Bord na Móna have been through a public transition over the last couple of years, moving from a fossil fuel-based company to a renewable energy business. The company ambition is to create the right conditions to store carbon and protect biodiversity while helping to deliver ongoing sustainable energy security for Ireland.

They were unable to provide direct employment to replace jobs that were no longer required in manual labour.

“When we were going through our transition, what became quite apparent was the level of employment Bord na Móna provided in the past – we didn’t have alternative options to continue to provide that employment into the future,” says Sharon Doyle, Head of Corporate Affairs.

As a result, they saw an opportunity to work with other companies to create employment in the midlands and across Ireland through the Accelerate Green programme.

Starting in 2022, the pilot programme was aimed at sharing their experiences with SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and encouraging them to develop and grow sustainably.

“There’s nothing like being through a transformation and coming out the other side, financially strong. We put sustainability at the heart of everything we do,” says Sharon.

Last year, the company delivered the highest profits in its nearly 90-year history. Although Sharon admits that’s not feasible for everyone, it does show that enterprises can be sustainable organisations with profitability.

The six-month programme is delivered in conjunction with Resolve Partners, with the aim of scaling early-stage enterprises and SMEs that are leading the response to climate action and sustainability.

The eight companies selected to participate in this year’s Accelerate Green are ACEL Energy; Voltclub Renewables; Konree Innovation; Weev; SomaTech; I/O Agri; AffinityEV; and Universal Graphics.

Since January, the companies have participated in a series of learning and mentoring workshops. Along with this, they have engaged with a broad range of leaders from enterprise and energy agencies, Irish-founded companies, research networks and investors.

James Goldsmith, managing director, Voltclub, Oltclub Renewables

The world’s largest 1% of businesses are sourcing their energy directly from renewable generators through power purchase agreements.

Voltclub helps enterprises meet their renewable energy goals by sourcing their energy directly with wind and solar farms. They offer the development of grid-scale solar for businesses that don’t have enough space on their rooftop or sites.

Set up in 2021, the company has seen a shift in the need for renewable electricity since the inflation of prices across the globe as a result of the war in Ukraine.

James decided to apply for the Accelerate Green 2024 programme as the company was coming towards the end of its first round of projects. They needed to decide if they were going to scale up or stay at the same level.

“The opportunity was to do something a little bit bigger and take more of a risk,” says James. “We weren’t sure how to do that and who to target, so I wanted to see how we can do something that’s five times bigger and how do we grow that in a sustainably and focused way.”

He found the structure of the programme beneficial as it started by looking at the broad idea behind what the company’s ambition is and setting goals for growth and a strategy for getting there.

“Ireland is in a niche strategic position in that we have a load of multinational companies that need green energy,” says James. “How can we engage with them and grow through them into an international business as well? The way they bring your ambition into a strategic plan and then into an actual plan is the real key thing that we got out of the programme.”

Another aspect of it was networking and meeting a similar cohort of people working across different industries.

Left to right: Raj Lyons (AffinityEV), Barry Sherry (ACEL Energy), Alejandra Omarini (SomaTech), Tony Callaghan (SomaTech), Graeme Thompson (Weev), Shane O’Reilly (I/O Agri), Tom Donnellan, Chief Executive, Bord na Móna, Sandra Thompson (I/O Agri), Michael Flynn (Konree Innovation), Margaret Rae (Konree Innovation), James Goldsmith (Voltclub Renewables), Shane Conneely (Voltclub Renewables), Martin Kelly (Universal Graphics), Declan McDonald (ACEL Energy)

“You’re talking to like-minded businesses. Not everyone is doing the same thing as us, but there are very similar problems.”

With the transition into the renewable energy space, James sees the grid looking very different in 10 to 15 years, especially regarding jobs in rural Ireland.

“What the renewable industry has effectively changed from a labour perspective is it has distributed the employment network,” he says.

“There are going to be more cables, panels and wind farms to maintain. You need to have boots on the ground and a distributed workforce. We will see more jobs going into the rural areas of Ireland subtly.”

Sandra Thompson

Sandra Thompson, Co-founder I/O Agri

I/O Agri specialises in odour abatement and emission reduction. They have developed a pending system to allow any animal housing unit emitting odours or gases to clean the air; eliminate odours; enable the end user to reuse gases; and collect data to measure their emissions accurately.

“We allow the agricultural sector to sustain their operations, while meeting carbon reduction targets. Our systems allow processes to transition to a more sustainable operation,” says Sandra Thompson, CEO.

Green innovation allows society and business to come together as they not only contribute to environmental sustainability but also make economic sense, according to Sandra.

“Towards the end of 2023, our company had reached a critical point,” she says. “We needed to take time out of the day-to-day operations and strategically place ourselves in the right position to grow our company into new markets, both nationally and internationally. We saw the Accelerate Green programme as the perfect catalyst.”

A key take away for Sandra was the workshop in customer discovery and identifying their product market fit.

“It has been hugely beneficially for us,” she says. “Knowing how important these two aspects are to any product or service is vital for our continued success.”

All workshops, led by the professional team at Resolve Partners, were underpinned by sustainability.“We were able to tailor or relate each workshop to our company’s operations to benefit every aspect of our ecosystem.”

In Short

• Thirty-four Irish businesses have completed the Accelerate Green programme to date

• Over 90% of past participants reported they have more confidence in their ability as business leaders to scale their companies successfully

• Some 75% of past participants have grown their workforce since completing the programme

• Enterprises have reported significant and sustainable progress and raised €10m in venture capital.

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