'It can be full on ... but it's a really good time for women in business'
Three nominees for this year’s Image Businesswoman of the Year Awards talk to Laura Larkin about the challenges – and rewards – of being your own boss
Starting a new company in recent years may have felt like risky business to some.However, the Herald met three women who braved the world of start-ups and who have gone on to build successful brands.
All three have been nominated for awards at next Monday's Image Businesswoman of the Year Awards, which will take place in the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel.
Niamh Hogan, creator and CEO, Holos Skincare, has been shortlisted in the start-up category and will face competition from Kathryn Thomas's Pure Results Bootcamp business.
Ms Hogan's business was started in her home in Gorey and launched in 2014. Her products have already been picked up my major retailers and are set to be sold abroad.
Ella DeGuzman, CEO of Siopaella has been nominated for an award in the creative industries category alongside the series producer of TV3's Xpose.
The Canadian businesswoman established a chain of 'consignment stores', allowing shoppers to buy and sell their clothing and designer goods.
Meanwhile, Catherine Buggy (27), founder of Boutique Bake, is vying for young businesswoman of the year. Ms Buggy began making her luxury brownie mixes in her kitchen in Donnybrook, before quitting her job to build the company.
All of your businesses are expanding at the moment but how did you get started?
NH: I am a natural health therapist so I did massage, aromatherapy, working with natural oils. I just saw how they enriched people's lives and I wanted to encourage them to use more and I thought what's the best way to get people to use essential oils for wellbeing? Skincare. Then this happened.
CB: I'm in business three and a half years and for me it was really about looking at the market and seeing that there was no high quality baking mixes. I didn't think there had been any new brands in a long time, especially brands with colourful marketing who have fun - which baking should be. I began trialling my idea in farmer's markets while working in HR Monday to Friday. That lasted for about three months and the response was so good I just thought 'I'll give it a go' and I quit my job.
ED: I moved here in 2010 from Vancouver and I noticed there were no stores where you could buy, sell and trade your clothes. I've been buying and selling my clothes since 1996, my friends and I back home shop to resell, it is in the culture. That's how we shop. Irish women are starting to do it now. We cater for people who love luxury stuff.
Setting up a business is a daunting task, was there any last minute wobbles or second guessing?
ED: Every day.
NH: I've been working for myself since 2008, so the recession slowed all of that down for me so it happened by accident. I had so much time on my hands, I was able to research and I said I'd try markets too, like Catherine, and posting pictures on Facebook. I planned for a year-and-a-half before we launched. It wasn't a case of 'will I or won't I', it was happening whether I liked it or not.
CB: I was really nervous about telling my parents. 2014 was still pretty grim in terms of the market and I had a good job in HR, had been working there for two years, with good prospects.
I was like 'I'm going to pack brownie mix in bags and go to the farmer's markets'. I think they were worried I'd end up on the streets. But when your family and friends see how much you want to do it and how much you believe in it, they get behind you.
ED: You have to be obsessed with it. You see small businesses that pop up… [and fail]. If you have your own businesses in Ireland and you're not working 60-80 hours a week - I need tips. There's always something happening.
What's the next step for you in terms of expansion?
NH: We're launching in the UK and Dubai soon. It's full on, we've a new range coming out.
ED: We just opened our fourth location, so that's it for now. The only way we'd expand further at the minute would be if someone on my team wanted to move abroad and we would look at investing in another country.
CB: We're just started exporting to Northern Ireland and the UK soon also.
What has the impact of the Brexit vote been for your business?
CB: We've just started exporting to Northern Ireland and the UK and you have to agree a price. So I think I have covered myself but in 12 months that might have to change.
NH: It's left me very unsure, it's so hard to know what's happening. I've just started exporting to Northern Ireland too and I'm dealing with people in both euro and sterling. [The flash drop in currency] happened the day after I set my prices so I was thinking when I set, oh there's loads of room and then that happened.
It's just like that, one day you're fine and the next day you're not. But I buy a lot of material through the UK too, so it's balancing out. But at the same time it's hard to plan because you don't know what's going to happen.
ED: I don't think anyone is getting too excited just yet. I certainly wouldn't be looking at buying real estate there.
Has being a woman in business ever felt like an issue?
CB: I've been meetings saying 'we've had interest from the big multiples' and you could see them thinking 'who is your one?'. Not that anyone was ever rude about it but you could kind of get a bit of a feeling. I've also been asked how old I am… it does kind of throw you.
NH: I know other women who have but I definitely don't. Whether I just choose to ignore it or not, I'm not sure. I think it's a really good time for Irish women in business and I think that it's really encouraging for other women.
The Image Businesswoman of the Year Awards are being held at 6.30pm on Monday, November 21. Tickets are €135 and can be bought at image.ie/events/article/image-businesswoman-year-awards-2016/