Declan Gallagher built a thriving, global business from harvesting seaweed in Donegal.
In 2004 CEO Declan Gallagher founded OGT, a seaweed company based in Kilcar, Co. Donegal. It was privately funded with an original investment of €300,000. The ambition was to sustainably harvest and then process some of the area’s natural seaweed, into a liquid seaweed extract, to sell to the golf industry in Ireland. It’s very much a success story as production levels have grown to 3,200 tonnes per annum with the business employing over 30 full-time staff.
I grew up close to the ocean and was always involved in some ocean-related business. Going back the years, farmers used seaweed to enhance and improve grass growth and to improve crop growth in potatoes. I can also remember from a very young age, how my grandmother used to go down to the shore and collect dillisk and bring it home, to dry out at the back of her house. After finishing secondary school, I studied business in Letterkenny Institute and went on to work in my father’s company, which made fishing nets for the large fishing boats in Donegal.
I always wanted to do something for myself, in an industry that I was passionate about. Obviously being from Donegal, a lot of people are into sports and personal experience made me aware that seaweed could have potential benefits for the sports industry. There was a lot of local knowledge on seaweed but not a lot of research. There were no competitors as such to compete with and consequently no blueprint to follow.
“Our liquid extracts help build up the immune system of a plant, similar to a person taking a multivitamin for their health.”
What problem do you solve for golf courses?
The seaweed extract contains small amounts of nutrients and growth enhancers, which allows greenkeepers to produce and maintain a healthier, stronger grass.
Our liquid extracts help build up the immune system of a plant, similar to a person taking a multivitamin for their health.
Being original can be tough
Our number one key selling point is that we are lucky to have a really quality raw material that grows in abundance along the coast of Ireland. We are in South West Donegal and to be competitive, I knew we had to be unique, as you have additional costs when you operate on the periphery of a market.
We were competing with large international companies with billion dollar turnovers. At the time, greenkeepers in Ireland didn’t have the opportunity to buy much Irish-made, as they were generally offered either European or American products. Most of my customers in the golf industry are all very well qualified in plant physiology. They grow excellent quality grass, and my job was to be there to listen and support them
In 2005 I launched the product onto the Irish market, and for the first two years, it involved much learning and as well as discovering the needs of my customers. Probably the biggest challenge for me personally, was to gain first-hand knowledge of the industry and to get feedback on my product, in a short period.
“It’s a very sustainable business model, and sales never vary by more than 10 to 15% per month.”
I received a lot of outstanding testimonials from local golf courses in Ireland who believed in me and my product. By 2007 I had built up sufficient product knowledge to begin to look at the US, which has since developed into an important market for us. Customers in America were very supportive, and they wanted to see the business grow, so that also helped me a lot. Every market is different, and golf courses in the US faced various challenges, such as drought and unlike Ireland, using reclaimed or poorer quality water.
All the seaweed is processed into two forms; firstly into our liquid extract product for the golf and agri industries; and secondly dried seaweed fibre, supplied to animal feed companies across Europe.
Selling the business
Our principal focus has always been to supply the highest quality product possible. I also knew that we needed extra resources to achieve our potential. In 2014, I sold the company to Tradecorp International, a company specialising in crop nutrition. I chose them as I felt it offered the best value for stakeholders, employees and the company itself. It has since opened up a lot more opportunity within various agri-markets across the world.
“This year we will turnover €5 million in sales and that turnover is projected to double within five years.”
The Tradecorp deal has opened up a lot of new markets for us, and our revenue is split across 40% golf, 40% agriculture and 20% from animal feed. It’s a very sustainable business model, and sales never vary by more than 10 to 15% per month, during the course of the year.
Seaweed harvest and sales projections
This year we will turnover €5 million in sales and that turnover is projected to double within five years. However, it’s important to note that the quantity of seaweed harvested is expected to increase by only 30% in the same period. The goal where possible is to create additional value from within existing resources and at that stage to increase employee numbers to over 70 full-time staff.
It’s not about turnover. It’s about developing your dreams. Don’t worry about your competitors. My dad told me at a very young age, when I was about seven, travelling in the car. He said to me, “What do you want to do when you grow up”? I said, “I want to be a millionaire”.
“Well the best bit of advice, I can give you is to be successful”, he said, “As money usually follows success”.
Interview by Brendan Byrne.