THE trend over recent years has seen many young people leave Ireland in search of work or a better life abroad. This week's story is different.
It is the inspiring story of how one young woman – Roz Martin – returned to Ireland and, because she couldn't find a job, she decided instead to create one for herself and so started her own business.
Just one year later, Roz has recently signed an exclusive deal with a distributor in the Middle East which she expects will generate more than €1m in turnover for her new venture over the next three years.
MedColl is an innovative range of nutri-cosmetics, a branch of cosmetics that uses only natural-based ingredients. Taken on a daily basis in capsule format, they promote positive biological effects on the skin.
The range includes three different products. The first is targeted at women between the ages of 30 and 40, the second at women who are over 50 or post-menopausal and there's even a product range specifically created for men.
With a myriad skin care products on the market, what's different about MedColl?
"Our products actually work at a cellular level – from the inside out. So in that way, they have a greater impact than if you were to simply apply treatments on the outer skin," Roz explains.
"They work by improving the appearance of the skin and help prevent against ageing by boosting the natural levels of collagen within the skin, by boosting the skin's hydration and by helping to fight the free radicals that cause premature ageing.
"They're also a natural alternative to Botox and other pharmaceutical-based anti-ageing products and a more attractive option for many woman than choosing to have invasive procedures such as derma-fillers or surgical options such as face lifts," she adds.
Although a relatively new industry, the global market for nutri-cosmetics is projected to be worth almost $5bn annually by the end of 2017. Markets where the sector is strong include Japan, China and South Korea, the Middle East and Europe. While the US and Latin American markets have, until recently, been slow to take off, they too are now expanding.
Although Roz has focused on the export market, and the UK, Portugal and the United Arab Emirates in particular, she is pleasantly surprised at how well her products are selling in Ireland. Through her distributors Calco and Wholefoods, she has already signed up more than 250 pharmacies and 50 health food stores throughout the country.
Roz Martin's strategy has largely been based on an outsourcing business model where production and packaging is carried out in Ireland under an Irish Medicines Board licence and approved by the Food Standards Authority of Ireland.
"This allows me to focus on the core business of growing sales and driving revenues," emphasises Roz.
She has been careful to protect her intellectual property and her international patent pending status, when fully approved, will help provide against copycat and me-too products.
Roz Martin grew up in Dublin. She qualified, initially, with a degree in food science, nutrition and management from the Dublin Institute of Technology at Cathal Brugha Street. Soon after, she completed a second degree in business studies at Preston University in the UK. Today she is preparing to undertake a PhD in the area of collagens from University College, Dublin.
After college, Roz spent the next eight years working in the pharmaceutical industry in the UK before being headhunted by pharma giant Johnson & Johnson to take up a position in its bio-tech division in the United Arab Emirates.
There, she divided her time between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, working as a medical account manager and specialising in the areas of dermatology, oncology and female health. Despite studying Arabic at night school in an effort to advance her career, she came to the realisation that there were very few long-term prospects for her there.
"Of the 250 staff in my division, I was the only Westerner as well as the only female," she explains.
She decided it was time to start looking at coming home to Ireland.
At the same time, she began to research other sectors where she could leverage both her previous experience as well as her personal passion for aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. Her research on healthy ageing drew her increasingly towards natural-based treatments and nutritional supplements rather than quick-fix surgical-type procedures. She began working with a number of anti-ageing compound pharmacists to develop a natural nutri-cosmetic compound that would help support the structure and collagen of a person's skin.
"It wasn't just about finding a product for me," she explains. "It was more like a philosophy of life that I was embracing".
In 2012, having been away from Ireland for 13 years, Roz made the decision to finally return home. But settling back home would turn out to be much harder than she had anticipated.
"I always had the idea of starting my own business but the first thing I needed then was a job, but I just couldn't find one. It was hugely disheartening," she says.
Undefeated though, she decided that if she couldn't find a job, then she would be the impetus she needed to create one for herself and start her own company. She immediately began to turn her attention to the one area she loved and where she thought there would be a growing market – nutri-cosmetics.
She was fortunate that she had already started working on a number of new anti-ageing products and formulations but knew that these needed to be rigorously tested before they could be launched onto the market.
"Proof of efficacy is everything in this business," insists Roz. "And to achieve that we had to complete comprehensive scientific and evidence-based clinical trials to show that our product worked," she adds.
The process would take both time and money. While she had plenty of the former, she had little of the latter. Having been out of the country for so long, she had no credit rating and as a result didn't qualify for even a small start-up loan from the bank.
"It was absolutely soul-destroying. I was constantly worrying about finances," she admits.
Moving back in with her parents, who were now living outside Mullingar, Roz courageously decided to invest every cent of her savings to get the business off the ground.
Further help came in the form of Innovation Vouchers from Enterprise Ireland which she was able to use to employ the services of the Conway Institute at UCD to test her new products.
She was now on her way.
Her first real break came when a national distributor who had heard about her company in the media contacted her and invited her to a meeting in his offices. He loved the product so much that he immediately placed an order for 300 units.
After the meeting, the distributor insisted on walking her to out her car in order to see her off. One problem: Roz didn't have a car – she couldn't afford one and had arrived on the bus.
She quickly made an excuse about having mistakenly parked the car at a different building and made her escape.
"I cried with delight all the way to the nearest bus stop before ringing my parents to tell them the good news," she says. "And that distributor has been a great support to me ever since," she adds.
Roz is quick to acknowledge those who have helped her to date, including Enterprise Ireland and its overseas office staff, her distributors, as well as Associated Marketing Ltd who have helped her break into new markets.
And she brims with praise for her own staff.
"We are trying to build both a brand and a business at the same time and although we are a small team, we are all progressive, positive and essentially entrepreneurial in our mindset. Being surrounded by positive people is so important," she insists.
While turnover will reach €300,000 this year, she is confident that this will grow to over €3m over the next three years.
What about her plans for the future?
"I want to continue to expand the market for our current products as well as developing a portfolio of new products such as skin lightening therapies for the Far East markets and products for joint care and injury treatment," she explains.
She sees the US market as having huge potential and will definitely be looking for an agent there in the near future.
In addition, she is preparing to meet private investors whom she hopes will be in a position to help her fund the next phase of the company's growth.
Roz Martin's experience, together with her qualifications in food and nutrition, as well as in business, have equipped her well for the challenges of starting and growing her own business.
However, it is her genuine passion for, and commitment to positive ageing, wellness and in particular, natural-based health and beauty products, that has really driven her success to date.
She has also been strategic in her approach by first ensuring that her products were properly tested and that her marketing claims were scientific and evidence-based. Similarly, she has used her limited financial and staff resources wisely by adopting a predominantly outsourced model which allows her and her staff focus their time predominantly on revenue-generating activities.
Having spent the day with her, I have no doubt but that Roz Martin is set to make an impact in the Irish and international health care and skin care sectors in the coming years.
Most inspiring of all about her story, however, is how she returned home to Ireland and when, unable to find employment, she took the courageous decision to start her own business. Today she has not only created a job for herself but for others as well.
Perhaps the old saying is true – that the best way to predict your future is to go out and create it yourself.