Business Plus is Ireland’s largest circulation monthly business magazine. Business Plus magazine commenced publishing in Dublin in February 1998. The magazine is published 10 times a year and focuses on the activities of Irish companies or companies based in Ireland.
We were delighted to be featured in the June 2021 edition of Business Plus in an article entitled:
Natural Immune Booster Garners Innovation Award: Conor Kerley is putting his nutritional know-how to good use in his Phytaphix powdered health supplement
Entrepreneurialism is a steep learning curve for Conor Kerley, but that plays to the Phytaphix founder’s strengths.
A promising athlete in his teens, Kerley was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after his 16th birthday. The diagnosis propelled Kerley into scientific research and academic success, which in turn convinced him to commercialise his studies into a nutrition startup.
In October 2020, Kerley (33) launched Phytaphix, billed as an ‘immune phix’ powder that can be stirred into any food or drink. The plant-based product is manufactured in Ireland and contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants derived from dried fruit, mushrooms and Japanese matcha green tea, as well as magnesium from the Irish Sea.
Phytaphix has quickly attracted laurels. It was named best Covid-19 response product in the Irish Quality Food & Drink Awards 2020, and won the best startup prize in the 2021 World Food Innovation Awards from Food Bev Media. Kerley says that he has a range of other products in the pipeline. “2020 was about launching, learning and surviving. 2021 is about scaling and new product development,” he adds.
After school, Kerley studied nutrition and dietetics in Trinity College Dublin, before completing a doctorate in nutrition in UCD. A prolific academic author, Kerley has had around 30 papers published on health-related topics. In 2018, after a period abroad, he began thinking about how to set up a business, which would initially focus on developing products for sufferers of diabetes.
“I had no money and no idea about entrepreneurialism. I took a job lecturing in DIT (now TU Dublin) and spent every evening and every weekend doing courses in entrepreneurship, learning the ropes in theory before I left the lecturing role.”
The initial focus was developing products for managing blood pressure and blood sugar. Covid prompted a shift in emphasis to immunity, as the entrepreneur developed his business skills on Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme and the Bord Bia Food Works programme.
In Kerley’s view, there are plenty of supports available for startups but they can be a little disjointed and a challenge to navigate. “Some of the programmes also conflict with others, so you might not be able to draw down funding in one programme because you have also done another programme. Without understanding the supports landscape, you can limit the value you get from these programmes.”
For the Phytaphix branding, Kerley turned to Nick Curtis-Davis, head of brand development in Bord Bia, who pointed the startup in the direction of design agency Together We Create. Kerley has gone for a premium pricing strategy, with a 150g glass jar costing €45. Sales are mostly from the Phytaphix website, although Kerley also supplies some independent pharmacies and the McCabes chain.
The entrepreneur runs the business by himself. He’s hardly out of the starting blocks but he has ideas for other plant-based concoctions to treat inflammations, and to aid gut health and the central nervous system.
“This latter product could be beneficial for people suffering from dementia, mild cognitive impairment and other such conditions,” he explains. “Our focus will remain on deriving our nutrients from natural foodstuffs. The products are safer and more absorbable that way, and you also get more nutrients than you would from man-made alternatives.”