Cognikids founder Ollwyn Moran is struggling to secure funding to expand her business, despite orders coming in droves and fast.
She had to jump through hoops to get a bank loan, on pretty unfavorable terms, and says investor appetite is limited for women-led companies that aren’t “sexy” tech startups and don’t ” don’t talk shit”.
“My company is not a sexy tech company. That’s not necessarily cool. I know a lot of other companies that have made a lot of money – we speak in the millions – and have only survived through constant fundraising. And they folded, either before Covid or during Covid. Mine is a solid business. He grows up.
Cognikids sells easy-grip cups, spoons and bottles that help develop babies’ fine motor skills. The company rebranded from Creeper Crawlers, its first commercial venture, which made jumpsuits with pull handles to help babies learn to crawl.
Ms. Moran is also looking to rework Cognikids bestsellers for the assisted living market after requests from several clients.
The company now holds three different patents for its products, selling throughout Ireland via its own website and at major retailers including Boots and Dunnes Stores, as well as exporting to the UK, EU, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Despite her continued success, the neurodevelopment expert and former high school teacher struggles to convince investors to believe in her company.
“They don’t take it seriously because I’m a woman and I’m a single mom and it’s a baby thing.
“When you pitch a small business to private investors, a lot of the time you’re talking to a certain cohort and a certain profile and maybe that certain profile wasn’t really involved in raising their children. .
“My heart just sinks when I hear that. I think, ‘You’re not even going to hang on to the financials now.'”
Fundraising as a woman is not just a problem in Ireland. A recent study by the group European Women in VC found that only 1.7% of all venture capital went to female founders in the EU in 2016-2020.
This despite the fact that women tend to do well when given a chance. In 2020, female-led startups in Ireland raised more than double what men raised, according to the study.
Ms. Moran says many investors aren’t used to the way women present their products.
“We don’t talk shit,” she said. “We are absolutely straight. Maybe we don’t blow our own trumpets enough when we talk about business because we get on with our jobs. We don’t need the pat on the back.
A series of unfortunate events has made life during Covid a bit more difficult for the entrepreneur, who first incorporated the business almost 10 years ago.
She was approved a few years ago for significant seed funding from the state, which required her to match it with private investment. She managed to exceed her target, but missed a deadline of one business day due to Christmas holiday closures.
“I lost state funding. And as a direct result of that, I also lost the private investors. It was really difficult. In fact, I think I took it harder than the breakdown of my marriage.
Just before Covid she struck a deal with a major Irish retailer to stock her products, but when the pandemic hit she was unlucky.
One of his biggest orders was on the water as the world went into lockdown, but when the shops were closed the order was cancelled.
And in June this year, she had to turn down her biggest order to date – worth around €150,000 – because she didn’t have enough money to get into production. “It broke my heart, to be honest with you,” she said.
“I’m convinced that something big is definitely going to happen to me because I feel like I’m always on the verge of doing something, and I miss it. Maybe it’s the madness of the business spirit.
The mother-of-two is going without a salary so she can invest the proceeds from the sales in her business, and says support from Enterprise Ireland (EI) – as well as its Going for Growth network for female investors – has been invaluable.
The parastatal has a stake in her business through its Competitive Start Fund, and she also received €100,000 from its High Potential Start-Up fund, which she easily matched with €100,000 of private investment.
But she says last week’s budget did little to help companies like hers, the “middlemen” who have moved beyond the early stage and are trying to grow.
For example, Enterprise Ireland requires a business to have at least 10 employees to qualify for certain additional support.
“I’m kind of stuck in a roundabout,” she says. “I can’t employ 10 people because I don’t have the funding. The irony is that if I had the funding, I could come up with new products.
“We have purchase orders and promises to purchase. We have two distributors and two large online retailers in the UK who are looking to buy because they have seen the prototype but I don’t have the money available now to equip myself because you speak in the thousands.
She “harassed” various banks and finally got a loan on less than ideal terms that will disqualify her from the government credit guarantee scheme.
The backlash has forced it to get “smart with money” via its suppliers and factories. And after careful consideration, she decided to start a round of financing for “500,000 € on the rise”.
“I think we’ll have cut our teeth by now being really smart with money, so when we get it – because I have no doubt that we will get investments in – so we have so many creative ways to make it last.
Walking and swimming in the sea has kept Ms Moran and her children sane during the pandemic, and while funding constraints can be frustrating, they haven’t shaken her resolve to succeed. However, she is more cautious.
“I have become a great realist. I don’t celebrate until the money is in the account.
“You just keep your feet firmly on the ground. You keep hooking up and never put all your eggs in one basket no matter what – whether with a trader, investor or bank.”