22 Nov 2010

Irish hope: two entrepreneurs on a train

For some reason I found myself on the 21:15 out of Paddington bound for Newbury and beyond on Saturday night. You have to change at Reading. Two youthful men sat down on the seats in front of me and before we’d even left the station we were in conversation. They told me they came from Derry. So I knew they were ostensibly Catholics, though it transpired later that they had attended a mixed school.

Given that they came from any part of Ireland – North or South – I thought we would talk of Ireland’s financial woes. We didn’t. Instead we talked chairs.

They were brothers, 21 and 22. Their mother is an occupational therapist. About five years ago she started complaining to her boys, who were still at school, that too many of her older patients suffered from pressure sores. They needed chairs that would adjust to take the weight off the affected pressure points. So the boys did some research and made a couple of prototypes.

Today they have a turnover of some 30 to 40 chairs a week and employ 15 people near Derry to make them. Some are standard, some bespoke. One of the young men pulled his iPhone from his pocket and showed me a picture. Our discussion was animated and the guys presented as far more mature than their ages. Indeed they were incredibly bright and engaged. Both had been bound for university, both had left school early to get the business going.

The eldest brother, who is 23, runs the business in Derry. Of the two I met, one lives in Newcastle, the other in Newbury. They each drive a van packed with chairs a thousand miles a week. They have a network of 30 deliverers each.

True entrepreneurs with a sensational niche product. One told me that pressure sores cost the NHS £2.1bn a year. Each chair costs around £3,000 (complex devices that offer the body many different positions). They have no difficulty selling every chair they make.

As if that wasn’t enough to sow a bit of hope in the Emerald Isle, the real reason they wanted to speak to me was because they knew I had been to Haiti. They had too!

Seven weeks after the earthquake they had been to Haiti and scouted out a school they would endeavour to rebuild. Alas the hurricane that lured me for my latest visit grounded their follow-up flight.

Altruistic, hard working, bright, imaginative and running a “small business” that they had only set up in 2006. Niche markets don’t grow on trees but they found one when they were only 17 and 18 respectively.

A chance encounter, but an enriching one. Fabulous guys, I had no hesitation in giving them my card. I have had an email from them already. I’m boggled by what they have achieved so young and so fast.

Maybe amid this mayhem, the South should think small again – there’s some serious talent about, even if it has to be lured down from the North.

Tweets by @jonsnowC4

36 reader comments

  1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Pressure sores in hosptials are not the problem they used to be with the use of airwave mattresses, but Nursing Homes, peoples own homes, and those generally sitting all day still have a problem. We have cushions called roho cushions, which work on a similar principle to the air mattresses , but they are far from a perfect solution.

    For many years care assistants and auxillaries have changed the postion of those sitting all day and lying in bed for most of the day to prevent these problems, but now staff are not as vigilant generally, or too overworked,

    Good luck to these chaps. If their products are not too expensive and are bought, they will be giving disabled and older persons a more comfortable ride.

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      Should Grant Schapps resign? Off-topic to start, but no apologies after hearing housing boss Schapps tell any council tenants listening to this morning’s R4 Today programme to ‘go away and make a cup of tea’. He was trying to justify the latest Tory attempt to end council housing – two-year reviewable tenancies for future residents – link below:


      For all the government talk about the ‘big society’, Schapps clearly doesn’t want tenants thinking for themselves about matters that don’t directly affect them – as if a big soc can be built on self-interest alone. Schapps’ contempt for tenants can’t be dressed up as a joke; the mind-set can’t be hidden.

      He didn’t mention, of course, that it’s the Tory right-to-buy policy – followed slavishly by New Lab – that’s led to obscene waiting-lists. Tenants know this, so must be kept in their places as far as this guy’s concerned: ‘buzz off, it doesn’t concern you’. Another Cameron liability, following fast from David Young and poss Gove?

      Re (cost-savings) to NHS: need urgently to move from the present sickness to a preventive model of national health. Costs would plummet.

