, I’m sure they would say the same. It really was an invaluable eight weeks.”
The immediate impact of the win
Martin’s company is Nasal Medical, which produces a range of nasal filters and dilators that help with various breathing issues, from allergies to sleep apnea. The effect of the Academy win on the nascent company was instantaneous.
“The minute we won, things went crazy,” Martin explains. “I think the advertising from The Irish Times really helped. Online sales became extremely busy and have continued to increase on a daily basis.”
Despite the challenges of scaling up the business, Martin has already achieved some impressive sales figures: “We’ve sold a substantial amount of the discreet snoring aids in 500 pharmacies and we’ll be in 1000 before the end of the year,” he says. And he’s already set his sights on some big targets at home and abroad: “We’re in McCabe’s pharmacy, Health Express, Pure Pharmacy group, Horgan Group, O’Sullivan Group, McLoughlin-McSharry Group, and McCauleys, and we’re in discussions with Boots and Lloyd’s and a number of other big chains. We also hope to be selling in the UK by January or February of next year and Germany in mid-2017.”
Expanding the business
The initial success of the business has also allowed Martin to expand his workforce. “At the moment there are two of us in the company but we have two sales and marketing staff joining in October,” he says. He hopes the new hires will lighten his workload, which remains prodigious. “I don’t have any time at all,” he explains. “We have a ten-month-old baby and even getting time to see her is difficult at the moment. I often work until midnight and am up again at six. Thankfully, my wife, Marie-Louise, is very understanding and supportive. Once we take on the new employees, hopefully the pressure will be reduced.”
Martin has also seen the benefits of the prize package, with his first meeting with creative agency Rothco already bearing fruit. “We’re rebranding the filter product, which I’m delighted with, and we’re working on a new brand for people travelling on aeroplanes to block the germs carried in the recirculated air. We have a pharmacy at Dublin Airport who are going to trial it,” he says. “As a normal start-up, we’d never have access to something like that. It’s gold, because it could potentially decide whether the customer buys the product or not.”
Growing as an entrepreneur
Winning the prize has also had a hugely positive effect on Martin’s personal profile and he has a whole range of exciting projects planned for the months ahead. “At the end of September, I’m taking part in the Pipeline Innovators Summit,” he says. “It’s a program where entrepreneurs and mentors from the US are matched with Irish counterparts to exchange ideas over three days. I’m also presenting at the MedTec Ireland event in Galway in October which I’m looking forward to.”
Martin moved into new premises in the Guinness Enterprise Centre in May, and he sees it as the perfect environment for Nasal Medical to expand and grow as a business. “There are 180 companies in here, all with the same mindset and a lot of them are doing really well,” he says. “We still have to go through patenting in every country and there’s a lot of work involved with it. Eamon Sayers who runs the Centre along with Dublin BIC, has helped me with various issues I come across on a weekly basis, and Michael Culligan and the staff at Dublin BIC have also been an enormous help to my company”
Martin hasn’t stopped innovating in terms of his product line and has some exciting plans for the future of the company. “We’re in talks with the Royal College of Surgeons and Trinity College Dublin about rolling out a new product,” he explains. “We’ll also go back to the original idea for the product, which was an anti-TB device for cattle. That will probably manifest a couple of years down the road, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”
Applying to the AIB Start-up Academy
Martin also continues to stay in touch with his fellow Academy finalists. “One of the other finalists actually set up a WhatsApp group between us all, so any updates we have, we can share there,” he says. “And there’s always some news every couple of days. It’s great to be able to keep in touch and I’ve met up with some of them at industry events since too.”
And if you’re thinking of applying for this year’s Academy, Martin would highly recommend it. “I’m getting calls from serious companies, globally. The amount of calls and emails I get on a daily basis about the product,
from all over the world, is just amazing,” he says. “Every single entrepreneur in the country should do it. If you get down to the final eleven, I think your company has a very good chance of succeeding long-term.”
Learn More about Growing Your Business
The AIB Start-up Academy will see several new companies compete for the chance to win a comprehensive prize package to develop their business. Thinking of applying for next year’s Academy? You can find out more at the Academy homepage, in The Irish Times, or @AIBBiz.
Please be aware that all of the views expressed in this Blog are purely the personal views of the authors and commentators (including those working for AIB as members of the AIB website team or in any other capacity) and are based on their personal experiences and knowledge at the time of writing.
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