In the run-up to Brexit and since, Irish companies have sought to diversity and are looking to expand their customer and market base in the UK. Our closest neighbour continues to be a valuable trading partner and companies like EMR Integrated Solutions are finding they are continuing to thrive in the UK.
In fact, it recently won a £11.5m (€13m) landmark contract with Northern Powergrid, which was five to seven years in the making and represented a step change for the business in the UK.
“We engaged with Northern Powergrid long before the tender,” says Quinn. “What was lacking for us up until three years ago was demonstrable capability on the ground in the UK, but by the time Northern Powergrid came to tender 18 months ago, we had won a multimillion pound contract with Severn Trent Water and had other projects up and running in the UK, so we could show our capabilitiy and our commitment to the market.
Actively trading for 40 years
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, EMR supplies mission-critical end-to-end communications and control systems for utility organisations and critical national infrastructure. “In our sector there is a real skills and knowledge shortage in the UK and they are looking for expertise like ours,” explains Mark Quinn, the firm’s managing director.
“We realised very quickly that the UK market has no hang up about dealing with Irish companies. They are very open to receiving offers of solutions from us and they want to see long term commitment to the business. We have been growing successfully and aggressively in the UK in the past two years and that market will eclipse our Irish business in the next 12-18 months.
Building a business in the UK
Set up in 1981 to provide a telecoms cost monitoring service to businesses, EMR quickly moved to specialise in radio communications and went on to expand into other areas such as telemetry and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) technologies, which involve the remote acquisition and communication of data from multiple sources.
It is now a wireless connectivity specialist providing secure, resilient communications infrastructure for mission-critical utility assets across water, wind and telecoms sectors.
“When the recession hit in 2008, we recognised that government spending in the Republic of Ireland was going to be seriously impacted,” says Mark. “We started chasing business in Northern Ireland and won a major contract with Northern Ireland Water, installing the largest digital radio telemetry network in Northern Europe. That was our first UK utility win, although we didn’t see it as that at the time.”
Expanding to new sectors
The scale and the scope of the Northern Ireland Water contract soon meant, however, that EMR appeared on the radar of other UK water industry operators. It secured Affinity Water as a client and won a framework contract with Severn Trent Water. “We are essentially its sole supplier for wireless comms,” says Mark. “We provide their inter-site comms, and also supply 24/7 monitoring, first line response, tech support, maintenance and so on.”
Having established a strong foothold in the water sector, EMR then expanded to work with renewable energy clients, including Greencoat Energy and now Northern Powergrid.
Making the most of Enterprise Ireland support
Mark says the support the business has received from Enterprise Ireland has been invaluable. “It’s all about getting in the door in the first place. Enterprise Ireland events in the UK have given us a good fast-track into the renewables sector. As we have scaled our activity in the UK, we can see the value of Enterprise Ireland’s supports, relationships and connections. They are helping us to accelerate the pace at which we are growing in the UK.”
With a growing workforce soon to number more than 50 and a turnover set to increase by 50% this year over last year’s revenues of €8.25m, EMR is on a healthy growth trajectory driven by its expansion in the UK. “We are growing steadily and have done it debt-free,” says Mark. “We have been able to do it profitably and sensibly.”
He encourages any Irish business owner or manager who is considering the UK market to go for it. “The key to success is offering solutions people can use,” he says. “It’s about bringing something to the party through innovation or knowledge, and experience in Ireland is definitely seen as relevant in the UK. Of course, it’s also all about the consistency of your story and about being persistent.”