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Irish businesses that found innovative ways to react to Covid-19



Companies across Ireland have had to get more creative than ever to adjust to Covid-19 restrictions, with the pandemic playing havoc with businesses across the country.

The Irish Business Design Challenge is a competition that looks to honour those enterprises that have adapted their business models and met the significant challenges set by various lockdowns since March 2020. If your business found an innovative way to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, there is still time to enter and win a share of the €50,000 prize fund.

These five businesses have all played their part in keeping the wheels of the Irish economy moving, whether in pharmaceuticals, working-from-home solutions, nutrition, technology or clothing.

CF Pharma Ireland Ltd in Kilkenny

Established by managing director Clare Hughes in 2014, CF Pharma manufactures and sells medical devices and topical healthcare products.

When Covid-19 was declared a pandemic earlier this year and hand sanitiser went from a forgotten item at the bottom of a handbag, or in a drawer at work, to an essential part of the fight against the virus, CF Pharma knew that their CleanRite product would fill a massive gap in the market.

CleanRite is a skin, surface and contact food-safe sanitiser that has been approved by the Department of Agriculture as well as the United States Environmental Protection Agency for use against SARS Covid-2.

"When we developed CleanRite, we knew that it was the perfect product for use in schools,” Clare Hughes says.

“There are concerns about alcohol-based products being used by children in terms of skin sensitivity, potential for abuse and flammability. We tendered for and were successful in securing a place on the Department of Education PPE roll out for all schools. 

“We successfully fulfilled 10pc of the school market on the initial round of orders and are continuing to grow these numbers daily as awareness continues to spread.”

As a result of developing CleanRite, CF Pharma is predicting 60pc sales growth on 2019 figures. They have hired 10 additional staff and have been granted permission by Kilkenny County Council to expand their premises by more than 1600 square meters beside their current facility in Hebron Industrial Estate.

Covaworld in Naas, Co. Kildare

When Covid-19 hit, Covaworld came to the aid of businesses who had never traded online before and who didn’t have any expertise in terms of setting up an e-Commerce platform.

David Flanagan, the company’s COO, knew that these businesses would need to pivot quickly to get their products and services online.

He contacted his Local Enterprise Office in Kildare and, in the space of just 10 days, established Shop County Kildare, an online marketplace that has 276 registered businesses and more than 75 live online stores.

Supporting local businesses in such a difficult time drove Covaworld to develop the platform, which has proved hugely successful over a relatively short timeframe.

“Covid-19 served to underline the importance of local retailers, products and services to the community across the county,” Flanagan says.

“By working with the LEO and with the support of Kildare County Council, we developed a product which ensures the community can now buy from their trusted local businesses. “This keeps revenue local and ensures the consumer has comfort, choice, familiarity and the security of trading with their favourite local service providers online.” Moreover, Flanagan stresses that there’s a positive environmental impact as a result of the e-Commerce marketplace.

“By reducing the amount of moving parts in the supply chain we can positively impact the carbon footprint of a transaction. We aim to make businesses and communities sustainable through a mutually beneficial business model.”

Notions Creative in Dublin

Given the fact that the live event and entertainment industries were among those most severely affected by the pandemic, Notions Creative knew they had to act fast to save their business.

The Dublin-based fabrications company specialising in event builds, festival builds, design and fit-out had just signed a five-year lease on a new workshop. Founder Jamie Maguire had to innovate or he would be forced to shut up shop. Fortunately, he had an idea.

With much of the country’s workforce now working from home, Maguire knew that a minimalist folding desk that could be assembled and disassembled in seconds would prove to be a crucial resource for people with limited space.

Home by Notions was born. “Design thinking was at the core of our concept development,” says Maguire.

“Once it became apparent that companies would be asking people to work from home, I began looking at issues they would face in terms of space, sourcing and flexibility. A good-looking and durable product was essential but we also had to factor in the demand for space in people’s homes and ensure we came up with a design that gave users the capacity to create/dismantle a workspace in seconds.”

Since launching, Home by Notions has sold more than 1,000 desks and 130 chairs with over 400 of those orders being exported to Britain.

Nufields in Dublin

When former chef Denis Manzke decided to start his own business earlier this year growing and distributing microgreens to Irish restaurants, he had no idea what lay ahead on the eve of delivering his first order.

As the country went into lockdown and restaurants shut down across Ireland, the Nufields founder was left with several kilos of seeds and soil and no customers.

But then, as people had to stay at home and began planning different ways to prepare nutritious food, an alternative business model was formed.

“My friends started asking me for seeds and instructions once Covid-19 lockdown was announced,” says Manzke.

“Using the wealth of knowledge and expertise I had gained, I adapted my commercial scale approach and developed a kit that fits neatly on your windowsill. I also noticed that customers were keen to grow many trays of microgreens at a time. It was becoming a lifestyle change for them.”

Denis created an e-Commerce site and learned some online marketing skills. As 2021 approaches, Nufields’ home-growing kits - including peas, broccoli, pak choi and beets – are providing a rainbow of great produce for households across the country.

“I went from a forlorn farmer to an e-Commerce retailer in the space of a week,” he says.

Native Denims in Dublin

Irish clothing manufacturers have become a rare sight since their heyday in the 1980s, but Stephen Kavanagh – one of the four co-founders of Native Denims on Dublin’s King’s Inn Street – believes there’s a demand in the market for sustainable fabrics and quality fashion.

The goal of Native Denims is to create lasting pieces.

This is not fast fashion, but Kavanagh believes more and more people are choosing their clothes based on quality rather than price.

The ethos of the company lies in sustainability, and the belief that - in the long run - one piece of well-designed and well produced clothing will outlive five cheaper pieces. It also offers free repairs on all of its jeans for the first five years, including its off-the-peg garments.

The impact of Covid-19 was felt at this relatively new start-up as supply lines to retailers dwindled overnight and further investment was needed quickly in its online platforms, but Kavanagh believes pre-Christmas sales will help Native Denims to improve margins and enable significant product development.

“The consumer has the comfort of knowing that ethical and fair trade which is sustainable and kind to the environment is at the core of our ethos,” he says.

“This is what we are about. Our research has proved correct and an appetite exists for high quality clothing, where we create and sustain lasting pieces, and thus employment, not only to service the domestic market but internationally too.”

Enter your business in the Irish Business Design Challenge

If your business found an innovative way to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, you can now enter it into the Irish Business Design Challenge and potentially win a share of the €50,000 prize fund.

The Irish Business Design Challenge is open to three categories: micro (1 - 10 employees), small (11 - 50 employees) and medium-sized (51 - 250 employees) Irish businesses. There is an overall prize fund in excess of €50,000, with a €15,000 first prize for the winner of each category and €2,000 for the runner-up in each category.

The Irish Business Design Challenge is an initiative of the Design and Crafts Council Ireland and is supported by the Local Enterprise Offices and Enterprise Ireland. Entries close on November 13, 2020. For further details or to register, click here.