They say the secret to getting ahead is getting started. But a helping hand and a push in the right direction can do wonders, especially when it comes to start-ups. Even we had to start somewhere and – despite the fact that we’ve been around longer than the term ‘start-up’ – we too were once looking to scale up an expand our reach.

That’s why, three years ago, we decided to partner with Enterprise Ireland to create The Thrive Project, a six-month leadership initiative to help inspire and nurture the next generation of ambitious food companies to become global brands. But what does that entail? And how have our chosen companies benefitted? Here’s everything you need to know…

Shaping the future

Each year, eight entrepreneurial founders of fast-growing Irish food companies are chosen to complete the Thrive Project’s crash-course leadership programme. All companies selected must a) be planning to expand internationally imminently, b) be run by a founder or group of founders who are fiercely ambitious, and c) have a strong brand and a unique proposition in their sector.

Once underway, the group follows a jam-packed itinerary which includes the opportunity to visit Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta for an intensive three-day boot camp, and a strategy masterclass at Coca-Cola’s Western Europe Headquarters in London.

Now in its fourth year, the future of The Thrive Project looks exceedingly bright – you only have to listen to the feedback from former participants of our programme.

Take Siobhan Lawless, owner of The Foods of Athenry, who participated in The Thrive Project in 2016, the first year of the programme. “Being selected as a participant in a programme aimed at business growth and run by a global giant changed the way I thought about our business,” she reflects.

Siobhan Lawless, owner of The Foods of Athenry

“During one conversation in Atlanta, when I was talking about our journey with Coca-Cola, the other person was blown away by our narrative but felt we needed to change our packaging. He was right. I came home a changed woman – more confident and determined to improve. From there we refreshed the brand, changed the packaging and three years later are in a place that I may not have journeyed to had it not been for The Thrive Project.”

It’s been a whirlwind six-months, spanning different continents and time zones. But what stands out? The consensus among our participants was that the workshops, run by some of Coca-Cola’s global experts, helped inspire and educate, and proved to be instrumental in helping reshape and develop their business strategies.

Dáithi O’Connor, a 2018 Thrive participant and founder of Revive Active, recalls that it was at the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta that his cohort “learned about future world trends, corporate responsibility, supporting your community and different aspects of recycling as we head toward a greener world.

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Dáithi O’Connor, 2018 Thrive participant and founder of Revive Active

Participating companies also benefit from Enterprise Ireland’s support to develop robust business plans and avail themselves of one-to-one coaching. For O’Connor this was certainly the case, noting that: “The work with Enterprise Ireland challenged us to build a more robust financial model, in line with our ambition.”

It's all about leadership

Petre Sandru, Country Manager of Coca-Cola Ireland, is optimistic about the programme’s future in helping to foster home-grown talent. He says, “The Thrive Project is all about leadership within the food and drink industry.

“As one of the world’s most-loved brands, we’re delighted to be in a position to share our best practices and experience with innovative Irish companies who each have the potential to become global brands. The last three years of the project have been a great success and we’re looking forward to growing that impact over the coming years.”

Petre Sandru, Country Manager of Coca-Cola Ireland

Echoing this sentiment, Orla Battersby, Divisional Manager, Food Division, Enterprise Ireland says: “Our mission at Enterprise Ireland is to inspire and support business leaders with global ambition to scale their businesses and build their capability to reach into new export markets. The objectives of The Thrive Project perfectly align with this mission as it allows us to share our expertise in business development and leadership capability with these innovative Irish companies.”

The Thrive Project is not only a masterclass in branding, packaging and marketing, but an initiative that continues to turn local dreams into global realities. What advice would our graduates give our current – and future – participants? In a nutshell: get involved, implement key learnings and, above all else, enjoy the journey!

We can’t wait to see what the 2019 class achieves; watch this space!

You can find out lots more about the Thrive Project here.