Friday 18 January 2019

From classroom for boardroom

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium sized businesses and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with Ollwyn Moran of Cognikids. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Sean Gallagher with Ollwyn Moran of Cognikids. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Entrepreneur and mother of two Ollwyn Moran left her full-time job as a secondary school teacher in 2014 to focus on growing her own business, Cognikids. Today the company employs three staff, has a number of global patents for its innovative range of children's nursery products, and is on target to achieve a turnover of over €400,000 this year.

"We are a child-centric company that creates fun and functional products which support the natural stages of a baby's development," explains Ollwyn, when she welcomes me to Euro Baby on Dublin's Long Mile Road, one of the many stores that now stock the company's products.

"Our range is growing all the time and currently includes five main products: Crawl, Sooth, Grip, Sip and Dip. Crawl is the very first product we developed, back in 2012. It is a type of baby grow or onesie with grips on the knee areas as well as the soles of the feet to provide added traction for babies as they begin the natural process of crawling, especially on slippery surfaces such as tiles or wooden floors.

"Sooth is an all-in-one bib and teether. Made from natural bamboo material, it is hypo allergenic, anti-bacterial and more than 60pc more absorbent than regular cotton which makes it ideal for babies during teething. Grip is a soft and flexible gripper for young babies designed to help them learn to grasp their own bottle. Made from a food safe flexible plastic, it encourages the development of the pincer grip, independent feeding and eases the transition from breast to bottle.

"Sip is a two-piece set that includes an open cup with a removable grip that is specially designed to support baby-led weaning while helping them develop their pincer grip, fine motor skills and better hand to eye co-ordination. And finally, Dip is a flat but highly sensory spoon like scoop that helps encourage independent feeding."

Aimed at children over three months, the company's products are sold through a mix of independent nursery shops and pharmacies as well as in branded outlets such as Boots and Mothercare. Exports, too, are beginning to take off and Ollwyn explains how she recently began shipping to countries including the UK, Korea and Japan. And with repeat orders already starting to come in from these regions, she sees exports as an important part of the company's future.

Ollwyn grew up in Templeogue on Dublin's Southside. She studied science in NUI Maynooth and completed a H.Dip in education in UCD and training in neuro physiological psychology in the UK. She then got a full-time job in St Mark's Secondary School in Tallaght, where she taught science, maths and biology for the next 15 years.

However, it was when her first child was born that she saw the need for specialised products.

"My first child was born prematurely and so I became very focused on ensuring he still hit all the key milestones including crawling," explains Ollwyn. "Sitting at the table one evening, I had my 'ah-ha!' moment after watching him struggle to crawl on the wooden floor in our kitchen.

"Knowing the importance of crawling for brain development, I found myself wondering why I hadn't seen any sort of kids' clothing on the market that had grips on the knees and so this became the motivation behind me developing our easy grip crawl suit," she adds.

Later, while studying part-time for her Master's in Education, she noticed a poster for a student Enterprise competition in Maynooth and decided to enter. Winning the €6,000 prize helped develop her idea from a concept to an actual design.

"At the time I had no idea what the judges were talking about when they wanted my business plan or my profit-and-loss projections. I thought they were saying PNL instead of P & L (profit and loss)," she laughs.

However, as we talk through her current business plan and her financial projections, it's clear that Ollwyn has learned much in the intervening years. But her journey was not without great effort. "My biggest challenge was learning to juggle everything, especially as a single parent," admits Ollwyn.

By then divorced and with two children to take care of, she continued to work full-time as she tried to get her business off the ground. From 8.30am to 5pm, she was either teaching or preparing material for the following day. Five to 8pm was spent exclusively with the children. From 8pm to 11pm, she studied for her Master's and only then from 11pm to 2am, did she get time to spend on developing her business.

In 2014, Ollwyn took the courageous decision to leave her job to concentrate on growing the company. A novice in the world of business, she threw herself into learning everything she needed, from product design and production management to accounting, sales, marketing and logistics. Like most entrepreneurs she made plenty of mistakes. Looking back, she now sees these more as market feedback and learning rather than mistakes.

"One of the best decisions we made was to rebrand the company from its original name Creeper Crawlers to Cognikids," says Ollwyn. "While the name seemed a great idea at first people began confusing it with the term Creepy Crawlers" she laughs. "Rebranding also allowed her expand into other developmental areas.

As she looks to the future, Ollwyn wants to continue developing her range of products as well as adding more retailers and breaking into new territories. Above all, her mission is to become the leading company in the child development space.

"We want to be the Apple of the baby sector," she adds.

To achieve her ambition, she is planning to launch a funding round to raise up to €500,000.

Setting up and running your own business is never easy. However, Ollwyn's courage in leaving her full time teaching job to pursue her dream is best summed up by the poster of an inspirational quotation that hangs on her office wall. It reads 'She believed she could, so she did.' It's the motto by which she lives and one which no doubt will continue to serve her well as her company grows and expands.

Sunday Indo Business

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