Back for Business: Rachel Forbes

Back for Business after eight years in Asia, Rachel Forbes is forging her future as the founder of House of EQ.

Rachel Forbes’ journey from the cut-and-thrust world of international finance to founding the House of EQ, a start-up based on boosting self-awareness through sensorial stimulation, is not as unlikely as it may seem.

Her four-year stint in Shanghai working in mergers and acquisitions was preceded by a similar spell in Singapore.

“People want to connect but they also want something different. Alcohol would have traditionally been a big feature of team bonding events, but this is more inclusive”

While the two cities were markedly different, a shared tradition of aroma design and artisan craft making fascinated Rachel, who had already seen first-hand how heightened emotional intelligence could help bypass the pitfalls of being a stranger in a strange land.

“Working in international business, deals are not always done in English so I found myself paying particular attention to sensory cues, body language and reading the room. That’s where my fascination with emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), really began. In Asia, there’s a huge emphasis on aromatherapies. Seeing how scent is used not only for therapeutic purposes but also in marketing accelerated my interest, and I could see how to link it all together,” says Rachel.

After eight years in Asia, the lure of returning to Ireland had been gathering strength when the outbreak of Covid-19 in China banished any lingering doubts.

“The pandemic was the push I needed to move back. I left my job in Shanghai in December 2019, returned to Ireland in February 2020, right before the first lockdown and then set up the business. The irony is that I got Covid shortly after I started trading so I temporarily lost my sense of smell and taste!”

House of EQ represents something of a first in the Irish market, selling a range of fragrance-themed experiential products and classes. The workshops have proven particularly popular with corporate clients looking for inventive ideas for team-building projects.

“Employee engagement activities are a major growth area for us. We’ve done workshops in candle crafts and scent mixology with major corporations like Microsoft and Meta, and we’ve worked with customers in Serbia, France and even Utah in the United States,” she says.

“People want to connect but they also want something different. Alcohol would have traditionally been a big feature of team bonding events, but this is more inclusive.”

Now splitting her time between the studio in Ballina in Co Mayo and Dublin, Rachel recently hired her first employee and has engaged professional teams across Ireland as she bids to scale up operations.

Disruptions to the supply chain as a result of the pandemic and war in Ukraine has seen her shift focus from many overseas suppliers in favour of indigenous Irish firms, a move which she credits the Back for Business programme with encouraging.

“I would recommend Back for Business, 100%. Returning with no professional network here, you don’t know how to approach things. Back for Business gave me a network and opened my eyes to all the resources and supports that are available,” she says.

Are you thinking of coming Back for Business?

This is the sixth year of the Back for Business programme and there are up to 50 places available to support those have returned to Ireland – or are  thinking about it – and have or want to start a business here.

The Back for Business developmental programme, which is funded from the Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, was created to foster and support entrepreneurial activity among emigrants returning to live in Ireland. The call for this year’s applications was launched by Colm Brophy TD, Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora. 

Back for Business 6 will run from the end of January to June 2023. There is no charge for those selected to participate and the closing date for applications is Friday 6 January 2023. 

Back for Business is aimed at those who have lived abroad for at least a year and have returned in the last three years or those planning to return in the near future. It addresses challenges that all early-stage entrepreneurs encounter, but also focuses on the additional barriers faced by those who have been living outside Ireland for some years

Participants on last year’s programme increased their combined workforce by 76% and more than doubled (107% ) their turnover during the cycle – despite the restrictions placed on businesses as a result of the Covid pandemic.

Those selected to join Back for Business 6 will take part in round table sessions, focused on goals and milestones, which are facilitated by voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs who have experience of successfully starting and growing a business. 

This year’s Lead Entrepreneurs are: Hannah Wrixon, founder of WrkWrk, formerly known as Get the Shifts; Morgan Browne, CEO of Milner Browne and Enterpryze; Paul Duggan of The Gardiner Group; Seamus Reilly, co-founder and formerly of Critical Healthcare; and Thomas Ennis, founder of the Thomas Ennis Group.

A Back for Business Community is also being formed for previous participants, who will be offered workshops, review round tables and an annual Community Forum.

Those interested in learning more about applying for Back for Business 6 can download a brochure and register their interest in receiving an application form.

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