    2. anniexf says:

      Meg, I couldn’t agree more – what an odious man! As arrogant and loathsome as that Peter Lilley who had “a little list”, on which the poor and disadvantaged featured heavily as targets.
      A significant part of the housing problem is that we have seen no large-scale house-building for almost a generation, yet the population has increased considerably. Of course, it would jeopardise the sacred “market” if there were a plentiful supply of affordable homes available – and we can’t let that bubble burst, can we?
      If the intention to introduce short-term tenancies becomes law I can’t see how the insecurity it will inflict on tenants could contribute positively to the Big Society; but I don’t expect Cameron’s “Happiness” survey will include them.
      I do hope that smug little creep gets the order of the boot….

    3. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      We started the preventitive model 2002. The problem here is that it takes an almighty effort to convince folks that they are to a large extent in control of their own health.

      To abandon people in the hopes that they will give up fags, drugs, alcohol , high fatty foods, and 7 day a week take- aways is just expecting them to see with an entirely different pair of eyes.
      Similarly, promotion of regular healthy excercise, 5 a day, healthy fluids, good amounts of sleep, enjoyment where you laugh, reading, music , the pursuit of activities which mantain a healthy cerebral neural network are foreign to many.
      Striving to keep the body as efficient as it can be needs staff to have powers of persuasion and a change in perceptions. Cleanliness, tidiness, order, working at life ,just to tick over need self discipline. We all fail at times, but others fail all the time. These things are just another way of life.It has little to do with personal income. Consider those who go to supermarkets and keep buying clothes which pile up , are rarely washed , ironed and put tidily away; More goods are bought and land in a pile on the floor.Self discipline is taught as a child.

  2. alex says:

    Whats teh contect of Jon SNow’s business card

    1. Martin Tierney says:


      It was great to meet you too and thanks for your kind words.

      For any of your followers interested in finding out how they could help in Haiti, they could follow…
      http://seating-matters.com/news.php …and find out some of the projects we’re working on.

      I look forward to following you from here!

      Martin Tierney

  3. Alex says:

    Jon Snow should use his drivers licence more;

    It’ll keep his sense more acute andf eel for th contriols as he ages;

    I knwio he can drive, I’ve seen him do it in his Americal documentraies asd well as ont hat stupid arts program;

    Does he get his train tickets refunded onhiswages

  4. Paul Begley says:

    Genuine wealth creators. Now, however, the corporates will know about the market they’ve built. How long before manufacture is moved offshore, a slew of new medical device regulations price these brothers out of business, and similar chairs cost the NHS five times as much?

    1. Tom Wright says:

      Very cynical. I’m sure the big corporates will try to compete. I’d also be pretty sure the lads have a patent filed. Its usually easier for the big boys to buy the small ones out: and is this necessarily a problem? The boys get cash or equity in the larger firm, prices generally come down because of scale of manufacturing and more lives are improved rather than less: so what exactly is the big deal?

      As for manufacturing jobs going abroad, that’s just the way it is. Company after company in the UK has outsourced manufacturing because labour costs in the UK are too high – from Raliegh to Dyson, even Cadbury (before aquisition by Kraft) mostly made its products elsewhere. The alternative is being out-competed and going out of business.

      The bottom line is that manufacturing employment (AKA soldering bits together on a production line) is utterly over-rated. In a global economy, you don’t need to site your manufacturies on your home soil, and the placement of resources might actually make this a very bad idea indeed.

    2. Philip says:

      Nothing like being an optimist

  5. Joss says:

    Derry has always been a City rich with creatives, whether it be music, art, literature or design. Now so, more than ever, young people in the City are seeing the bigger picture. Outside the Walls and NI’s troubled past it’s easy to see a future for yourself and more people want to be able to provide for and better themselves. These guys sound like they’ve found their way. I just hope many more are able to follow.

  6. Britt_W says:

    It’s fascinating to meet new people, with incredible lives. Incredible or not – any person has something to tell. Anything can be interesting, if you just allow yourself to listen and find out.

