Midlands engineering cluster collaborates a way through pandemic

Regional engineering firms’ Engenuity cluster helps businesses to grow through the pandemic.

A member-led network and engineering cluster in the Midlands, has been pivotal in empowering its members to survive and thrive despite the Covid-19 pandemic through collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

The network, which is led by LEO Westmeath, and supported by Offaly, Longford, and Laois Local Enterprise Offices, initially aspired to growing members’ presence at international shows but had to pivot resourcing their business needs at home due to Covid-19.

“Many owner managers focus on driving business and getting business done – this can result in missed opportunities for our indigenous companies to grow across”

Engenuity was founded in the belief that engineering microenterprises and SMEs needed to come together as a cluster to share knowledge and have their voices heard.

Ingenuity leads to Engenuity

The network was the brainchild of Tracey Tallon, senior enterprise development officer at LEO Westmeath, who believed that businesses that were experiencing the same problems could help each other.

After the pandemic began, Engenuity focused its budget on strengthening the network, aligning standards, explaining, and helping with funding applications, promotions, recruitment, and helping members to help each other.

The shift in focus has been successful in helping the companies to work through common business problems as well as undertaking joint commercial activity.

Twice-monthly video meetings help members share experiences and learn from each other about the aspects of running a business that they all have in common. In addition, to peer-learning, guest speakers and experts help them to identify and tackle complex issues.

“We’re driving an agenda towards collaborative business development, collaborative internationalisation and collaborative R&D,” explained Theresa Mulvihill, network manager for Engenuity.

“We also help our members to engage with stakeholders. Irish business is very well supported by our government through various agencies and supports. Many owner managers focus on driving business and getting business done – this can result in missed opportunities for our indigenous companies to grow across. At Engenuity, our member case studies, and peer learning bring some of the advanced supports to reality, showcasing how a support which may seem unattainable can make a real difference to a company’s bottom line.”

Meetings address issues such as business development, attendance at national and international trade shows, supply chain development, industry standards and certification, supports and finance, and recruitment and team development.

“Collaboration is an immensely powerful tool and clustering knowledge, and expertise has proven to be a great benefit as these Midlands-based employers seek to grow and scale,” said Christine Charlton, head of Enterprise, LEO Westmeath.

Engenuity also enables access to support by facilitating workshops, networking events, guest speakers and member presentations – all of which currently happen online.

“Years ago, you would have been watching your competitors and what has happened with Engenuity has been really quite interesting.,” said John O’Reilly, managing director of Strikebox Engineering, in Mullingar, Co Westmeath. “You’ve guys who never talked to each other, beginning to talk to each other. Now you have a network who can share knowledge and experience. It’s become a very amicable and helpful place to do business.”

European recognition

The network represented Ireland and came in the top three out of 27 countries in the European Enterprise Promotion Awards 2020. The network has upwards of 60 members including stakeholders.

 “Initially, Tracey Tallon, Senior Enterprise Development Officer at LEO Westmeath came up with the idea of setting up Engenuity so businesses that were experiencing the same problems could help each other,” Mulvihill explained.

“There’s strength in numbers. it’s about power, it’s about strength, it’s about being seen, and it’s about being heard in recruitment, in business development and in standards. Engenuity gives that voice collectively and it will grow over time as relationships between member companies develop.”

Engenuity member Enhance Acoustics is based in Rhode, Co. Offaly and has recently completed a project for the world-famous Steinway & Sons piano company in New York. Founder Derek McCreanor, says:

“Engenuity allowed me to get into a sector that was driven by people the same as myself, small microenterprises that had a vision for their company and what their company wanted to do and steer it in that direction. Being with Engenuity, I am working with people that are looking at my progression. I’ve a responsibility to the people who have put me forward for these applications, to make sure that I follow through.”

Dani Kavanagh, director of Longford-based Fabworx Engineering, says the company has benefited from being a member of Engenuity – turnover has increased by more than 25pc in the last 12 months.

“We joined Engenuity a year ago, contributing via online meetings. We have had a 25% increase in turnover this year and our expanding portfolio in stainless steel fabrications is linked to networking within the Engenuity group.

“We have obtained CE certification which allows us to supply and fabricate certified steel structures. This qualifies us to work with larger scale construction companies and produce structural steel products certified to the highest industry standards.

“Our focus is on architectural feature elements such as stairs and balconies – it was through the group that we explored avenues for funding and gained confidence in our capability to achieve this. We also now have a team of six and have received an expansion grant from Longford LEO for creating local employment.”

Case study: Enhance Acoustics builds a business on sound principles

Within a year of founding his company, Enhance Acoustics, in Rhode, Co Offaly, Derek McCreanor found himself in the Steinway factory in New York enhancing the acoustics in their invitation-only showroom, The Vault, home to some of the most expensive and exclusive pianos in the world.

Attracting this world-renowned client came about when an acquaintance of Derek’s, who was doing the lighting fit-out for The Vault, noticed that the acoustics of the space needed attention and recommended him.

“They were concerned because they were nearly finished building it,” Derek says. “We did the consultation and the design here in Ireland and then, in 2019, I flew over to New York and made the panels.”

Enhanced Acoustics are now designing the room acoustics and sound insulation for a number of tuning rooms in the Steinway factory, and they have also generated other work with high-end US clients through their association with Steinway.

Derek found his vocation for sound after a career in music led him to working in audio production and sound system installations, and he decided to go back to college to get a relevant qualification. An MSc in Applied Acoustics and an MPhil in Music & Media Technologies subsequently opened his mind to the world of acoustics.

“It made me see something we all took for granted – what our hearing actually does for us and how it shapes our view of the world around us,” he says.

Derek worked as an acoustician in the area of acoustics and noise control for a few years, before branching out on his own to explore “the psychological end of things” with Enhance Acoustics, where he specialises in architectural and building acoustics. “We focus on improving health and well-being and increasing productivity for people through the use of acoustics and design,” he says.

The support of Engenuity has been pivotal in his company’s rapid development. “Engenuity allowed me to get into a sector that was driven by people the same as myself, small microenterprises that had a vision for their company and what their company wanted to do, and steer it in that direction,” he says. “Whereas I had an idea I thought of as a pipedream, Engenuity enabled me to make it not a pipedream anymore.”

As well as Enhance Acoustics, and inspired by the surge in remote working due to the pandemic,  Derek has founded a new company, Acoustic Interiors, which provides sound insulation in people’s homes. 

Main image: Pictured at a recent outdoor meeting in Mullingar of Engenuity, a midlands engineering cluster and network, are Tom Griffith, operations manager of Mullingar-based Serchek Industrial Ireland, and Dani Kavanagh, Director, Fabworx, Co. Longford. Image: Orla Murray/Coalesce

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 7 July 2021