Northern Ireland - Fermanagh and Omagh District Council
Fermanagh and Omagh District Council have provided mentoring schemes for approximately the last 6 years. These have taken a range of formats – schemes designed to address a range of issues within businesses. In outline these have been as follows
Survive and Thrive
This programme provided mentoring support to businesses who were operating in challenging economic climates and who might have found themselves in crisis without some external support. Within this project which last two years, assistance was given 118 companies and enabled a significant number of businesses to sustain themselves and their employees, finding cost efficiencies.
This mentoring programme delivered mentoring to 100+ businesses who were engaged in Innovation across a range of business sectors
This programme assisted 80 businesses across 2 District Council areas which needed assistance in their Sales and Marketing approached.
Profit through Procurement
Aimed at improving businesses engagement in procurement activities in the public sector, this mentoring programme aimed to assist 40 businesses achieve a greater level of success in winning tenders.
Grow and Prosper
This programme of assistance provided 30+ businesses with assistance, these businesses having been identified as having the capacity to grow either through increased turnover or employment capacity.
Survive and Thrive II
This second incarnation of Survive and Thrive assisted 60+ businesses whice required support through the continuing economic difficulties that were prevalent at the time.
It was as a result of the cumulative success of these various interventions that we became involved in the GREBE project which aimed to support businesses in the Renewable Energy sector.
Mentoring, as understood within the GREBE project could best be defined as the provision of external expertise to enhance the services that the business owner provides. Mentors are not there to dictate in any way how the business is run. They are often there to address a specific issue within the business. This means that in order for the relationship between the business and the mentor to work to the best advantage, a degree of thought must go into the matching process. The relationship should respect the knowledge of each party and be adding value to the mentee. In some instances mentoring can provide benefit to both parties and is on occasions provided free of charge. It can sometimes be differentiated from coaching, which is almost always a paid service. However, in the context of GREBE, mentoring services are paid for and facilitated by a third party.
So what are the issues that each region needs to consider in the roll-out of the Entrepreneur Enabler Scheme (EES)?
Existing Capacity within the Region
Each region has a slightly different approach to business support and a different understanding of the concept of mentorship. Add to this a variety of levels of development of networks of appropriate and affordable providers of mentoring and it is apparent that we need to establish a suitable approach to implement across the region. This will address the diversity in approach whilst at the same time ensuring a standard level of consistency which should ensure that the sectoral needs are met and a gold standard is achieved.
Within the GREBE project there are a variety of approaches to procurement – due to the variety of organisations. Whilst the approach we take needs to have regard to internal and EU procurement regulations, it is imperative that we have a consistently high standard in how this is done. This should ensure that there is uniformity in how our SMEs are able to access the assistance that the project makes available to them.
Operating, as we all do, in a dynamic environment, where policy constantly evolves, it is important that we take account of how this impacts on what we are doing and what we hope to do. Whilst policy impacts on the EES in relation to the support that is available through other channels, the support through GREBE should be consistent across the NPA region.
Company Profiles (EES Northern Ireland - Fermanagh and Omagh District Council)
Alternative Energy is a supplier of Solar PV panels, LED lighting solutions and Biomass. Their involvement in GREBE was predicated upon the need to concentrate their efforts in their chosen markets on the ROI in response to the contracting opportunities presenting in their traditional client base, as a consequence of the reduction in ROCs. The business requested assistance to make a planned marketing campaign to extend the amount of work they were achieving in ROI and a specialist marketing mentor was appointed to them.
It was agreed that the key target for the activity was builders and contractors in the ROI. The offering is a full set of panels and fixtures required to install a full solar PV system on a new build, with the intention being that the builders install the system with full training being provided. The Building Code in ROI requires builders to ensure that energy efficiency is maximised, so Alternative Energy spotted the opportunity presented by this and with the help of their mentor a marketing and sales plan was formulated to attack this market opportunity.
The outcome of this was a geographically focussed Mailchimp campaign which allowed for the initial work to be followed up by targeted activity by the Sales staff. This process has been on-going since early July and has been achieving an average opening rate of 27% per campaign.
This small business, based in Enniskillen, is currently engaged in Biogas Renewable Energy through its work with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and was keen to examine how they could extend their involvement. They identified two possible routes that they were keen to explore further and felt that bringing in some technical expertise would enable them to examine their options more fully and make an informed decision. From a strong engineering background, the business owners had identified:
- The use of anaerobic digestion to generate renewable energy from the waste arisings
- Becoming involved in sustainable housing development
Internally the company believed they had a range of skills that would be useful in this area, but required additional external expertise to focus them on reaching a decision about their future direction.
