ONE of the things I’ve really enjoyed being involved with over the last five years is the Saffron Business Forum, a membership network where the proceeds support Antrim GAA.
Since its foundation, more than £400,000 has been raised to support the county - kit vans, GPS units, under-age development squads, the county’s pitches at Dunsilly etc. And after Covid-enforced break, we were able to host our sports lunch again last month and it was another roaring success that went a long way past lunchtime before it finished.
At the same lunch four years ago, I was introduced to a businessman called Anthony Kieran. He is a proper entrepreneur, one of those people you meet in life who just sees things a bit differently and then goes and delivers on his vision. Since that first meeting at the GAA lunch, we’ve started to work on some of Anthony and his wife Andrea’s projects, and what a brilliant team they are. A total pleasure to work with.
Last Thursday night was the launch of their latest project, The Regency, at Upper Crescent off University Road in south Belfast. Many readers will know Upper and Lower Crescent and the little park they surround. It’s probably the nicest square in Belfast and the only one comparable to what exists in some of the nicest parts of Georgian London and Dublin.
Many of the buildings, though, are badly in need of restoration and, the most impressive of them, The Regency, dating back to 1846, was in the worst condition of all.
But then along came Anthony and Andrea with a vision to restore the building and create six high-end serviced self-catering apartments. The result is just fantastic.
Working with another couple of GAA men, Bredagh’s Gerry Rogers and Kieran Kelly of GMR Architects, the work to restore the listed building has been painstaking, time-consuming and no doubt, very expensive. But the team stuck with it and the results are a huge credit to all involved. That little square is one of the architectural jewels of Belfast, and now Anthony and Andrea have given it back its most important building, they should be immensely proud, and the city should be hugely grateful. If you are up that way, take a drive or walk past, it’s worth a look.
Staying positive in my last column of 2021, I wanted to introduce another entrepreneur who also happens to be an old friend of mine. I’m pretty certain this won’t be the last time I mention Mark Gilligan, founder of Wizso.
Mark is an engineer with wide experience in large, global companies and during those years his work took him to a number of middle east countries where water is a scarce resource. For years he was thinking about how we might manage water better, even in countries like ours, where we would seem to have plenty of it.
So, after 20-plus years in the corporate world, Mark set up a company and got an innovation voucher from Invest NI and he started discussions with the chemistry department at Queen’s University. The problem he was trying to solve was how to stop wasting so much water by flushing the toilet. On average, we flush the toilet seven times a day and on average cisterns use seven litres of water per flush. That's 49 litres of clean water used every day by every person - which is nearly 18,000 litres, the size of a small tanker of water a year per person flushed down the toilet.
What if we didn’t flush and found a way to deodorise and change the colour of the toilet water after use? Mark has created a little tablet which does both of those things, in a matter of seconds. You just drop it in after use (we’re talking about after number ones here, not number twos!) and the tablet dissolves changing the colour and emitting a fresh smell. The product and the company is called Wizso, and its mantra is simple: fizz don’t flush.
But what about cost I hear you ask? Well, not only does this little product potentially save trillions of gallons of water, but it’s also less than half the price of a flush – if you were paying for water, which is the case in most developed countries, the price averages at around 2.2p to 2.5p per flush. The price of a Wizso tablet is coming in at 1p. That is a big saving over time.
So, Wizso is environmentally friendly and it saves money. Many large companies now have made serious commitments on sustainability and good environmental practice. Wizso is going to help them achieve those targets and it is already getting ready for trial in a number of big companies in England. It’s an exciting, home-grown but globally impactful idea from Mark, and he and his co-director Arthur O’Brien are now building a great business around it.
It’s inspirational watching the likes of Anthony and Andrea Kieran, and Mark and Arthur, doing what they are doing. And to do it during the pandemic when people might have been forgiven for being cautious, is even more impressive. 2022 is going to be an interesting year. Happy Christmas to you all.
:: Paul McErlean (email@example.com) is managing director and founder of MCE Public Relations
:: Next week: Richard Ramsey