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Business challenge win gives Café Scoop initiative to move to next level

09 April 2018

The proprietor of £10K Business Challenge runners up Café Scoop has credited Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Go For It programme with giving him the belief to pursue his business idea.

Gearoid Connolly claimed a £2,000 cash prize in the Enterprise Week competition which he intends to use to bring his range of artisan ice cream to a wider market over the next year.

Selling his exciting variety of hand crafted, healthier ice creams and deserts to the public from his Castle Street emporium in Strabane was something he had considered for some time but it was the guidance he received from the scheme’s experienced mentors that gave him the confidence to take the plunge.

“For me the real strength of the Go For It programme is the professional one to one mentoring on offer,” noted Gearoid.

“This allows for a more factually based analysis which can be of great encouragement for an applicant to assess the business idea before the more serious process of capital expenditure begins.

“Challenges will always be there but this mentoring process gives the confidence to meet these challenges head on as you have already discussed and planned for them.

“Most businesses start out small with an idea just as ours did, to get this idea to market you need to have belief in it but this can be quite daunting and a lonely road as quite often friends will tell you why your idea won’t work.”

Café Scoop was one of seven local businesses who contended for the 10k Business Challenge title, a competition which culminated in a Dragons Den style pitching event to judges at the North West Regional College’s Foyle Theatre on Enterprise Week.

Gearoid’s presentation helped convince judges to award him the runners up position and he admitted the public finale was the ideal platform to showcase his business.

“Certainly the £2,000 prize money is a great help but equally the whole pitchathon concept has given the business a wonderful platform to further enhance our profile in the wider community,” he continued.

“I would have to commend Kevin O`Connor and his Council Business Team on this initiative and how it was executed, I would encourage any new businesses to consider this event as a wonderful opportunity to put their business out there.

“I also would like to bring to market the special healthy option ice-creams which I have been working on in the recent past under the guidance of Invest NI and the Cafe Food Innovation Centre and so the future is very positive.”

Coming from a farming background, Gearoid grew up eating a lot of food made from natural ingredients by his mother Rosaleen, who, two years ago, was the source of the light bulb moment for his artisan ice cream business idea.

“My mother was a fantastic cook and, coming from a farming background always presented wonderful food to us, with emphasis on fresh and natural ingredients,” he explained.

“Sunday lunches in the Connolly household were always followed by fantastic deserts and so growing up we had a good grounding in the appreciation of wholesome food.

“By 2016 my mother had developed dementia, the disease was progressing and the family decided it was time for mum to be put into residential care where her weight began to reduce significantly as she didn’t cooperate with the feeding regime.

“I brought her a tub of ice-cream in the hope that it would provide some additional sustenance and to my amazement it was the only real food product she willingly cooperated in eating.

“I tried to trick her by mixing bits of food up into the ice-cream but she quickly detected this and withdrew cooperation.

“There were fortified drinks for her but these were often lukewarm and didn’t hold any attraction and I realised there was no equivalent fortified ice-cream in the market place.

“With a background in business I started to become interested in exploring and developing such a product.

“One other thing struck me, there were usually about twenty residents present and I quickly discovered that they were interested in a bit of the action and so with the nurses permission I would bring some ice-cream for them also and I was taken aback how it changed the atmosphere in the room. Everybody appeared to love ice-cream.

“I was successful in obtaining funding from Invest NI to carry out practical research at Cafe Agriculture and Food innovation Centre on the topic of creating healthier option ice-creams and whilst completing this I decided the next step was to open up Cafe Scoop, where I could bring to market a range of Artisan ice-creams and associated deserts and foods to the people of Strabane.

“It’s exciting times and very fulfilling to think that my mother Rosaleen is perhaps smiling down on Cafe Scoop. I want the business to be a legacy to her as she struggled like so many with the ravages of dementia.

“I must pay tribute to my wife, who despite a busy schedule herself has always been there to help and support me along the way.”

For further information on how Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Business Development department can support new and existing entrepreneurs visit www.derrystrabane.com/business or contact 028 71 253 253.