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‘We’re on the hunt for heroic businesses’: The Irish Business Design Challenge competition closes this Friday


Do you know an Irish business that has shown resilience and adaptability during the Covid-19 crisis? Perhaps your favourite restaurant began a click-and-collect service or maybe your local distillery started to make hand sanitiser? Well, now is the time to shine a light on their hard work and determination.

Design and Craft Council Ireland (DCCI) in partnership with the Local Enterprise Offices and Enterprise Ireland has been running the Irish Business Design Challenge.

The competition, which is supported by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, invites Irish MSMEs to share the challenges they are experiencing as a result of Covid-19, as well as the different ways they have had to adapt.

So far, the judges have been completely overwhelmed with the quality of the entries. So much so, they have decided to extend the application date until November 13. To find out more we caught up with chairperson of the judging panel, author, TV and radio presenter Dearbhail McDonald.

The search continues

Dearbhail and the team of judges have been blown away by the entries so far, but they still believe there are more Irish companies out there that should be championed and potentially win a share of the €50,000 prize fund.

“We’re on the hunt for heroic businesses,” says Dearbhail. “We want to honour how they have responded to the Covid-19 challenge. Covid-19 is something that is a battle on many fronts. When we think of our frontline response we naturally think of our nurses and doctors, but our micro, small and medium enterprises are also on the frontline. They are at the heart of our communities.

“The Irish Business Design Challenge aims to honour them. In the process, we hope to share successful stories with the wider business community. These companies have been in survival mode and we have a lot to learn from their ingenuity.”


What are the judges looking for?

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. The judges will be looking for the same key traits across the board.

“The criteria we will be looking out for are your innovation, your impact and your resilience. Those are the top three attributes we want to see businesses display,” Dearbhail explains.


The Irish Business Design Challenge is championing the companies that have pivoted during the last seven months.

“During the first lockdown, a lot of us were sort of stunned into immobility but not these businesses,” Dearbhail explains. “They went back to the drawing board.

“If you changed your products or updated your service, that’s what we’re looking for. Whether you started producing hand sanitiser, started making PPE, or went digital, we’re looking for businesses that had to pivot their model.

“Businesses across the country have repurposed or redesigned their products. We’re now looking at massive systemic changes. Some businesses have developed entirely new products in response to their customers’ needs.”


The second key thing that the judges will be looking out for is the impact the company has made in their local community.

“Local businesses are very conscious of their need to serve communities,” Dearbhail states. “They have been so heroic in that impact. It’s not just about going digital or generating more sales - they respond to the needs of their community. That is something that will stick with me after all of this.

“Whether you’re in a big city or in rural Ireland, people have really reconnected with their local businesses, maybe in a way that we didn’t appreciate before. People are more conscious this year when it comes to shopping local and buying local.

“Even looking at some of the companies that have entered so far would move you to tears. I have to say chairing the panel has been a really great antidote to me. We can’t wait to share them with everyone.”


Resilience has become more important than ever in 2020 and Dearbhail and her team of judges will be assessing each company’s ability to persevere.

“The resilience is outstanding,” she says. “When you look at the broader economic environment, our businesses were already under pressure and trying to pivot and innovate. Then along comes a once-in-a-century event.

“That’s been really inspiring, not just for the here and now but some of the changes and initiatives that have been designed and created during this crisis are going to have long-term, game-changing impacts on the future of these sectors. That’s something that’s really exciting amidst all of the fears and worries.”

Inspiring businesses across Ireland

Dearbhail hopes that the competition will not just benefit the entrants but also companies across Ireland.

“There are two things we want to do. We’re looking for these ingenious ideas that people are willing to share. But we also want to share these stories in the hopes that they will help other businesses across Ireland. There’s huge shared learning from this very difficult experience. It’s all about stories but it’s also all about solutions.”

So far, people across Ireland have been inspired by the competition entrants. Companies like CF Pharma in Kilkenny who developed CleanRite sanitiser to meet the growing demand or Covaworld in Kildare who developed an online markerplace for local businesses who had never traded online before and in some cases, did not even have a website.

The grit and determination of these companies has been simply outstanding.

For example, when people began to work from home, Notions Creative in Dublin started to produce folding work desks that could fit in any home. When people couldn’t visit clothes shops, Native Denims invested in their website so people could still purchase their products. When restaurants closed, microgreens producer Nufields decided to pivot and sell grow-your-own-at-home vegetable kits instead.

These are just some examples of the exceptional ways companies across Ireland have adapted. Do you have a story to share? Enter online today.

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.