Kathleen Irwin, Adora Flax Limited

Kathleen and JohnKathleen and John started Adora Flax in 2010; this was their first year to grow flax seed organically in Ireland. It was a bold move considering it had not been done before in Ireland and there was very little documented information to draw from to guide them in their efforts.  Persevere they did and they yielded a good harvest in that first year.   In 2011, the crop was not so good as the crop does not compete with weeds very well.  In 2012 as it was the wettest summer in Ireland for decades, this made it difficult to save the harvest.

After a couple of difficult years they discovered the benefit of mechanical intervention through a Robocrop,  a sensor activated hoeing machine. 

The Robocrop really helped to cultivate a successful harvest and each and every year since there is new learning gained with growing the crop.

Kathleen was always entrepreneurial by nature. She started her first business in 1992 supplying chilled bottled water to the corporate market. At the height of the economic boom, the business employed eight people.  In the downturn, many of their customers in the building, catering and transport sector were badly hit or wiped out completely and their own business had to downsize accordingly. This business presently employs three people and continues to grow in the present market climate, which is showing signs of recovery.  

In 2010, Kathleen began studying Nutrition and discovered the immense nutritional benefits of Flax oil and flax seed. This was where the idea came from to start Adora Flax.

The business was funded initially from their own savings, a bank loan and a grant contribution from the Department of agriculture. This finance enabled
them to build a small premise and acquire equipment to clean grain, produce oil and store raw materials.

Kathleen and John have worked extremely hard over the years to perfect, grow and produce a high quality product. Their Adora Flax oil typically contains 60% Omega 3, 18% Omega 6 and 12% Omega 9.  

Kathleen explains that in a country like Ireland with little sunshine these oils and seeds provide our body with stored sunlight energy from within which helps support our cell membrane formation and function. Adora flax oil is mechanically cold pressed, unrefined oil that has been produced by incorporating measures to protect the essential fatty acid content naturally present in the oil, to ensure it is the highest quality oil possible.

As the business increased and they got more stockists on board, they needed bigger premises to work out of and they were very grateful for the support from Laois LEO in the form of grant aid. This meant that they could expand the business even further and start looking at new products.

What makes Adora Flax oil different is that they are the only Irish organic growers and producers on the market.  They produce the highest quality products possible keeping the valuable nutritional content of their products in mind at all times during the production process to ensure they meet the highest quality standards possible.  

Kathleen and John see replacing imported products with top quality Irish products as being helpful to the Irish economy. As demand increased, they have collaborated with other certified organic growers of flax seed who supply them with as much raw material for their products as possible.

When asked about which entrepreneur she most admired, Kathleen said that it has to be every single entrepreneur in Ireland that has come through the last 5-7 years. “They are the real heroes in my view, says Kathleen. They kept the country afloat by continuing to employ people, sometimes not even paying their own salary. Their resilience was amazing in the face of such adversity. Entrepreneurs start from nothing and create something great, working in an environment that is not cushioned or insulated in any way, with no guarantee of success or a pension at the end of it.”

Winning the County Final of the National Enterprise Awards organised by Laois LEO was a great experience for Kathleen and John. It encouraged them both and acknowledged all the hard work they had put in to develop the Adora brand. It was also an endorsement for them that they are moving in the right direction.

They found the process of creating the Business Plan and going through the judging process very helpful.  “I did not expect to win, said Kathleen. I had a serious accident in that a ladder fell from under me last year and I was in a wheelchair for several months so this really impeded the growth of the business and we were not as far along as we would like to have been.” However, she does accept that the judges were impressed with her commitment, enthusiasm and her Business Plan, which was all about growing their business, and looking at market opportunities overseas, which made her a worthy winner.

Kathleen would encourage other entrepreneurs to put their name forward for the National Enterprise Awards when Laois LEO run it again because she believes that you have more to gain than lose. “Working through the process will help the business owner plan ahead on paper rather than in their head”, says Kathleen.

“The future looks bright,” says Kathleen. We have built a business step by step with a solid foundation to take us into the future. We have a full family of brands and a new production line, which provides a higher capacity for us. This will mean we can look at growth in overseas markets.

One piece of advice Kathleen would give to a new start-up; ‘you have to have a strong belief in yourself and in your product or service, she says. In your first few years of business you are going to have to overcome many obstacles and it will be that “strong belief” that will get you through your first year and beyond’.