Up next in our series of Upstarts case studies is Ciaran Burke founder of The Garden School in Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon with his wife Hanna.
The Garden School provides Royal Horticultural Society accredited courses covering such topics as food foraging, food growing and garden design. The business has expanded in recent years with the creation of ‘The New Growth Project’ charity initiative offering free training to the unemployed and community groups. The Garden School also offers training to teachers and schools,through their Scoodoos education project have developed interactive outdoor learning spaces and educational trails; including the Scoodoo
Sculpture tree trail at Turlough House National Museum of Country Life, Co. Mayo.
What were you doing (careerwise) when you decided to create your own business?
I was working as a partner in a business in Dublin involved in delivering horticulture training, and having decided to move to the West of Ireland I decided to set up a horticulture school that could offer correspondence courses that are internationally recognised and accredited so that people all over Ireland can learn about plants and gardening and start on a horticultural career path.
When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?
We started the Garden School in 2006. Partly it was because I wanted to move from Dublin to the West of Ireland and also I felt there was a need for a correspondence type horticulture course based in Ireland. Previous to this it was only colleges abroad that were offering the service.
What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
The start up costs were quite low and the business was basically self financed.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Once I had decided to go ahead with the idea, there were not really any obstacles. In recent times changes with funding through FAS for unemployed participants has been a serious problem for our business.
Who supported you?
When we started up, it was my wife who was my support, my parents and friends too.
How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?
It happened very quickly, perhaps a month.
What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
I love being able to be creative with ideas and not have to deal with layers of beauracy that are often the drawback to innovation in larger organisations. The drawbacks are that it can be a bit lonely sometimes and time pressures can cause stress.
Where do you work from and do you have employees?
I work from home, and do not have employees at the moment.
Do you have entrepreneurial role models?
I don’t have any role models.
How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?
My initial education gave me the confidence about my subjects to teach, other skills necessary for running the business such as web development, social media and book keeping I picked up as we went along.
I think you must be flexible and always open to new ideas. Sometimes they come out of the blue, like with our Scoodoos. This was an accident but we saw their potential as a learning device and a method of engaging pole to interact with nature and consider the environment. Their appeal across all ages has taken us by surprise. The Enterprise Board is helping us develop this idea into a viable business through business mentoring.
If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
No regrets, but some business organisation training at the beginning might have have helped avoid some headaches. Perhaps more attention to developing a business plan at the outset.
What is your best selling item/service?
Home study courses are still the best selling service that we offer, but Scoodoos are becoming a movement and attracting a lot of attention including Mooney radio show and a Scoodoo trail will feature at BLOOM 2013.
Are you a LookWester (previously living outside the Western Region) and if so why did you decide to move home or relocate to the West?
I grew up in Dublin and moved west in 2001. Although I am a Dub, I grew up in the countryside surrounded by farms and market gardening. I missed having open space around me and wanted to smell fresh air and enjoy a better quality of life, as well as have a larger garden. I came to the west one weekend and decided to buy the house in which we live now.
What advice would you give to anybody Looking West?
In these times I would advise people to research their employment possibilities thoroughly and if considering starting up a business get in touch with the county enterprise board. Living in the west is great, I don’t want to be anywhere else!