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30 December 2016

AIB Start-up Academy: 2016 in Review

Posted By: AIB Business

The AIB Start-up Academy had its biggest year to date in 2016. The standard of entrants was higher than ever, and a hard-fought contest culminated in a win for Martin O’Connell’s company Nasal Medical. As the shortlist for the AIB Start-up Academy 2017 is announced, we look back at some of the most memorable moments from this year’s edition.

With a prize worth €250,000 up for grabs, the race to be a part of the AIB Start-up Academy was fiercer than ever in 2016. After the Academy roadshow had travelled across the country dispensing advice and listening to new business ideas, almost 400 Irish Start-ups applied for their place in the most coveted business competition in the country. Judges from the Irish Times and AIB pored over the candidates’ pitch decks and in late January decided on a 22-strong longlist. The companies on the longlist included food producers, travel and sports companies, and innovative apps. One thing was clear: the competition was about to go up a notch. 

The Competition Takes Shape

In February, each of the longlist candidates faced 15 minutes of fear, as they pitched their businesses to the judging panel. The pitching session - which consisted of a five-minute elevator pitch and a grilling from the judges - took place at the Irish Times’ offices in Dublin. The candidates did have a friendly face on hand though -  2015 Start-up Academy winner Fabien Peyaud - who came along on the day to offer some support and words of wisdom.

After a day of laughter, nerves, and some brilliant business ideas, the 10-company shortlist for the 2016 Start-up Academy was announced. With an exciting list of candidates including healthy meal delivery service Dropchef, packaging company Buska Ltd, and Cork-based spice purveyors Rebel Chilli, it was obvious that the competition was going to be hotter than ever this year. The line-up for the final was completed with the addition of wildcard pick Topper Technologies, who won over the voting audience on Twitter.

Class is in Session

In early March, the Academy finalists convened at the Irish Times’ offices for their first Academy module. Over the next eight weeks they would undergo a series of challenges as the expert mentors helped them shape their nascent business ideas and gave them the skills to realise their full potential. From E-Commerce with Vinny O’Brien to Networking with Lisa Hughes and Social Media with Felicity McCarthy, our Academy finalists were provided with the perfect toolkit to survive in today’s competitive business environment.

Johnny Ryan’s Design Thinking module, which kicked off the course, supplied an essential mantra for this year’s candidates: know your customer. “It’s not focusing on what you want to produce, it’s focusing on what the user needs,” Ryan told us. “You have to keep on addressing the real problem that the consumer has, and keep in contact with the consumer so that you’re constantly putting them first.”

The Final Countdown

Martin O'Connell, of Nasal Medical, 2016 AIB Start-up Academy winner


On April 28th, our Start-ups arrived at their moment of truth, when the Academy final was held in The Sugar Club in Dublin. As well as a great presentation, the judges on the night were on the lookout for a business with a truly unique selling point that demonstrated good potential for growth. 

After a nerve-wracking night, there were jubilant scenes as Martin O’Connell was crowned a worthy winner for his company Nasal Medical, which produces a nasal filter that helps sufferers of allergies, snoring and sleep apnea. Martin narrowly beat out Lucinda Kelly of Popertee and Peter Mulryan’s Blackwater Distillery, who finished in second and third.

Speaking about his win, Start-up Academy judge Aisling Blake praised Martin’s unique product. “For me, Nasal Medical was the winner because their product answers a real need for such a large section of the population,” she said. “It’s a unique product, not easy to replicate, and they’ve gone through the rigour of clinical trials so it’s a viable product to grow into a really successful business.” 

Life After the Academy

Martin O’Connell, Nasal Medical


In October, we caught up with Martin to find out how the win had impacted on him and his business. He explained that he’d already achieved some substantial success, with his product well on its way to being offered in 1,000 pharmacies around Ireland. And he’d set his sights on some even bigger targets in the future, with plans to bring Nasal Medical’s products to the UK and Europe in 2017.

Martin also revealed that the members of the Academy had set-up a WhatsApp group to keep each other updated on their progress since the final. “There’s always some news every couple of days,” he said. “It’s great to be able to keep in touch and I’ve met up with some of them at industry events since too.”

When asked for his advice for future entrants, Martin echoed a sentiment we’d heard from our Start-up finalists time and again over the course of the year. “Think about the customer first,” he said. “Find out if this is a product they actually need and want and then develop it from there. Once you’ve cracked that, then apply to the AIB Start-up Academy!”

Keep up to Date on the AIB Start-Up Academy 2017

We’ll be providing regular updates as the race for the AIB Start-up Academy 2017 takes shape. Stay up to date on @AIBBiz and our Facebook page.


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