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SSDM Project

SSDM Project

09 May, 2022

Project partners and programme participants from the project Success for SMEs and Start-ups Through Better Decision Making (SSDM) came together on May 9, 2022. The project is funded by the Interreg Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme. Associate partners from The Ludgate Hub, Fiona Ryan and Kieran Collins joined the Hincks Centre Team onsite in MTU. Other associate partners, Judith Gilbert from Oileán, Padraic McElwee head of the LEO Network, and representatives from Centria and Kosek, Finland, joined online. The participants presented their business ideas online and we heard about the impact that the SSDM programme has had on their business ideas to date. All businesses presenting on the day demonstrated elements of sustainable practices incorporated into their business model. The meeting was led by Dr Niall O’Leary, Hincks Centre’s Research Fellow.

The main goal of the meeting was for participants of the SSDM programme to communicate the progression of their business ideas after taking part in the programme. It was also an opportunity for the lead partner, the Hincks Centre, to assesses how to add most value to the programme.

Dr O’Leary introduced the session explaining the rationale behind the methodology of the programme and highlighting new research evidence that some programmes have no measurable impact. Therefore, programmes should build on the approaches with relatively good evidence as has been done by SSDM, promoting an evidence based/scientific approach to advising SMEs.



The first participant to kick off proceedings was Kieran Hickey. Kieran spoke about his sustainable business idea, whereby he wanted to investigate the potential for valorising spent coffee grounds. Kieran spoke about the two considerations that he needed to investigate and ultimately decide which direction the company would go. For Kieran, "the Business Model Canvas was by far the most invaluable part of the programme" that helped him determine the path the company should focus on through establishing several hypotheses to investigate to reach his decision. The results of the hypothesis examination gave Kieran a greater insight into how best to spend the time and resources in the short term while trying to build other aspects of the business for the long term. Ultimately, Kieran has plans for the future of the business that were not even a consideration before commencing the SSDM programme.



Next up was Mats Storbjörk, who investigated creating an alternative material/product to the single use ECO salmon boxes that are currently used to store fish during transportation. Mats concurred that the Business Model Canvas helps one focus on the right things in the business by asking questions of your business as opposed to business plans which do not go into the key points that need investigating. Mats recognised the key questions that needed addressing before developing any product by referring to the content delivered thorough the SSDM programme. Through Mats’ investigations and interviews he determined that the business was not commercially viable and says that he may not have established this at such as early stage if he did not take part in the SSDM programme. Mats highlights that much of his previous experience was with the formulation of business plans, focusing on numbers rather than questioning the idea as a primary consideration, like a Business Model Canvas encourages, and for this, he was grateful.

Sophie from, the cleverly named, For Flock Sake spoke about her company's mission to produce products from waste wool. With a very clear waste wool problem, Sophie started the SSDM programme with the initial idea of investigating wool as a biocomposite material. However, during the course of the programme Sophie said she “has been introduced to frameworks and tools that helped her clarify the medium-term focus and shift” from what the initial plan was to a new plan. Sophie has identified a new way to pivot in the short-term to provide a source of revenue to support her medium- and long-term goals and “the course helped her clarify her thinking in this respect”. Sophie used the Return on Investment calculation and research to assess both the initial business idea and the potential pivoted idea. The ROI calculation, she said, will help her evaluate the efficiency and profitability of the term to inform her decision and her next steps. The course helped Sophie narrow her focus as there were many possibilities for wool waste but finding the right avenue to pursue was the biggest challenge.

Annemarie from St. Columb’s Hall, Derry was next to speak about the idea of creating a circular economy hub in a historic listed building. Annemarie highlighted the history, importance and potential for this building with the hope to “reawaken” its potential. The Business Model Canvas was not a tool that Annemarie had used before but allowed her and the team to do a “quick assessment across the board of what they were trying to do”. They were able to refine their proposal to three main areas for investigation using the Business Model Canvas. Out of the refined proposal came three questions and hypothesis to prove whether the business would be successful or not. Through a series of interviews, surveys and a pilot, it was established that there was a high level of interest and they should pursue the idea with some changes made. After "thinking the ideas through in a logical way" the plan is now to develop the circular hub in St. Columb’s Hall and she plans to use the scientific approach assessing ideas in other areas also. Participating in the programme also gave them the ability to become “aware of what will not work which is just as important”.



Ari Lakanen investigated the methods and materials of boat production that could be changed to incorporate more environmentally friendly methods. Ari identified more ecological ways of building boat moulds than the existing practices which currently cost in excess of one million euros. Ari spoke to companies who build boat moulds and identified their preferences for processes that would be more efficient, recyclable and cheaper. With this in mind, the Business Model Canvas was filled in under the various headings and Ari came up with the key questions that needed answering. These key questions gave rise to more questions that needed further research for an optimal solution, and this is what Ari will work on over the next 6 months to revaluate the business using the methods learned during the SSDM programme.

Helen from Spraoi agus Sport saw an opportunity to upcycle various household furniture due to the need to demolish defective houses in their region. The idea would include upskilling locals in the community and subsequently reselling and marketing the upcycled items taken from these houses. Helen and the Team had identified a clear short-, medium- and long-term vision for the project. Helen highlighted that by identifying their key partners and customers through the Business Model Canvas it was “extremely beneficial”. This had proven to be a very useful exercise due to the fact that they have identified key partners that have similar projects that were successful, and these partners were going to help them develop their pricing model. Due to their findings from potential customers and sources of supply, they were also able to establish that success was feasible. Helen used the probability calculation and found this very useful and will apply it to other ideas going forward.

Dave Ludgate from WEW Engineering wanted to concentrate on exploiting the potential of the energy segment of the business. The ROI analysis helped narrow the focus on which energy ideas to concentrate on with the highest results from the ROI yielding biogas and co-products. This was established as the commercial avenue to pursue. However, one of the greatest challenges that emerged through his research and investigations was the problem of staff recruitment and retention. It was interesting to see that Dave had a great potential to exploit an opportunity but did not have the staff to sufficiently exploit that opportunity resulting in the sticking point. As a result, Dave created an exit interview survey to better understand the drivers for loss of staff resulting in potential inertia in this area of development for the company. Dave iterated that there is a lot more than just a pay rise that they can offer staff now going forward to help retain their staff and this realisation is as a result of undertaking the SSDM programme. “The programme has opened up my eyes” Dave said. He felt he would be investigating biogas and co-products but through investigating what has happened in the company Dave feels he has a “very valuable piece of work” that he can bring to senior management and help resolve their problem and has the programme to thank for that.

There was an overwhelming feeling from participants that this programme was extremely beneficial. During the meeting participants reflected on their progression through the programme and were extremely grateful about their learnings. Comments such as “why didn’t I think of that” or “the initial idea changed” or “I have chosen a different path” as well as the value they received from the Business Model Canvas punctuated the meeting. It was clear to see that the purpose of the programme was well and truly delivered upon, with participants deciding to either pursue, pivot or abandon their business ideas based upon their informed investigations.

Meeting the participants gave us all the opportunity and time to discuss the different challenges and business ideas in greater detail as well as allowing us the time to highlight insights that would go towards their next steps. On closing, Dr O’Leary invited the participants to contact him for support and highlighted that “there are so many ideas out there but what we are short on is time and resources. So, if we can better select ideas and better use our limited time and resources, that’s how we can get to a greater success”





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