NI Entrepreneurs Shortlisted for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Awards

  • The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ programme is a global recognition programme that runs in 145 cities in more than 60 countries. Currently in its 26th year in Ireland, the programme works to recognise, promote, and build a supportive community around Ireland’s high-growth entrepreneurs and is considered one of the strongest programmes globally.

    The finalists from across the island of Ireland will compete across three categories -  Emerging, Established, and International. A special Sustainability Award will also be presented to the finalist who makes the biggest contribution to environmental sustainability through their business. One overall winner will be selected as The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2023 at a gala awards ceremony which will take place in November.  

    In April, the 2023 finalists were announced including two phenomenal entrepreneurs from Northern Ireland, shortlisted among the 24 who span a range of sectors including technology, manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, retail, consumer products, and engineering.

    Andrew Woods and Dougie Adams, the two selected finalists from Northern Ireland, are revolutionaries in their sectors with transformative visions that are making a significant impact.

    Dougie Adams is the Founder and CEO of Connected Health, the UK and Ireland’s fastest-growing homecare company over the last decade. Leading a small team of local investors, he acquired a traditional homecare company in Belfast employing 47 care staff in 2013. Through a process of authentic leadership and transformation, Dougie has built Connected Health into a company employing almost 1800 carers as an All-Ireland provider, delivering some 4.1 million physical care visits per year. Dougie has driven this through the 3T’s of Talent, Training & Technology, re-imagining traditional homecare via the integration of the right people, world-class training, and effective technology.

    Dougie is an entrepreneur having previously built successful ventures in construction, hospitality, retail, and dentistry. A proud family man, peace builder and community-focused West Belfast native, Dougie, like many, thrived in an environment blighted by the Troubles. He is also a keen follower of sport and had a successful amateur boxing career representing Ireland on multiple occasions.

    Although Dougie has been part of the business world for a long time, he doesn’t personally identify or align himself with the idea of a ‘businessman’. Dougie first became familiar with the word ‘entrepreneur’ after reading Hawaii and Centennial by James Michener. This began to resonate with him and he started getting into a business mindset, problem-solving, providing window cleaning, and paper delivery services in his home estate, Ballymurphy. Dougie was a painter and decorator by trade and was also a lecturer at Belfast Technical College, going on to start a thriving decorating and construction company.

    Dougie was always passionate about giving opportunities to those who maybe didn’t have the skills yet, but he would bring them into his team and train them: “ My daddy taught us all that you must treat your people right and look after them. I believe an entrepreneur is someone who wants to solve a local or national problem and create something better for their community and country. While doing that, entrepreneurs create jobs, individual opportunities and wealth, usually in places where they live”.

    The health sector has changed massively in the last ten years due to various reasons but mostly due to people living longer, which results in an increased number of people suffering from frailties which therefore spikes the demand for care services. Although statistics have predicted and shown that people are living longer, public health services haven’t been able to keep up with the rapid increase in numbers or conditions. This is where Connected Health steps in, as Dougie explains, “It’s a blessing to live longer but not when you’re frail or suffering from multiple conditions and living without the appropriate services. Families come under pressure to manage care at home and unfortunately under-resourced home care results in many going to nursing homes or into hospitals.”

    Connected Health aims to redefine the ‘care at home’ service, as they believe people should be able to remain at home where they’ll be more comfortable, with their families while receiving high-quality hospital-level healthcare. Connected Health began ten years ago and after three years, they were at a point where they understood the industry, what is needed and what problems they could solve for the people who commissioned the care services. Many of the bigger companies that provide at-home services are franchises operating on a global scale. The market niche identified was a homegrown scalable community-based service that delivers professional efficient care by locally based carers - ”Be professional, keep it local”.

    Dougie’s first innovation with Connected Health was to assess how he could increase efficiency.  For example, he previously had carers that would travel to provide care across the city or rural wide areas, but there were clients in their own community. This was the first thing that was changed as it made sense to assign the carers to clients in their own communities.

    The next step was providing Connected Health staff with proper training. For Dougie, it was important to make this accessible, online, gamified and accredited by educational partners, OCN. Connected Academy could ensure the training content was relevant and could be monitored and updated when necessary. An important aspect of this is that the training accreditation travels with the carer. This is why Connected Academy was established; it is a key pillar of Connected Health.

    When considering key factors of scaling a business, Dougie says to research the market you’re entering to ensure it is scalable locally, nationally and internationally. However, he credits the ability to scale his business to the exceptional team that surrounds him. “I have so much to be thankful for from our team. Several are professionals from other industries while others come from the health sector. Many started as carers and progressed through the Academy to management. Without these people, there is no Connected Health. They have a drive and a passion for what they do. Our mission at Connected Health is to provide good, safe care in our communities across the island. Every client deserves the choice to remain at home with dignity and in safety. Along with that, everybody needs to be given the same opportunity to thrive- staff, carers and clients. We have a “Good to Great, Jim Collins” culture. Connected Health will only become great through its people”.

    Dougie recognises the Connected Health team provides an excellent service in their communities, so they deserved to be well paid. In the early days, Connected Health increased wages and improved terms and conditions for carers. This led to increased rates across the industry. Since 2020, Connected Health has been a Living Wage Foundation member, ensuring that wages increase in line with the living wage recommendations. Every carer, regardless of age or gender, gets the same hourly rate for home care across the island. Recruitment and retention of carers and staff in this growing sector is so important to provide adequate and safe continuity of care. The pandemic was a turning point for the public’s understanding and acceptance that carers are an integral part of the health service. Home care services can prevent hospitalisation, ease bed blocking and with training, carers can and should provide more complex hospital-at-home services.

    “When I look at scalability for us, we would like to go from our 1800 carers to 5000 carers across Ireland. Britain and the USA can wait. Along with more carers, we’re going to need a lot of area and registered managers. Those posts don’t really exist in the industry, as the bigger providers are major global franchises and the smaller companies are Mum and Pop operations.

    I believe we need to continue to create a management structure that creates a viable career path for our carers to develop into managers. We can efficiently support them in hubs across the country. This will enable us to provide what we believe to be the best care at home and provide dignity for the people we love and look after”.

    In terms of a career, being a carer is hugely rewarding. The training and skills that our carers gain are very transferable and valuable. In addition, there is an obvious social element to the role. The ultimate reward, however, is that you know you are making a very real and important difference to the lives of people in your local community every day.”

Share this story