Five tips on starting your own business before you're 30


While still studying in Queens University in Belfast, Catherine O'Neill decided to back herself and start her own business - now in her mid-20s she is the managing director of the Amelio Group.

Amelio Group is an engineering firm which places an emphasis on drainage and civil engineering. It currently employs 50 people, and has offices in Belfast, Dublin and Gloucester.

Ms O'Neill is nominated in the 'emerging' category at this year's The EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards which take place on Thursday, October 22nd.

Here are her five tips for anyone who's thinking of starting their own business:

1. Surround yourself with positive people - I have been very blessed that I have had incredible support from my family. Make sure that you surround yourself with people who will both encourage you but also not be afraid to point you in the right direction at times.

Lots of people thought I was crazy setting up a business during the recession (maybe in some senses it was crazy!) - but I had such encouragement from those closest to me that I never doubted my decision.

2. Network, network, network - I think it is important to accept that you don’t know a lot when you start out. There is so much to learn about the day-to-day running of a business which you will not have encountered before.

I attended as many networking events as possible and found it was a great way to meet potential customers and to learn from other experienced business people who were happy to give me the benefit of their time and experience and to act as mentors.

Whatever your business is - people are going to be at the centre of it.

3. Tighten that business plan - The success of any business will come down to having a sound business plan. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the plan won't change.

My business plan has developed and changed as Amelio has grown. Make sure to reach out and seek help to fully develop your idea.

Whether this is through Invest NI or Intertrade Ireland or other similar organisations, you will find that the help given is invaluable and remember they may also help with the crucial task of 'getting funded'!

4. Know when to employ people - At the outset in Amelio there was just myself and my partner Daire (ably assisted by a white van!).

We undertook every task required, and as soon as we started to grow the business we started to look for suitable employees who were prepared to be as enthusiastic and flexible as we were.

For any business owner it is difficult in the early days to justify paying a wage when you think, ‘I could do this myself’ but it is crucial to enable the business to grow. At this stage, almost three years after commencing Amelio, I am fortunate to have a fantastic team of over 50 around me. I still oversee everything, although I delegate many of the day-to-day tasks to my trusted team.

I concentrate much more of my energy into expanding the business and I am constantly looking for new areas and products/innovations with which to further develop the business.

5. Finally - Just go for it! It's not easy - but this is achievable! If you have carried out your research and have a viable business idea which you really believe in - then go for it! Don’t waste time procrastinating.

The more time spent doing that will mean more ‘what-ifs’ further down the line.

Be brave, have courage in your business and in yourself - what have you got to lose?!

The EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards take place on Thursday evening Newstalk will have have extensive coverage on air and online.

Back to top