Date: 16 Apr 2012
I recently met up with Emmet O’Neill, who is a UCD graduate and co-founded Smiles Dental in 2005 after spotting a gap for tooth whitening in the Irish market. Since then, the company has expanded into offering full dental services and has 16 Smiles dental clinics nationwide. I asked him a few questions about his journey to business success, any advice he could share with aspiring entrepreneurs and his outlook for the future.
The importance of surrounding yourself with good people. At Smiles, we have built up a fantastic team who are qualified experts in their field, who work hard but who also are ambitious and enthusiastic about opportunities for the future. We have also built up a very experienced Board of Directors with a broad range of expertise from banking to software who bring a high level of strategic experience to the company.
I think one of the real benefits of setting up a business at a young age is that you have nothing to lose and can afford to take risks. I remember when I was in college, I was setting up a few businesses including a recycling company and coffee shops. Some things worked out and others didn’t but it was a great age to learn and start something up because you have the time to learn from your mistakes.
The good thing about the current environment is that the market reacts faster than before. You will probably find out very quickly if your business is a good idea and whether you can develop a customer base and a sustainable business. And that’s a good thing because you don’t waste time on businesses that don’t have a chance of succeeding.
I think someone starting up their own business needs to feel comfortable wearing a number of hats. You need to be a good sales person and be able to deal with the day to day pressures that come with running a business and employing others. You also need to be able to rally the troops from the outset. Have a strong drive and work ethic is crucial.
I enjoyed college and it gave me a good grounding in the different areas of business – from finance to hr to marketing. I also met new people from a range of different backgrounds and schools who became good friends. In fact, one of my best friends from college works with me at Smiles.
I think that the Government agencies are doing a good job on the big projects – the large multinationals – in terms of bringing them to Ireland. And that makes sense as larger companies will potentially create more jobs. However, I think Government also has to keep its focus on facilitating and supporting indigenous entrepreneurs and SME’s who also employ a lot of people.
The plan is to continue to develop the business in Ireland and to expand overseas. We are currently opening new Smiles Dental clinics in Scotland at present. I am also involved in a couple of other interesting projects so we’ll see where they take me.
Conor O’Donovan is the Irish Times/Smurfit MBA Scholarship Winner. If you have any suggestions of entrepreneurs/ business people you would like to read more about please firstname.lastname@example.org