After initial consultation, a mentor was appointed with a view to assisting the company to make some choices based on sound business information and judgement. This mentor undertook some research into passive housing and its commercial viability. This involved meeting with another expert and feeding back to the client. Jointly the mentor and the client decided to invite the support of a mentor whose background is as an expert in AD. This has been facilitated and the work is ongoing. The two mentors will work with the client as they move forward with a view to bringing the client to a position where they can make decisions about the viability of their proposed scheme and how the scheme can be financed. It is interesting that often a client company requires input from more than one mentor, as the needs of businesses are often diverse.
This business was established in 2012 and has developed a biomass ovoid nugget which burns as a smokeless fuel. The plant has been developed to the point where they have a 4000 tonne capacity per annum. Having made a high level of investment in the plant and in research and development, the business now seeks to take advantage of new legislation pending in ROI banning the use of smoke producing fuels which comes into force in January 2017. As a small business, their efforts have been focussed on the development of the product and they came to GREBE to get help with the next stage of the business development which will centre on identifying a customer base for the wholesale market. The owner had been in communication with one potential customer and was initially nervous of signing away too much of his new product and his right to deal with other customers. A mentor was assigned to the company, whose expertise is in the area of sales and identifying leads for the business. Following initial meetings with the client and the some desk based research, the mentor and client agreed an approach which involved additional work for them both. The company needed to focus on the material which they need in order to launch a professional marketing campaign – development of professional brochure and a web presence and the mentor to focus on establishing a marketing plan with which to target potential clients. The mentor also undertook a competitor analysis in order to identify the market and where the client’s product would sit within it. In addition the mentor undertook to look at funding sources.
This family based engineering business based in Carrickmore, Co Tyrone specialises in large scale equipment to the waste and recycling sectors. Their mobile and static installations are custom built to meet the needs of the client in terms of location and processes. They came to the GREBE project with the stated aim of trying to identify what possibilities existed for their product in the Renewable Energy sector. They felt certain that there were applications within the RE sector that could be met by their engineering solutions but needed assistance to identify the possible market opportunities.
Following discussion with the businesses a mentor was appointed whose area of expertise is in manufacturing solutions and market research. Together with the client, the mentor discussed the current and potential applications of their products and what research was required. The mentor undertook research into the market opportunities available with the various sectors of the waste industry). Following this intervention, the client company has identified new market opportunities for the business to follow up, and complementary marketing strategies to develop supporting these opportunities. The mentor is reviewing this information and may well be assigned for further action with the client – should this be what they decide is needed.
This company specialised in the provision of advice, installation and servicing of Biomass Boilers and were aware of the potentially devastating effect of the removal of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) on their business model. They expressed an interest in the GREBE project with their stated aim of trying to ensure the survival of the business faced with this change in policy direction. A mentor was appointed who initially addressed some issues around preparation for a MCS audit and non-conformances. This led to the business looking at introducing a new Quality Management System and also examining potential new business opportunities. The mentor also assisted the business to address upcoming changes in the Renewable Energy Consumer Code and preparation for an audit against the standards. As a result of the sudden stopping of the RHI, the company has taken this opportunity to examine a range of issues that may well have been taking a back seat. These have been around compliance issues and have afforded the company a chance to examine the business potential in certification and health and safety issues. They have been able to maintain a level of commercial activity which will sustain them as they move forward.
Hawkes Transport had developed an idea of utilising paper mill ash to manufacture a product. The business were already in possession of a waste brokering licence for a range of waste codes, and his work activity includes transporting waste and other materials as well as operation of a ready-mix batching plant. The concept proposed is the development of large ‘Lego-style’ blocks for use in retaining walls and temporary structural dividers – a clever concept to bring all aspects of the business together. The business owner had undertaken initial research activity to suggest that this was a viable proposition and had approached Invest NI for support. His requirement within GREBE was to access support to work through the complicated NIEA (Northern Ireland Environmental Agency) processes to attain licences for the reprocessing of the material.
The assignment involved the mentor working with the business to establish what, if any additional licences were required to undertake an R&D project, and establish a planned approach to the project including appropriate risk assessments and other requirements of the potential funders. A road map was developed, working with others engaged in this type of work, to allow an R&D application to be made, including identification of key competitors, USP of the product and headline financial data. In addition, they worked on detailing the people resources that would be required to undertake the R&D project. The mentor then assisted the business to prepare a business plan and financial projections to assist with an application for Rural Development Programme funding. At the end of the intervention, she has left the business with the narrative of the business plan in line with the requirements of the Rural Development Programme along with the financial projections covering all aspects of the proposal.
