BIG idea brings Jo home to start global business

31 August 2007

County Down entrepreneur and vet, Dr. Jo McKelvie has established a new business, with help from the cross-border Border Innovation Gateway (BIG) pre-incubation programme, which is designed to support innovative ideas.

Her new consultancy Evita Services, which runs and advises on pharmaceutical veterinary clinical trials, has already developed a global market with a great demand for her specialist skills and previous worldwide experience.

Local girl Jo, who qualified as a vet in Glasgow, saw the opportunity for her new business, whilst working in the UK with Pfizer, where she oversaw clinical trials to test safety and efficacy levels during the development of new veterinary medicines. She took the step of moving with her husband and young family (and horse) back to Northern Ireland, at the end of last year, where she now lives and works in a beautiful rural setting, near Gilford.

In the early part of the year, Jo found it harder to turn her ideas into a functioning business than she first thought and business was slow to come. She saw an advertisement for the twelve week business ideas development programme BIG and decided to sign up to really focus on whether her idea had the potential it needed to be successful and to get advice on all the practical and market research issues which she needed to turn her business idea into reality.

“The BIG programme has been invaluable to me. It made me really focus on the opportunities open to me. I hadn’t taken the time to look at what running a business meant for me and how this would differ from being an employee,” she explained.

“Taking part for 12 weeks meant that I dedicated time to go through the thought processes linked to setting up the business in a structured and guided way and look at what my business might look like, or what direction it could take in the future. During the process, I discovered that there were many more opportunities and avenues to explore in my work, than I had previously thought about, which has opened up additional markets for me,” she added.

“I really enjoyed being with the other BIG participants. Because the programme is aimed at people with knowledge based ideas like engineering, ICT, software, renewable energy, creative and digital media, the others were also creative thinkers and I learnt a lot from the way they sometimes made me re-evaluate how I had been thinking about doing things, whilst we were brainstorming.”

“Having access to the academic institutions of the Southern Regional College and also Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) throughout the course, has also been a bonus for me in my research. I also found that the mentor support offered to me was really valuable and relevant to my own individual business.”

“I have been really lucky to get such a good start and now my client base is growing fast. I am currently involved in with clients in Europe and the US, with trials in the UK and Ireland.

I’m really pleased that I made the lifestyle change for myself and my family. Despite juggling work and family commitments, working from home means that I get to spend more time with my husband and two small boys and my animals,” she added.

Kieran Fegan, Centre Manager of Greenshoots Newry Ltd, BIG lead partner organisation, spoke about Jo and the BIG programme.

“Jo’s idea is exactly the sort of innovative business idea that the BIG programme is keen to support. We are delighted that her business has been such a success. She saw a niche in the local market and realised that her skills could be applied in an innovative way, to enable a new service that did not exist here. She is probably the only person offering this service from Northern Ireland and is keen to grow her business and create employment.”

“The programme gave Jo the tools she needed to manage the development of her innovative ideas, such as encouraging her to think about how her market operates, legislation and in some cases issues surrounding patenting. She was also able to look at issues of finance and how to get the initial money needed to develop her idea.”

“At the BIG Centres in the Southern Regional College, Portadown Campus, at Greenshoots in Newry and also at DKIT we offer workspace and support along with the training modules and individual mentor support as integral parts of the programme.” added Kieran.

“In the last year, we have already helped businesses such as Neuralcore Technologies, in Dundalk who make bespoke high-end computers for gamers and users with special requirements, two renewable energies projects in the Newry area focussed on wind power generation and solar panel technology and we have assisted a recent Ballyholland graduate with his online interactive artefacts display product for museums, visitors centres and hotels.

The BIG pre-incubation ideas support programme is free of charge, and is run by Greenshoots Newry Ltd in conjunction with the Southern Regional College and DKIT. The programme is a cross border initiative and is part financed by the EU through the Interreg 111A Programme, managed for the Special EU Programmes body by the East Border Region Interreg 111A Partnership.

The course will be running again starting in early autumn and recruitment for the course is taking place at the moment. To take part you must be based in, or originate from the East Border Region which includes Counties Armagh, Down, Louth, Monaghan and Meath.

For more information about the course contact Audrey McKeown at the Southern Regional College, Portadown Campus on 028 38397778 or Kieran Fegan at Greenshoots, Newry on 028 3026 5402.

A detailed brochure about the course is also available at Pictured are Kieran Fegan Greenshoots Centre Manager and Dr Jo McKelvie of Evita Services.

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