Maeve O’Keeffe hails from a dairy farm in the small village of Ballynoe in Co Cork. The agri entrepreneur specialises in the manufacture and supply of hoof care equipment and products.
How did the Inspect 4 animal handling crate come to life?
I went to New Zealand for a year and half to work on a dairy farm, as part of my work experience at college. There were 1,300 cows, so every morning there was at least one lame cow to draft out and treat. When I came back to the home farm, I wasn’t physically strong enough to carry out the hoof repairs by myself. So we were relying on a professional hoof trimmer. It was really bugging me, because I knew exactly how to treat the lameness, but we didn’t have the equipment to do it safely. So myself and dad started talking about making a rollover crate. We started off with a measuring tape – getting the average width and length of the cows. Then we built our own hydraulic crate. It was only ever intended to treat our own cows, but when other people saw how quiet and content the cows were on the crate, they thought it was a great idea. So we brought it to the 2012 Ploughing and the business has gone from there.
What business supports have you availed of to date?
Being a Nuffield scholar allowed me to meet a lot of very interesting business people. One particular person that I remember was Michael Horsch, who makes a lot of seed drills and equipment for the tillage sector. He started off working at home in Germany, on their pig farm. Just listening to him really made me realise that if he could do it, then maybe one day I could too.
There is so much support in Ireland for entrepreneurs; like the LEADER programme, the Local Enterprise Office and Enterprise Ireland. I was involved in the New Frontiers programme in Cork as well, which was a fantastic experience and helped me put together a proper business plan, which helped me gain funding. I was surrounded by so many like-minded people and we bounced ideas off each other. The Enterprise Ireland Innovation arena at the Ploughing Championships was an amazing support to me as a new business entrant also.
How important was market research for you in establishing your business?
Actually, when I look back, everyone thought the idea of a rollover crate was stone wall mad.
It was only because we saw how well the crate had worked for our own cows that we knew there was a place in the market for it.
If we had actually listened to all those early commentators, there would be no business here today. So, I think if you are confident that your idea could be something great, then that is enough. You have to take the bull by the horns and drive on with your business.
What is your best piece of business advice?
Build a good support network around you. I have been so lucky to have my parents and family, who have always been a massive support.
Before you do anything, take time to look up the array of national supports that are out there. It will help you so much to draft a business plan, develop your idea and get up and running. Looking back, it would have been seriously beneficial if we had known about all the supports at the very start of our business journey.