Tom Brennan and Patsy Carney were working at pharma company, IVAX, when they took the decision to study for an MBA. Both had considerable experience in the pharmaceutical industry, but with a broader, all-round knowledge, they were sure they could progress further in their respective careers. The two certainly achieved their goal, going on to establish a hugely successful business on the back of a plan they hatched during the entrepreneurship module in the UL MBA.
Explaining his initial decision to return to education, Tom takes up the story. “I was working as a development manager with a focus on R&D but was convinced I could achieve more. An MBA seemed the obvious answer, but as a family man with young children and a full-time job, flexibility was essential. The UL MBA was great because the programme is broken down into three-day blocks. Part time education meant I could continue to work and study without impacting on family life.”
Patsy agreed, adding, "As Head of Operations at IVAX, I was enjoying my career, but like Tom, I was keen to explore new opportunities. The course content at UL was especially attractive because it offered a good mix of topics. My background was in chemistry, so in order to progress further I needed to round out my business expertise and build strong foundations.
“Both Tom and I were particularly interested in the international module, which took place in San Diego. The USA has a huge biotech industry, so we were excited about the opportunity to make important contacts during this week-long workshop.”
The trip certainly had a lasting impact, with Tom and Patsy being chosen to represent UL in an International Business Plan competition during the visit. Having previously drafted a business plan as a joint assignment within their Entrepreneurship module, the two were selected to present this in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ pitch to successful entrepreneurs.
Tom and Patsy were thrilled to come within the first six in the competition, as well as winning best ‘telephone pitch’ to a US investment banker. In fact, they realised that the plan had the potential to make it as a credible business and together they set about turning their concept into a reality.
“We were already convinced that our plan could be successful,” explained Tom. “The frameworks and financial models we learnt during the MBA gave us a strong footing, but the competition validated our idea and gave us the confidence to continue developing it.
“After graduation in 2005, we launched EirGen Pharma and from a humble start, we have been able to grow our idea into a hugely successful company specialising in cancer treatments that we recently sold to a US pharmaceutical company for €135 million. Throughout this journey, the core skills we learnt during our MBA have been crucial, underpinning our success.”
Patsy agrees, adding, “As well as the initial advice on our entrepreneur plan, we have utilised so many tools and concepts we picked up during the MBA. In the early days we used the financial skills to attract investment and marketing tools to commercialise the business. The frameworks helped us scale the company and the soft skills we learnt have been essential.
“You don’t get to a position of employing over 200 people without effective strategic leadership. I’m proud to say that the skills we learnt during the MBA have helped us create hundreds of jobs in Waterford and help patients worldwide.”
Tom continued, “Without our MBA experience, I don’t think EirGen would have thrived as it did. The course helped hone our critical thinking, so we could ask the right questions, at the right time. Part of being an entrepreneur is taking risks, but we also had the tools to make astute decisions. That’s why we thought carefully about selling the business. We chose OPKO Health as they had the right expertise to grow the business further still.”
“In 2006, we were over the moon to win the Alumni Award, but we have gone onto achieve so much more, and it’s all thanks to skills we learnt during our MBA. Without this strong foundation, we would not have been able to create and build the business as we did. And the fact that the seeds were sown at UL, means UL is a big part of our company’s DNA and of our growth.”
So, what’s next for this dynamic duo. The two are still working together, having set up another business, Q1 Scientific, Europe's leading provider of stability storage for the pharmaceutical industry, but they also have their own goals and projects.
“After the sale of EirGen, I stayed on for two years as CTO,” explained Tom. “Both Patsy and I wanted to ensure a smooth transition after the sale of the business and to have an impact on its future direction. Subsequently, I set up TriviumVet, a company that develops drugs to treat chronic diseases in companion animals, of which I am Co-Founder and Director.
“I am also a Foundation Board Member of the National Maternity Hospital, helping to raise vital funds for various projects including the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and also on the board of a very successful Cork Technology Company called Crest Solutions.“ So, as you can see, I’m still putting those core MBA skills to good use!”
Patsy has similar goals, although he left EirGen more recently in 2019, having stayed on as CEO since the company was sold in 2015.
“I’m not sure what the future holds,” concluded Patsy, “but I’m determined to give back and motivate others to succeed as we have done. I’m currently involved in Kinetic Labs, an Enterprise Ireland backed Initiative, to provide lab space to start-up companies and pharma entrepreneurs who have a business idea but no premises to test it out. And of course, I’m also working with Tom to progress Q1 Scientific.
“There’s a huge amount of untapped potential out there. That’s why Tom and I are so appreciative of our time at UL; it gave us the keys to unlock our full potential, starting with that competition win during our international workshop.
“It’s something we’re both passionate about and in fact, we have since sponsored the International Business Plan competition, returning to speak and give advice to some of the young entrepreneurs participating in the event. I only hope some of them go on to enjoy the career fulfilment Tom and I have enjoyed since our time at UL.”
Download the UL MBA brochure to learn more about the programme and modules