Based in Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh, Irvinestown Trustee Enterprise Company Ltd (ITEC) and founded as a non-profit company in 1992, this social economy business was established to increased economic development and employment opportunities for its catchment area. It has established a range of community led regeneration initiatives which have led to some 200 jobs being created across 25 businesses ranging through manufacturing, retail and service activities. ITEC has relied heavily on a voluntary board of directors, representing a pool of ‘voluntary expertise’ and whilst they have leveraged significant external funding, they remain strongly rooted in the need to be sustainable beyond the limitations of the funding. Prior to engaging with GREBE, they had been investigating the possibility of delivering a project designed to bring Biogas to the area for the benefit of the neighbourhood in which they operate. The company had already had a feasibility study undertaken and were preparing to take the process to funders. They expressed an interest in accessing assistance to move the project forward. After discussion with the project lead, it was agreed that they needed assistance with preparing for a major meeting with funders. A mentor was duly appointed and provided assistance to the project lead in preparing a presentation for the funders – including coaching the client a little in how to make the presentation and how to field potential questions that might follow the presentation. The meeting with the funders went ahead, although it happened after the UK had voted to leave the EU. This tempered the meeting and the outcomes a little and a decision has been delayed until the some decisions have been taken regarding how the impact of the vote will be felt within the programmes affected.
Describing themselves as ‘Northern Ireland’s premier Renewable Energy installation Specialists, KES Energi became involved with the GREBE project to specifically drive forward the production of their Biomass Energi Cabins. This involved the establishment of a production facility in Omagh, to produce these purpose built cabins were a solution to house energy-efficient biomass wood-burning boilers in bespoke surroundings. The offering is of two separate types of Biomass Energi Cabins, the i-Line Energi cabin(metal) and the K-Line (wood), which would house ETA biomass boilers. The cabins would be purpose built and site specific, allowing the maximum benefit to be extracted for the customer needs in relation to heating and space requirements.
The mentor was appointed to the company to allow them to develop the required business planning and market development to bring this project to fruition. The mentor explored opportunities for the business to secure external funding assistance from Invest NI, Intertrade Ireland – Acumen programme. He also involved himself in market analysis on behalf of the company in light of the removal of the RHI scheme in Northern Ireland.
McCrea Services Limited is a firm whose roots were based in firmly in the Electrical Contracting business, but who had over a number of years developed a significant line of business in Solar PV panel sales and installation. They approached the GREBE project with the stated aim of getting assistance in sales and mentoring with a view to improving the business development opportunities. Their business split was about 60/40 in favour of contracting versus solar PV and they were keen to address a number of issues in terms of how to shift this ratio. A mentor was appointed to them whose area of expertise included marketing and market penetration. This assignment happened quite quickly and was responsive to the identified needs of the business. The mentor and business meetings over 11 sessions took place in the space of less than 8 weeks and the remaining session was help in reserve to pick up anything that might arise after the implementation of the new approach had taken place. There were high hopes for this intervention and the business reported that the mentoring had a brought a new enthusiasm to the work that was being looked at – a new financing option for the business which promised to increase the attractiveness of the offer. However, following the planned reduction in ROCs, the offering has become a harder sell than it was, and the policy framework will make it ever harder. Happily the business has experienced a significant up-turn in the electrical contracting end of the business which has more than compensated for the contraction of the Solar PV market in Northern Ireland. They have indicated however, that should the incentive scheme for ROI come on line, they are ready and keen to implement their new financing model in that market and hope that it will be as useful as they anticipate.
Moffitt and Robinson
Moffitt and Robinson was established in 1982 as a partnership by William Moffitt and Keith Robinson. Due to the success of the partnership the company rapidly expanded to become a Limited Company in 2007. Undertaking all types of construction projects including new build properties utilising “The Fabric First Approach”, commercial premises, energy efficiency retrofit, PassiveHaus and Energy efficiency building consultants and a full range of building services.
Moffitt and Robinson Construction Ltd were consultants and builders of Northern Ireland’s FIRST Certified Passive Dwelling and the FIRST Certified Passive Commercial Building, and now they offer Consultancy and Construction services to all builds and retrofits that aspire to be energy efficient buildings. Their current workforce is made up of Certified Passive House Tradesmen.
The company has been involved in all aspects of construction but in more recent years the business made a decision to concentrate on offering Energy Efficient measures to all their customers.
