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EY Entrepreneur of the Year profiles: From car-charging to school meals, here’s how this year’s nominees are breaking through

We profile four of the seven finalists chosen in the emerging category for this year’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards

Ray Nangle and Ger Killian, The Lunch Bag

Ray Nangle and Ger Killian teamed up to establish The Lunch Bag in 2019. They describe the company as Ireland’s first healthy school meal service for non-Deis students. It employs 200 people.

The company produces meals for more than 30,000 children each day. It has been taking on an additional 1,000 students per week, and is currently available to more than 110,000 children in 600 schools across 20 counties.

With 1,700 different combinations of lunches to choose from, each child’s order is individually made and delivered directly to their desk in compostable packaging the following school day.

What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start up in business?


There are 3,330 primary schools in Ireland, of which 700 are Deis schools where students receive a free school meal every day.

As a leading supplier in this Deis market, Ray ensured that there was a wide variety of choice available to these children each day. However, his own children, who happened to attend a non-Deis school, were invariably bringing the same lunches to school each day.

For most parents, providing a variety of lunch offerings is a challenge, resulting in considerable expense and waste, both in terms of food and packaging.

What is your business model and what makes your business unique?

The Lunch Bag offers parents the option to order and pay for a child’s lunch using a simple downloadable app.

The lunch is delivered directly to the child’s classroom the next day. All dietary, religious, and cultural requirements are catered for. The cost for a three-piece lunch ranges from €2.50.

What was your back-to-the-wall moment and how did you overcome it?

In March 2020, having been in business for less than a year, schools closed for the first time in the history of the State. At that time, we were delivering lunches to 68 schools and we knew from the feedback we were receiving from them we had a solid business.

But the future was uncertain. We decided to take a risk and bought the old Dawn Meats factory in Nenagh, Co Tipperary. We gave ourselves a timeline of two months to upgrade the derelict building to food-grade standard with a completely new team.

As schools gradually reopened, sales reps were not welcome on-site and many parents were now working from home. This required a rethink and overhaul of our sales and marketing approach.

What moment/deal would you cite as the game changer or turning point for the company?

Last year, Minister Heather Humphreys announced that, in line with a move towards the EU Child Guarantee, an additional 300 schools would receive free hot meals by September 2022.

This gave us two months to completely adjust our business model, rebuild our app, redesign our menus and develop a system to deliver hot meals to students in schools that did not have on-site catering facilities.

In April 2023, it was officially announced that all school-going children will receive a free hot school meal by 2030.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your future plans/ambitions?

While our focus is on Ireland right now, we are packaging our app and business model and have started to explore potential international franchise market opportunities.

What is your growth funding path?

Due to his success in the Deis school meal market, Ray was in a position to fund The Lunch Bag from the offset. In 2020, we secured a Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland loan and additional grant funding from the local Leader office.

We drew down a mortgage for the purchase of the factory in Nenagh, while HP finance was used to fund our fleet of 52 vehicles.

This summer, we expect to secure €3 million from the Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme for the building of our 50,000sq ft extension. This year the company will turn over €16 million.

How is the current inflationary environment impacting your business?

The war in Ukraine put considerable pressure on us due to food inflation and rising fuel costs. It even impacted our expansion plans as parts for our 10 new on order vans became unavailable. For parents that continue to pay for the service for now, we will be considering a price increase this year.

Lauren Duggan, Fiona Parfrey and Aine Kilkenny, Riley

Lauren Duggan, Fiona Parfrey and Aine Kilkenny joined forces in 2021 to disrupt the period care market and create a female health brand.

Called Riley, the company says it seeks to elevate female health and shatter the silence surrounding everything from menstruation through to menopause. It has a team of eight people and an office in Cork city.

It began by delivering eco-friendly and healthier period care directly to customers’ doors and has since expanded by working with employers to stock their workplace and customer bathrooms.

The business now has more than 140 corporate clients, including EY, AIB and Kerry Group. It is also working with two key partners to fight period poverty by donating products to those that need them and sponsoring doctor-led menstruation programmes.

