Listen: Catriona O’Donoghue has escaped the ordinary

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Catriona O'Donoghue, Network Ireland. Photo: Cian Reinhardt
Catriona O'Donoghue, Network Ireland Limerick. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

TEAM building events and delivering adult experiences is the main focus of Get West and Escape Limerick, the sister companies run by Catriona O’Donoghue and her partner.

Identifying a gap in the corporate market to provide such experiences, the companies now service local, national and international clients.

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Explaining the concept, Catriona says that they “go on site and set up a team-building experience for your work team, be it indoor or outdoor, so here locally we would run events in the Milk Market, King John’s Castle, in function rooms at the local hotels or we bring the activities to where the client wants to be.”

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Set up more than five years ago, the firm started out offering kayaking experiences but it wasn’t sustainable so they started to explore more team-building options on land and indoors.

“Essentially we have evolved a lot since then but we still go back to our roots and use kayaking as a team building experience if required.

As a year-round offering, “Escape Limerick is a Limerick inspired Escape room experience in the medieval quarter.

“In the three escape rooms, visitors get locked into a room for 60 minutes and the whole idea is that you have to solve a series of puzzles to try and figure out how to escape before the time runs out.”

Speaking of the evolution of her company, Ms O’Donoghue said that she wanted to bring experiences to the adult market and “we always felt that corporate was the way to go for what we do because we really enjoy working with the adult market as it is very rewarding.”

A recent increase in foreign direct investment companies and home grown firms supported the move.

“In the last two and half years there is more and more of that business here.

“There are companies that are coming to Limerick from around Ireland for their team building experience and  even international business tourists are coming here. So yes, definitely, we can see a massive growth in the business with all the investment here recently.”

Internationally, there is a very positive attitude towards Limerick and the region, Catriona believes.

“Limerick and the Mid West is a great place to work, live and visit and the international market knows this.

“There is a great ecosystem here and it is improving all the time so there is definitely a very positive attitude to Limerick that we are experiencing.,” she said.

Looking at her new role as president with Network Ireland Limerick, Catriona said that “for me it has been a fantastic social outlet as well and not just in terms of generating direct sales but getting to meet women who are like minded and facing the same challenges and being able to bounce off each other.”

Network Ireland is the fastest growing women’s network in the country.

With a vision to empower women, “this year the mission for the entire network is to ‘step up’ and for women not to shy away from challenges and to go for it by seizing opportunities,” Catriona said.

“It is about building women up and giving them more skills and confidence but mainly supporting their professional development.”

Speaking about the resurgence of Limerick as a whole, Catriona also notes that there are threats on the horizon.

“It is really about making ourselves sustainable and strong locally so we can weather future storms, of which there are sure to be some,” Catriona said.

“There are a lot of good things going on in Limerick but the city centre is a little bit vulnerable.

“The 2030 plans (including the five sites) are fantastic and ambitious and it is brilliant to see the council take the lead on this as it wasn’t happening otherwise.

“I just think there is a lack of vision for the core and I think that makes it vulnerable,” the president said.

“It has to be a joint effort and it is in the short to medium term that it is vulnerable.

“There is a boom in terms of pubs, nightlife, great restaurants and there is a great food scene here, so culturally there is a lot going on, but I think the retail piece and the marriage of all of those parts – there is no great vision for that.”

Retailers could question their survival Catriona noted adding that all stakeholders “should think outside the box and look at more experiential retail experiences and they need to be supported until 2025 or 2030 when all those great things come.”

Having a “grá for the underdog,” Catriona said that she located their business on Nicholas Street with a view to its potential and the potential of the quarter and the city centre.

“I feel people have to put their money where their mouth is and they need to take the chance and go for it in their business decisions and we have seen that on Nicholas Street.”

With new businesses opening, some renovating and others due to open throughout the year, Catriona describes it as “very exciting”.

However, one caveat offered is that “unless people are living here, the city centre will never reach its full potential.”

Noting the limited city centre housing options, Catriona said that “people need to start somewhere. That would be one of our goals personally this year, to move in to the city centre with my family.

Speaking as a entrepreneur in Limerick who started out her studies and career in mental health care, Catriona said that she is not surprised she ended up in business.

“I like being in charge of my own destiny so what you put in you get out so you obviously have to be working smart and for me that is really rewarding.

Catriona said that she believes in the company’s vision “and that keeps me motivated”.

Looking back at her educational and career paths to date, Catriona said that real world experience is vital for those embarking upon major decisions in their lives.

“Part of me thinks that if they could get a taste for the real world of work and business before they commit to their course, I think that is really sensible.”

Having started out doing a year and half in Mary Immaculate College before changing courses to the University of Limerick, it is really only since she started in business that she understood what she wanted to achieve.

“Business gives you such a broad education because sometimes you don’t know what your strengths are.”

Being able to draw on the experience of those in business would be invaluable information to young teens plotting a course for their careers, Catriona said adding that “people should be able to tell their business stories, warts and all.”

A nod to the future, Catriona said that Network Ireland and the Limerick branch will go from strength to strength as “a lot of people reach out to Network Ireland Limerick even before they come to Limerick.”

“And personally I hope I will be living in the city centre within the next 12 months so I am de-cluttering my life at the moment and I am really excited about that.