    The mind boggles when you think about how many ‘stories’ are out there, around you, in a lifetime. What might you miss? Maybe it was a future nobel prize winner who just nipped around the corner in front of you?

    It reminds me of a scene from the classic, futuristic film “Fahrenheit 451” where people have been banned from reading books. Before the books are being burnt on bonfires by the authorities, people take it upon them to secretly learn one book off by heart, so they can pass it on to future generations. They wander around, mumbling the story to themselves, so they won’t forget it – they ‘become’ the book.

    Note to self: Never forget to LISTEN to people. Look around you.

  7. Paul Hensby says:

    A very encouraging and warming story. Yes, amazing guys but so are very many young people today. They seem more remarkable, though, in the good work they want to do in Haiti.

  8. Fiona Ashe says:

    A lovely story! Thanks for sharing it, Jon. And as an Irish citizen, I agree – entrepreneurs with a humanitarian outlook are the hope for Ireland’s future.

  9. adrian clarke says:

    It is an interesting story , but the gist of it is all wrong.Two young people as if they are unique.A lack of education! As if getting a degree ensures success.I have seen some of the thickest people with degrees.From Ireland ! That is good but yet again where they come from is immaterial,
    It is a story that happens the world over.Young people having an idea that can be used by others.The shame is that many youngsters and for that matter older people fail to follow their dreams and then complain about their hard luck.The Politicians and do gooders put it down to the poverty trap and being born in the wrong place at the wrong time,Youngsters should be encouraged to express their ideas and encouraged to try.
    What they do need is the basic education , instead of trendy teaching,and discipline to be instilled from an early age.That way they have a chance to become the new entrepeneurs,who might be lucky enough to get Jon’s card

    1. anniexf says:

      Adrian, is it my imagination or have you become a bit more Meldrew recently?
      You argue that “youngsters should be encouraged to express their ideas” – but surely that’s exactly what “trendy teaching” does?

    2. adrian clarke says:

      Annie , i do not believe it!! Me, a Meldrew.I am afraid the trendy teaching has resulted in an illiterate and non numerate group of youngsters who are denied their potential because of such teaching.Those that do succeed , on the whole is inspite of their education

  10. John Walsh says:

    Jon, your blog, much like the rest of the British media’s coverage of the Irish financial crisis, has been as patronising as it has been erroneous. There is not a lack of entrepreneurs in Ireland. In fact, the country has one of the highest rates of business start ups among OECD member states. The problem is that the banking system is not functioning which means that there is no way of transmitting credit to these businesses. The banking system became far too big relative to the country’s GDP during the first and middle parts of the last decade. Irish government fiscal policy was part of the problem; it stoked domestic demand, particularly in property, when the prevailing ECB set interest rate was far too low. Another part of the problem was the amount of liquidity british banks in particular were willing to invest in the ’emerald isle.’ Maybe these banks should be forced to take haircuts on these investments? After all, they are big boys and this is a grown up’s game as we are often reminded by the british media. Please in future, if you are going to report on Oireland, could you please do so in a straightforward manner and not cliche-ridden waffle. Rgds, John Walsh

  11. anniexf says:

    The moral of Jon’s tale is : mother knows best.

  12. Joseph says:


    This is truly a heartwarming story, you have met 2 fantastic young men doing their family and country proud.

    I just hope our politicians north and south of the border have read this!


  13. Jim Flavin says:

    Not everyone is going to be a n entrepeneur – which appears to be sainthood . Some peopel are suited to it – others not . IMO – it has very little to do with education -. Some of the brainiest people in my class at college — well they were exceptionally gifted – three in particualr – all got 1st class Honours . IMHO – their ” brainiess ”/ high IQ was wasted becuse maybe of the Obedience Training that is basically education . The peopel who I know that did start up sucessful businesses left school early – 16-18 – no College degrees etc – but a dedication to suceed . Now they are going thro tough times – with worse to come ??. And why – because Thatcherism / Deregulation was adopted .Who voted for the adoption of this Thatcherite approach – The Irish People, time after time – so Ireland is really getting what it deserves .Some dissented – eg some of Labour Party and suppporters . Anyone questiong this bullsh#t economic policy – was swept aside .It was as if Boom and Bust had never been heard of – well they have heard of it now – having to go with begging bowl in hand .

