Saturday 20 July 2019

'Doing business internationally has been the real challenge'

My Bright Idea

Ronan Clarke pictured with Siobhan O’Connor of office products distributor Spicers
Ronan Clarke pictured with Siobhan O’Connor of office products distributor Spicers

RONAN Clarke spotted an opportunity while running a construction business during the boom, completing office refurbish-ments. A customer wanted to fit out entire rooms with whiteboards, but there was no visually pleasing option available. The 31-year-old Wicklow man found a solution and now his business Smart Wall Paint sells innovative wall solutions to 30 countries. He spoke to Sarah McCabe:

"The only thing on the market when I first started looking into it was a kind of wallpaper that you can use as a whiteboard. But that was really dependent on the surface underneath. There must be some way to do this with a paint, I thought.

"It took three years of research and development, but eventually we came up with the right formula. Our coating turns any surface – walls, floors, whatever – into a whiteboard. It's a simple tool that turns an ordinary surface into a productive one. We have two types available: white, and transparent, so you can still use the surface underneath – you might paint it over a map, for example. We have five more products in development.

"We launched in 2012 and, two years later, Smart Wall Paint is available in 20 countries with 25 distributors. We also sell through our website.

"Customers range from families, schools and small businesses to multinationals like Coca-Cola and Google. SAP in City West in Dublin have huge swathes of walls and floors coated in our product. It changes the tone of an office, making it really engaging.

"We're based in Rathgar in Dublin and now have about 23 staff. We're expecting revenues to jump about 150pc this year and have just won the European Office Product of the Year Award.

"Sourcing funding to get the business up and running was reasonably easy. We were placed on Enterprise Ireland's High Potential Start Up programme and received an investment as part of that, and will be moving up to their next level soon. We also got a significant injection of private equity financing. The banks gave us help too; Bank of Ireland have been very good to us, and I wouldn't be one to talk up banks.

"Doing business internationally has been the real challenge. We recently exhibited in Russia, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Culturally it's fascinating, but the language barrier isdifficult. The Middle East is a very interesting market though – one we are really pursuing.

"Research and development is very challenging too; there have been so many times we thought a product just wouldn't happen."

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