What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start up in business?

Our business idea stems from our own real-life frustration. When we realised that the mainstream period products we’d been using our whole lives contained unnecessary chemicals, we felt compelled to do something about it.

We got to work creating Riley, a chemical-free and eco-friendly period care range that’s better for our bodies and better for our planet.

What is your business model and what makes your business unique?

We sell direct to consumers via our online store, working with retailers to stock their shelves with healthier period care, and our main business channel is partnering with corporate clients to supply their staff and patron bathrooms with period products.

What makes Riley unique is that we’re a founder-led brand on a wider mission to elevate female health through educational content.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?

We ran into a number of supply chain issues a few months after launching due to the pandemic, and it was a critical moment because we had to be able to fulfil orders for our business to grow.

At the time we were reliant on one manufacturer, and we were faced with an option to use non-eco products to fulfil orders.

Instead, we worked very quickly to source a secondary manufacturer that also aligned with our quality, sustainability and ethical values, to de-risk our supply chain and be able to continue to supply the right products to our customers.

What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” for the company?

A huge turning point for us was getting the opportunity to showcase our business to a national audience on The Late Late Show just seven months after launching.

To be given a platform like that to showcase our business and offering in the very early days was instrumental in our growth. We had tens of thousands of website visitors that evening and it helped fuel our early success, ultimately leading to much bigger prospects.

What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

The best piece of advice we’ve gotten is to move quickly but hire slowly. We want to make sure every key hire we make is the right decision for the business, from a performance perspective but also in terms of workplace culture.

The worst piece of advice we’ve had was to stay far away from crowdfunding as a means of raising capital. It’s true that this type of fundraising may not work for every business, but it has been great for Riley.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your future plans/ambitions?

In the last 12 months, international sales accounted for 10 per cent of our overall sales.

We’re focused on expanding this over the next year, and we have two team members moving over to the UK soon to grow the business on the ground there. We currently have an EU-wide supply chain and are exploring global opportunities.

What is your growth funding path?

We’ve raised capital twice via equity funding and convertible loan notes since launching our business. To date, we’ve raised just under €2.3 million in capital, which has been integral in allowing us to grow as quickly as we have.

Chris Kelly, EasyGo

Chris Kelly co-founded EasyGo, a transportation technology company based in Kildare, in 2018. It is a private car-charging network, working with corporate, public and home-charging clients.

EasyGo hosts and manages 4,275 charging points across 1,500 locations, and is used by more than 50,000 Irish EV drivers.

What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start up in business?

I have always been interested in cars, car racing and motor sport, in general. I was intrigued at the speed, torque and power electric cars have.

My background in electrical engineering meant I could understand how well the concept worked. Nine years ago, I saw an opportunity to work with what I knew and in a space I had a huge passion for.

What is your business model and what makes your business unique?

We are the largest private owner and operator of EV charging stations in Ireland. We address all market needs in this sector, including home charging, fleet charging and public charging.

Whether you’re a hotel, homeowner, retailer, council, or business owner, and you want to avail of accessible charging for EVs, we have the expertise and resources to install and operate both AC and DC units.

Over 50,000 users can find and access 3,100 public charging points using the EasyGo app. We’re the only Irish network to integrate home, workplace and public locations.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

My proudest achievement is having built an amazing team of people to work in a field where we are developing and building an EV charging infrastructure that will drive a sustainable future.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?

There have been lots of moments through our business start-up where cash was tight. We’ve had to be creative in sidestepping our way out of it. Support from family, friends and employees has been key to getting through those moments.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your future plans/ambitions?

Currently we are focused on expanding our network and business across the island of Ireland. We are operational in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.

We are expanding our focus to include the mainland UK market, aiming to create a seamless EV charging network that spans both islands.

What is your growth funding path?

In 2021, we secured approximately €17 million to fund our collaborative project with Eir, replacing public phone boxes with fast EV Chargers.

We are currently preparing for another round of fundraising in 2023 to further expand our charging infrastructure. These efforts highlight our commitment to sustainability and innovation in shaping the future of electric vehicle charging.

