Tell us a little about your business Sarah…
Seahorse Atlantic, which I founded in 2013, produces Kelp Care, a natural Irish animal feed supplement, derived from 100% organically grown seaweed.
What inspired you to start your own business?
Once I finished my college education in Zoology and Marine Biology, I really wanted to have a career with research and/ or animals. From a young age I always had entrepreneurial tendencies and ran a successful cattery business for a year in-between school and college years, so I was never a 9 – 5 person. My passion and love of the marine environment together with animals brought me to the concept of the idea behind Kelp Care products. I could see huge benefits in the research into seaweed properties and how these could be utilised and developed into products to successfully treat poor causes of health in animals.
How did you get your business off the ground and what supports did you avail of?
I initially self-funded a lot of the business at the early stages, and then approached the West Cork Enterprise Board, now known as the Local Enterprise Office Cork North and West, while I was living in West Cork at the idea stage. They provided the business with a feasibility grant which assisted in developing the product from concept right through to packaging etc.
I had to move back home to Cork whilst setting up the business and it was here that I approached the Cork City Enterprise Board (Local Enterprise Office Cork City) for a priming grant to help support my full time dedication to getting the business up and running.
I also took part in the IGNITE Programme which was of great support in offering advice, mentoring and practical training workshops along with support of fellow entrepreneurs like myself. I spent a full year conducting the research and veterinary trials behind the product before I set up the company in 2013, which is when I moved onto Enterprise Ireland to help grow the company internationally.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Never give up… if one idea does not work out, then you have just figured out one way of “how not to do it”.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
There have been so many challenges and each one has just spurred me on to work harder and never give up. The hardest challenge is asking yourself “am I doing the right thing?” when you have those days that are quite hard. Running a business is like a rollercoaster, some days good, some days bad. One of those hard challenges is being able to switch off from the business mentally which is very difficult as you almost become the business itself, also the amount of time and hours you put into the week makes seeing friends and family quite difficult.
Who is your hero?
I don’t have a particular hero but I admire anyone who puts themselves out there and gives something a go. If you have the drive and passion to try something out and not worry about the consequences, then I believe that is truly admirable in a person. Bill Branson always springs to mind, I am currently reading his book to keep my motivation levels up!
What’s the best thing about having your own business?
Best thing about it is when a customer comes back to me with a simple thank you or sends me a testimonial of how my once “idea”, now a product, has helped her pet/ horse’s life – this makes all the long days and hours worthwhile. A trend in recent testimonials has been “Kelp Care has changed both owner and pets’ life” which has been an inspiration for me to develop more for the future Kelp Care range.
Looking back now, is there anything that you would have done differently?
There have been lots of things I would have changed, but each one has only made me stronger and developed me as an entrepreneur and as a person; so no, I do not think I would change anything.
What are your business plans for the next 12 to 18 months?
The Seahorse Atlantic plans for the next 12 – 18 months are very exciting, we have a lot in the sales pipeline here and abroad, and we plan to develop into new markets and further develop our current markets. We hope to expand our team to reflect the growing demand for Kelp Care, and my main target is to conduct some exciting research and development into new Kelp Care products.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone considering starting a business, what would it be?
Be yourself, believe in your product/ idea, and if it doesn’t work the first time, there is an infinite number out there for trying and trying again, believe it will work! Always ask for help and assistance and approach your Local Enterprise Offices, they are there for friendly chats/advice and can guide you to the right point. Consider an entrepreneurial start-up programme that is connected with the Local Enterprise Offices, such as IGNITE in UCC or New Frontiers in CIT… and just do it like!