  14. Jim Flavin says:

    contd . James Connollys words after the 1916 rising were correct ” If all you do is chnge the colour of the flag – and do not set up a Socialist Republic – it is all for nothing ”. When did Capitalism give a da#n about the workers . Anything that was achieved for workers was hard fought for . te corruption that got worse over the last 20 25 years was in fact admired by many in Ireland [ ROI ] . Pulling a ” stroke ” as it was sometimes callled was admired. Following Reagan and thatchers ideas was poor judgment .The USA owes 52 Trillion $ and day by day borrows Billions more from China – some example to hold up . Most of Wetern world is affected – Ireland being one of worst – too much Obedience – too little questioning .

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      Agree completely with your last sentence, Jim – and your sentiments throughout. Marx, Karl, was obviously correct when he said that the ideas of the ruling class are everywhere the ideas of the masses. And so Thatcher’s right-to-buy led to subservience to the myth of a ‘property-owning democracy’. If only we’d think for ourselves, and change becomes imminently possible. Have the following quote from Albert Einstein on kitchen wall here: ‘Nothing in the world makes people so afraid as the influence of the independent mind’. And we need urgently to exercise that independent mind in relation to our political masters in the UK.

      Am following developments in your country with interest. Best.

  15. jonny thrombosis says:


    i am totally mazed that channel 4 news purportedly a news channel who aim to get to the bottom of news stories have totally ovelooked this house of lords footage – and have failed time & again to point out that there are a number of very powerful individuals who control the world economy, who are unaffected by by the current ‘economic crisis’& who are very likely to have engineered the current economic situation as their forefathers did in the 1930s

  16. Philomena says:

    Haven’t been blogging for a while but thank you Jon for highlighting these young guys from Derry. Its a wonderful story of youth, energy and enterprise and hopefully the City of Culture status will inspire more people from my city. These stories are of more value than the depressing banking stories from across the border in the Republic of Ireland. We, in the north, didn’t experience the highs and extravagence of the south but I have not doubt that the Irish spirit will pervail-and that together we will, phoenix-like, rise again from the ashes.

  17. Mairéad says:

    Fantastic story about two charasmatic, ambitious and hard working boys. They deserve every success. Ireland is proud!

  18. Garry Lefevre says:

    Dear Sir,

    I was surprised how poor tonight’s news explanation of the Irish financial/banking crisis was. To suggest it was becuase they were members of the Eurozone, with the silly cheap shots of Euro coins, is the exact opposite of the truth. They are only being rescued because they are members. Imagine the value of an Irish pound standing alone with the banks bust and the Goverment maxed out on their credit card !

    Countries are still queing up to join the Eurozone because of the support in a crisis they get.

    Ireland is facing a simple banking crisis. It is absurd for Governments to think they can guaranty all liabilities of banks many times the size of their states. Let the banks go and save the state as Gilian Tett 10 days ago suggested in the FT.

    Compare to the US where a majority of states are now bust, yet nobody says the dollar zone is at risk !

    Come on Channel 4 you used to be a cut above emotional cheap journalism. Who are the new viewers you are targetting ? Sun readers ?

    Yours sincerely

    Garry Lefevre

    1. Jim Flavin says:

      Regarding Faisal Islam holding up the Euro in C4news as cause of Problems is more of a reflection on Faisal Islam – than anything else . His suggetion is way off the mark . May pleas ethe ” Save the£ ” people in UK – but way off . As has been said – if we had the Irish £ – it would be total disaster. The EU has been a great benifiet to Ireland – billions paid in grants to Irish farmers – and for road constrution – and many many projects . The cause of the problem is well known – corrupt Capitalism – giving gung ho Bankers the freedom to bet with other peoples money – and when they lost – they get the Nanny State Protection that the Rich always get . That was Absymally inaccurate reporting .
      Why not do a report on USA – and hold up the dollar as being in trouble – that country is deep in trouble too – in many ways .

