An event has been held in Rathdowney to celebrate the completion of the INSPIRE programme to help business development and job creation in the south Laois town.
INSPIRE Rathdowney was a collaborative project between Laois County Council, the Institute of Technology in Carlow, Laois Local Enterprise Office and Laois Partnership.
Funded under the Rural Economic Development Zone (REDZ) Pilot Initiative, the INSPIRE Rathdowney project aimed to provide targeted intervention to assist innovators, entrepreneurs, SMEs and people with experiential learning to develop their skills and abilities with a view to boosting the Region’s growth and competitiveness.
The organisers say the programme was a huge success. A special event was organised on Wednesday 1st March to recognise the efforts of the 32 businesses that took part and those who facilitated the project. Certificates were awarded by IT Carlow to 17 participants at the closing event.
Speaking at the event were An Cathaoirleach Tom Mulhall, M.C.C, Chief Executive John Mulholland, Vice President of IT Carlow, Declan Doyle and Director of Services Kieran Kehoe.
Cllr Mulhall commended the participants.
"It is a great achievement for each one of you and something that I hope will serve to strengthen and develop your individual businesses," he said.
Declan Doyle, Vice President of IT Carlow acknowledged the success of the project where 40 individuals representing 32 businesses had signed up.
"INSPIRE Rathdowney has shown what can be achieved when this support is made available through the partnership approach of the 4 agencies working together," he said.
Echoing this, John Mulholland, Chief Executive of Laois County Council recognised the achievement of the creation of new businesses and jobs in the area.
"Supporting enterprises at local level throughout the County is important to the development of Laois," he said.
The Project was overseen throughout the 10 months by the Programme Coordinator Liz Kennedy and Kieran Kehoe, Director of Services who took the opportunity to acknowledge Liz’s dedication to making the programme as successful as it was. Furthermore, Mr Kehoe recognised the strong role that IT Carlow mentors had played in the programme.
A keynote address was given by Kelly Ging of Kelly Lou Cakes, Regional Winner of IBYE and a Finalist in the National Competition that was held in Google Headquarters earlier this month.
Kelly spoke about the challenges of setting up a business and how many girls ask their Daddies for a pony, whereas she asked her Daddy for a shop, which she set up herself in a corner of the family’s hardware business in Portlaoise! The business has grown from strength to strength and now includes ‘Gloria’ – ‘our mobile unit that we use at festivals, weddings and corporate events’. Having received support from both Laois Partnership and Laois LEO, Kelly recognised the importance of local business availing of all the support that is on offer.
Brian Ogilvie, Research and Commercialisation Manager with IT Carlow presented Special Awards to 6 participants of the programme in recognition of individual achievements:
Best New Product, Seven Acres to Rachel Hardiman and Susan Maxwell
Best New Service, Experiencing Laois to Trudy Earls
Best Business Development, to Nicola Smeaton Make-Up Artist
Best Community Engagement, Connell Breslin, Supervalu Rathdowney
Best Network Engagement, OSE O’Shea Engineering to T.J. O’Shea
Best Technology Proposal, WEBO Ltd to Eamon Bowe
All support and training took place in the Rathdowney Youth Cafe. Project co-ordinator, Liz Kennedy stated that locally provided help was important.
"A key factor in the success of the programme was that the participants were able to receive all the mentoring, support and training locally in Rathdowney," she said.
Anne Goodwin, Laois Partnership agreed saying the involvement of IT help on the ground made a big differance.
"Access to experts from IT Carlow at local level in Rathdowney was critical to the success of this project," she said. #
At the event, Evelyn Reddin, Laois Local Enterprise Office believed the project could be replicated to other parts of the county.
"More initiatives like Inspire Rathdowney will help make Laois businesses stand out and succeed in a competitive environment," she said.
A showcase of businesses products and services took place after the awards ceremony and at this participant Connell Breslin, SuperValu Rathdowney praised the project.
"The programme was first class – it really allowed me to further my idea in a structured fashion and by the way deadlines were set, the whole process allowed me access and feedback to experts within the industry," he said.
Nicola Smeaton Make-up Artist added that it has helped her confidence grow.
"Participating in INSPIRE Rathdowney has given me the confidence to be more proactive marketing my business and looking for more clients," she said.
The majority of participants enjoyed the programme, echoed through Anne Marie Cannon of Unity Health’s sentiments.
"Thank you all very much, it was a great pleasure and I feel I am set up now to succeed into the future," she said.
Peadar Casey was mentor for the project and is Enterprise Development Officer at IT Carlow.
"For entrepreneurship to work it needs a good combination of focus, discipline and freedom and I believe INSPIRE Rathdowney offered that culture," he said.
In addition to mentoring and training, participants also developed their own websites, Facebook pages, pull-ups for promotional purposes and videos as part of INSPIRE Rathdowney.
A number of participants have also successfully obtained Enterprise Ireland Innovation Vouchers and are currently using these and are working with IT Carlow enterprise and design experts to develop their businesses further.
Members of INSPIRE Rathdowney now plan to form a group and network amongst themselves while linking into Laois County Council’s Business Support Unit and Laois Partnership.