The business owners came onto the GREBE project in order to grow their business through development of the office based team, so that the owners were freed up to undertake more promotional activity on the energy efficiency side of things. Initially a mentor was appointed to undertake some business planning with them including working on cashflow management. The mentor undertook a number of sessions looking at business profitability and cashflow which the business owners found useful. A further number of sessions were facilitated by a different mentor who looked at issues around Health and Safety compliance and identified a suitable IT package which would assist the business to manage this in a more efficient manner. In addition this mentor assisted the business to look at a couple of different sources for funding assistance – through Invest NI and Intertrade Ireland. The business will require additional assistance in order to complete this process – assistance that we will seek to provide through direct help from within the Economic Development budget of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.
Rowe Energy began a project for a 200kW AD plant in 2015 and agreement with funders to finance the project had been almost finalised when the mentoring commenced. However, the funders needed some clarification on some aspects of the planning issues in order to release the funding. A planning Consultant was identified by the mentor, briefed on the project and a letter of comfort was drawn up to address the funder’s issues with the planning issues. Then a review of Heads of terms document between Rowe Energy and funders was completed by the mentor.
At this stage, it was decided that it would be prudent to accurately assess feedstock cost and efficiency for when the plant becomes operational. A spreadsheet was then completed to cost alternative sources of feedstock to achieve the most cost effective blend using local waste products as well as the Silage and slurry from the farm.
The next phase of the mentoring was to carry out feasibility studies into potential projects to utilise both the heat and electrical energy from the AD plant as well as the digestate from the plant.
Feasibility studies were then completed into the following potential projects.
1. Utilise the heat from the AD plant to develop a horticultural business. This study identified Capital costs and researched the most profitable crops to grow.
2. Utilise the heat from the AD plant to develop a Laundry Business. Market research was completed to identify the size of this market within NI. Capital costs and product costings were completed as part of this feasibility study.
3. Production of an organic fertilizer using the digestate from the AD plant. This process involved utilising the electricity and heat from the AD plant to dry the digestate and then pelletise it into a product suitable for sale in the horticultural retail sector. Capital, running costs, product costings and profitabilities were completed for this study.
4. Utilisation of new AD technology to run on Slurry only. Research into the Capital costs for this new technology was completed and then 10 and 15 year P & L spread sheets was drawn up for this potential project.
5. Research into the bottling and transportation of Biogas produced by AD plants. This included the processes of scrubbing, compression and bottling of the Biogas.
Winters Renewables was founded in 2010 when willow was planted throughout the family farm. Initially the business was growing and supplying willow wood chip to local businesses and local government facilities. Since 2010 Winters Renewables has evolved into one of the leading suppliers of Woodchip, Biomass boiler systems and maintenance of these systems throughout the Island of Ireland marketing their products as integrated ‘Biomass heating solutions’. Winters Renewables has developed a comprehensive range of in house services and facilities in the Biomass sector. These include the Ny Vraa willow harvesting system, a woodchip drying system, a woodchip screening system and woodchip storage facilities. These facilities ensure a top quality wood chip product in compliance with g30 specification and a consistent moisture content between 15 – 20%. Winters Renewables now provides a Tree Clearance service for Farms, building sites and plantations.
Over the last 5 years Winters Renewables has also diversified into the production of Renewable Electricity by installing both a wind turbine (250kw) and an Anaerobic Digestion Plant (500kw) on site.
Winters Renewables sought the assistance of the GREBE programme to achieve a number of objectives as follows:
To carry out a detailed analysis of operational procedures, production cost and sustainability of the main feedstocks for the plant in the west Tyrone climate concentrating on grass silage and whole crop silage crops. They wanted to optimise the feedstock blend in terms of Biogas production and cost per cubic metre of Biogas for the AD plant dependent on the seasonal availability, price and ‘digestibility’ of a range of local ingredients. In addition they wanted to devise a new marketing strategy for the business relative to demand for Biomass products and potential new tariffs in ROI for Biomass Energy and upgrade the website content imagery and layout to reflect the new marketing strategy for the business and to focus on the new products in the Biomass sector such as Plantation Clearance, Organic Animal bedding and fire kindling. The mentor was also charged with the co-ordination of the waste licence application to allow additional waste types from outside the farm to be accepted at the AD plant.
Completion of these objectives has ensured that the business has consolidated performance in the AD enterprise through optimising feedstock blend and minimising feedstock cost. Also the business has now repositioned itself to develop and grow its range of Biomass products.