    2. adrian clarke says:

      Jim i believe the problem with the banks was not speculative investment but involving in housing and building projects within Ireland that the country could not support.Were it my choice i would let the banks go to the cleaners, but that could destroy the UK economy .Certainly Irelands and probably take the Euro with it.So Faisal was correct.

    3. Meg Howarth says:

      Adrian, Ireland’s ‘housing and building projects’ were precisely speculative investments, with bankers eager to exploit the bourgeois-fed property addiction for (huge-)home-ownership – 5-beds not uncommon in these ghost-builds littering the Irish countryside, I understand. Now it’s cold turkey for Ireland.

      We urgently need to wean ourselves off this life-stealing, demeaning con-trick which turns the fundamental need for a home in to a profiteering racket. A property-owning democracy is a tantalising tease which plays to the idea of unearned income – as long as prices rise – as something we should all aspire not. It has nothing to do with democracy or a even a good or ‘big’ society.

      A morsel of positive news today: the 50% reduction in council tax (CT) from which second homeowners benefit is likely to be scrapped. OK, that won’t make CT any more progressive – it’ll simply wipe out this hidden subsidy for the rich and bourgeois aspirational (‘Property is theft’) but the property issue is now on the radar, making it increasingly impossible to ignore the need for a tax on land (LVT) that would help curb property speculation and help secure everyone the basic shelter we all need.

    4. adrian clarke says:

      what a load of rubbish Meg.I live in a council property , run by an ALMO .Real big brother, wanting to interfere in every aspect of our lives from our ethnicity, sexuality and religion,and a rent over which we have no control.
      Most people do not buy houses to make a profit.Most buy them as a place to live in an area they like.It is theirs to do as they wish.That doesn’t say there aren’t profiteers and idiots allowed by the banks to overstretch themselves.I am not against LVT as a legitimate and fair tax raising method,but it does nothing to control property prices or produce affordable homes

  19. IJP says:

    Believe me, we need them up North!

  20. riley says:

    Do common people recognoise Jon nsow as a handsome media personality/celebruity when he travels ont eh trin;

    I remeber his blog where he enountered an Indian man with a turban.
    who recognised him immedialtley on atrain to ride coventry
    he’s wealthy but surely is frugal;
    Perople won’t be mobbing him the way they go crazy fgor DFavid Becham would they even though he’s far more szexier and bechahm would be lucky to be half as handsonme when he reaches the same age;

    Does he travel normal standard class, or lime on palnes exclsulvely on Buisness and first?.

    If he can get his expenses reimbursed why not luxury;

    i’m sure even the quality of the bog roll is better int he lavatrotierwes;

  21. Jane Powers says:

    Lovely story, but I’m confounded by the mention of their religion: “They told me they came from Derry. So I knew they were ostensibly Catholics, though it transpired later that they had attended a mixed school.”

    Is this germane to the story?

    1. Aoife says:

      No it’s not germane to the story. But in N. Ireland when someone says where they’re from or their name or school, people pretty much immediately make an informed guess about their religion, not for any real purpose. I think it’s just innate when you’ve grown up there. That’s why I identified with Jon as soon as he said “They told me they came from Derry. So I knew they were ostensibly Catholics.”

  22. Keith Simpson says:

    Midst the gloom in Ireland there is a good future with guys like this. Google hasn’t just become one of the country’s biggest employers for reasons of finance – they want the brains.
    As owner of Castle Comfort Stairlifts I have also just gambled on a certainty by investing there. Now folk who can’t climb the stairs have to pay for stairlifts themselves. As the grants have dried up they want value for money. And as it’s their own cash they’ll get it.

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