The mother of all recessions, but they've been successful
SADLY, Dragons' Den series three is coming to an end. Thank you to all of you who viewed in such huge numbers making it one of RTÉ's top rating shows. Interestingly, the last two shows of the series are Dragons' Den on Tour, where we Dragons go back and visit the people we invested in during 2009 and 2010. We also catch up with those people who either turned us down or we didn't invest in.
These programmes are proving to be a much needed antidote to all the negativity we have had to endure from bank bailouts to our national sovereign bailout by the IMF and ECB. What is amazing is how successful these businesses have become. Of course they had the benefit of a national TV launch, but to succeed as much as they have, during the mother of all recessions, is a remarkable achievement.
What the programme proves is that if young entrepreneurs get relatively little money, €25,000 to €100,000 and the correct type of mentoring and direction, small sustainable businesses creating jobs, exports and wealth will follow.
Last week, one of the many successes featured was Surf Seeds. When Tim Rooney had the seed of an idea in 2009 that sunflower seeds should become a healthy snack food, he came into the Den and left with an investment of €100,000.
Two years on his surf seeds are in more than 600 stores nationwide and the product is now being launched in the UK. During the show we saw fellow Dragon Seán Gallagher seriously questioning Tim about how strongly was he merchandising Surf Seeds? That is, looking for better displays of the product in shops. People who set up businesses feel very isolated, ploughing their lone furrow. They need mentors to push them as much as assist them.
A product that has enjoyed great success in the UK is Animatazz, the animation kit for children aged eight to 12 years of age. As this is one of my investments I won't say too much about it here other than the programme explained how it was the top selling craft toy last Christmas in Harrods, Hamleys, Toys R Us, Tesco and also in the Argos Catalogue.
The Dragons' Den tour bus then pulled up in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, where potter Karen Morgan was opening her wonderful new shop with the assistance of my long-time friend Niall O'Farrell. It looked fantastic and though it is very tough in retail currently, I have no doubt we will be hearing a lot more of the Karen Morgan range of pottery.
Perhaps the most uplifting story was when 'Mr Positive' Bobby Kerr, visited the County Kerry GM Free, organic farm of Kate Carmody. In 2010 Kate entered the Den looking for backing for her Beal Cheese. I have to say her handmade, organic, mature cheddar cheese is the best cheese I have ever tasted. Kate's health is not good, she was born with a disability and has had more than 50 medical operations and is recovering from the most recent of these. However she said going on Dragons' Den has transformed her life and she is now truly confident her cheese will be a big success.
Of course there were ones that got away too. I visited Wexford to catch up with GreenFlame, where 35 former beat growers have set up a co-operative growing elephant grass. This grass is then used to make a woody type straw which they make into superbly energy efficient and environmentally friendly fire logs.
I won't say too much about it here as I have already written more extensively about GreenFlame in this column, earlier this year, when I visited their new factory in Enniscorthy. It is just fantastic to see people working together like this to create a viable enterprise.
I know things are bad in our economy at this time but I also firmly believe with a little help thousands of Irish people could create employment for themselves and others. Dragons' Den has proved that beyond doubt. Well done to Bank of Ireland, whose sponsorship makes the show possible and tune in this Easter Sunday to see more remarkable success stories including the international success of TanOrganic, the 100 per cent natural, organic tan created by Kildare woman Noelle O'Connor.
RIRA TARGET QUEEN
It is now less than a month away from the Visit of the British monarch Queen Elizabeth II. A trusted source in An Garda Síochána tells me they are nervously anticipating a ' big bang' from the Real or Continuity IRA. This is the very last thing our country needs. Could you imagine if during this visit with TV pictures being beamed around the globe and of course watched with great interest by viewers in the UK that these dissidents planted and exploded a large bomb somewhere.
British tourists, which our hotel and catering industry need so badly to come to our shores again in the numbers they once did, would be completely frightened away.
These are the concerns of the very highest ranking gardaí as well as senior officers in the PSNI. There has been some mysterious activity on the Louth-north Meath border in the last fortnight. But there have been tip offs and information about some of this made available to the gardaí in anonymous phone calls. This is both surprising and highly unusual. Garda intelligence is now considering that these may be distraction tactics, 'dummy activity' trying to hide a more significant action that is being plotted by the terrorists.
All we can do is hope and pray that the authorities north and south and over in Britain working together, as they are, can foil whatever plan is apparently being