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ISME Annual Conference 2018: A Celebration of Achievement


  • Conference celebrated 25 years of success and looked to 2043
  • Chairman’s address called for Government to foster indigenous growth
  • Keynote Speaker Alison Cowzer looked at how SMEs can adapt for the future
  • One4all winners of the Sean Hannick SME Award
  • The Great Debate proved to be extremely lively and interactive
  • Business After Brexit breakout session popular among delegates

ISME, the Irish SME Association hosted its annual conference in Citywest Hotel on Wednesday. This association marked 25 years which inspired the theme of the conference Think 25 – Looking ahead for Irish Business. The main stage was chaired by Conall Ó Mórain.

In his address, ISME Chairman Ciaran Murtagh stated:

“We understand that next year, the OECD will formally confirm what we have said about small enterprise: that much more needs to be done to foster and grow small business in this country. We need to accept that the way we’ve managed industrial policy since the TK Whitaker era has to change, and we need to pivot industrial policy towards indigenous enterprise.”

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys TD who opened the conference said:

“The 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report for Ireland states that nearly 1 in 5 young people between 18-24 years old aspire to start a business.  This is welcome news as the Ireland we know today is very different to what many of us remember 25 years ago, thanks in no small part to the support of groups like ISME.

And, as we prepare for the next 25 years, it is only through continued dialogue and engagement that we will lay the foundations for a bright future”

In her keynote speech Alison Cowzer, Director, East Coast Bakehouse (former Dragon on RTÉ’s Dragon’s Den) examined the plight of millennials in today’s ever-changing world and explored the changed world which SMEs find themselves in today.

Speaking about how businesses can adapt for the years ahead Alison Cowzer noted:

“There is no normal in business anymore”.

DCU Professor Alan Smeaton’s theme address focused on technology, data and what it means for business over the next 25 years. He stated that it is not jobs that are being replaced by automation but tasks and described the role that artificial intelligence in playing in our lives.

Other highlights on the main stage included an interview with David Cox, CEO of Fragrances of Ireland  who talked about the business over the last 25 years and how important it is to get the fundamentals right – be realistic and understand your customers. John Popolizio, Co-Founder and CEO of Sovy, the conference sponsor, looked at  how technology can be used effectively to drive down the cost of business through compliance and talked about why Sovy designed software specifically for SMEs

One4All were the worthy winners of the presentation of the Sean Hannick SME Award.

The Great Debate encapsulated some of the more pressing issues facing society from the rise of fake news to our reliance on technology. Panellists Jess Kelly – Newstalk’s technology expert; economist Jim Power, Christopher Paye, General Manager at Jobs.ie and Sunday Business Post Executive Editor Tom Lyons. Speakers from the floor questioned the pace in which technology is moving and called for more human interaction in the workplace. Jess Kelly of Newstalk wants to see things moving even faster and her response to these changes was “bring it on!”.

This year’s breakout sessions proved to be extremely popular among delegates who attended talks on key business topics including Business after Brexit, PAYE Modernisation, Smart Working – How it is changing business?, The Future of Work & Learning and Growing your Business with Tendering.

ISME CEO Neil McDonnell concluded:

“Wednesday’s conference was a wonderful opportunity for business to showcase their products and network with likeminded individuals while looking ahead to the future. The theme of this year’s conference was Think 25 – Looking ahead for Irish Business and the conference touched on many issues that will become relevant to businesses in the years ahead but it also drove home the urgency of issues that business will face in the more immediate future. These issues include such as Brexit, PAYE modernisation and the need to reduce insurance costs for business which have spiralled out of control.”