Interview with Emmet O’Neill

What is the most important thing you have learnt in business?

The importance of surrounding yourself with good people.  At Smiles, we have built up a fantastic team who are qualified experts in their field, who work hard but who also are ambitious and enthusiastic about opportunities for the future. We have also built up a very experienced Board of Directors with a broad range of expertise from banking to software who bring a high level of strategic experience to the company.

What advice would you give to young students/graduates who want to start-up their own businesses?

I think one of the real benefits of setting up a business at a young age is that you have nothing to lose and can afford to take risks. I remember when I was in college, I was setting up a few businesses including a recycling company and coffee shops. Some things worked out and others didn’t but it was a great age to learn and start something up because you have the time to learn from your mistakes.

Do you think now is a good time to set up a business?

The good thing about the current environment is that the market reacts faster than before. You will probably find out very quickly if your business is a good idea and whether you can develop a customer base and a sustainable business. And that’s a good thing because you don’t waste time on businesses that don’t have a chance of succeeding.

In your opinion, what are the key skills that budding Entrepreneurs need?

I think someone starting up their own business needs to feel comfortable wearing a number of hats. You need to be a good sales person and be able to deal with the day to day pressures that come with running a business and employing others. You also need to be able to rally the troops from the outset. Have a strong drive and work ethic is crucial.

You are a UCD graduate – what role did college have on your career path to becoming an entrepreneur?

I enjoyed college and it gave me a good grounding in the different areas of business – from finance to HR to marketing. I also met new people from a range of different backgrounds and schools who became good friends. In fact, one of my best friends from college works with me at Smiles.

How can the Irish Government support more entrepreneurship in Ireland?

I think that the Government agencies are doing a good job on the big projects – the large multinationals – in terms of bringing them to Ireland. And that makes sense as larger companies will potentially create more jobs. However, I think Government also has to keep its focus on facilitating and supporting indigenous entrepreneurs and SME’s who also employ a lot of people.

What’s next for you?

The plan is to continue to develop the business in Ireland and to expand overseas. We are currently opening new Smiles Dental clinics in Scotland at present. I am also involved in a couple of other interesting projects so we’ll see where they take me.

– Conor O’Donovan, EMBA 2011/13