How will your market look in three years and where would you like your business to be?

The EV market is booming – so far this year 14,307 new electric cars have been registered, up 69.39 per cent on 2022.

While that is welcome news, the EV charging infrastructure needs to rapidly scale in order to meet that increased demand. The number of EVs being sold in Ireland has accelerated but, in general, the pace of the number of chargers hasn’t matched that growth.

As there has been a lag, it will be a number of years before the sector catches up. What’s needed is increased investment nationally – both public and private – to increase the number of EV chargers available to meet the demand.

What are the big disruptive forces in your industry?

Demand outstripping supply – EV infrastructure will spend the next seven to eight years behind the curve of EV sales. The infrastructure costs money to build and investing in something in the hope that EV sales increase will not be viable.

Our business model is to try to catch up on the infrastructure requirements whilst still maintaining a return on investment.

Q: Is artificial intelligence impacting your business and industry?

A: AI has been playing a large, positive part in our business for the last number of years and will continue to do so. It allows for smarter power management in charging, which in turn helps with grid electrical supply.

Declan Wynne, Skanstec Engineering

Declan Wynne is the founder and managing director of Skanstec Engineering, a specialist engineering company delivering infrastructural projects within the energy and telecommunications sector.

Headquartered in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, Skanstec is focused on decarbonisation and digital transition and currently operates across six pan-European markets. It employs more than 100 staff across three regional European offices in Ireland, Portugal and Denmark.

What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start up in business?

As digital energy and connectivity began to emerge as key areas of focus in the energy and telecommunications sector, I saw the wider opportunity that would present from decarbonisation globally.

I established an engineering business to support the energy transition and digitalisation. We started out with a vision to create a smarter, connected, sustainable society for future generations. This remains our core objective.

What is your business model and what makes your business unique?

The business model is to deliver flexible tailored engineering solutions in a reliable and controlled setting, by managing schedules and stakeholders, whilst reducing risk and costs for our clients.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

We currently employ over 100 direct staff across our operations that span six markets. We are incredibly proud of the team we have created and the fact that we have managed to maintain a 100 per cent staff retention rate.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?

The Covid-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and other challenges have caused great uncertainty in global supply chains over recent years.

While working on a significant renewable project in 2022, we ran into challenges on the delivery of specialised power transformers and switchgear that were essential to the project’s completion.

Our team worked tirelessly to prevent delays, finding creative solutions to ensure overall project success. Clear communication within the team and stakeholders was vital.

What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” for the company?

Securing a contract in an advanced manufacturing facility with a multinational technology company was a major turning point in our journey. We had no experience of working with this type of client. This was a significant achievement and a great confidence boost for the entire team.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your future plans/ambitions?

Skanstec is currently working across six European countries, with 60 per cent of revenues coming from international markets.

What is your growth funding path?

Skanstec is currently self-funded and financed by its shareholders. The business is profitable, has no debt and currently has adequate working capital for the next phase of growth.

However, given the scale of the growth trajectory, the company may in the future raise investment or introduce a level of debt to finance the growth strategy.

How will your market look in three years and where would you like your business to be?

The market outlook in our sector is exceptionally positive and will be one of the fastest growing segments of the construction and engineering sector for the coming decade.

Over the next three years, Skanstec will acquire new clients and strengthen existing partnerships within Ireland and across Europe. The energy crisis is having a significant impact throughout Europe. Reliable and fast connectivity has become, and will continue to be, a priority for many people.

Is AI impacting your business and industry?

As an engineering company, we need to harness AI capabilities to optimise our systems, automate processes to improve overall efficiency and performance.

General purpose technology such as ChatGPT can bring huge benefits to organisations in terms of speed and output, and if work complexity is aligned with AI in a controlled manner, it should be embraced.

How is the current inflationary environment impacting your business? How do you expect things to unfold?

The current inflationary landscape is putting a major pinch on various aspects of our industry, and we need to navigate this carefully. The cost of delivering projects is at a tipping point and many projects are no longer viable because of inflated costs.