Four teenagers from Tullow CS reflect on the journey that led to their recent success at the Student Enterprise Awards
‘We were just sitting as a group of friends in McDonald’s and drinking through their paper straws when we had a light-bulb moment’
FOUR TY students from Tullow Community School came second in the final of this year’s National Student Enterprise Awards. More than 26,000 students from over 500 secondary schools across Ireland took part in the competition.
Last September, Megan Doyle, Ellie Byrne, Dannah Kearney O’Brien and Michelle Murray set up their own company called ‘The Last Straw’ and their company slogan is ‘Saving the world one straw at a time’. At the time, the four were very much influenced by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg and the importance of being aware of the impact that we are having on the environment.
Taking up the story, the girls said: “Greta is the same age as us and as four teenage girls we knew this was a topic that we just could not ignore. We were just sitting as a group of friends in McDonald’s and drinking through their paper straws when we had a light-bulb moment!
“We realised that we did not like the paper straws as they soon became soggy and were not nice to drink through. We also knew that the paper straws, while better than plastic, would still end up in landfill or recycled. We realise that reuse is better than recycle and that’s when we got the idea to provide stainless steel reusable straws instead. This was the starting point for our company and we have not looked back since then.
“We decided to call our company The Last Straw, as this is the last straw you will ever need. Our stainless-steel straws are dishwasher proof and customers can just carry one in their car so that no matter what fast-food restaurant or cinema they visit they can just use The Last Straw.
“We decided to target primary school pupils initially with our idea. We carried out market research among five local schools to identify if there was a demand for stainless steel reusable straws. We explained the idea to each class group and outlined the benefits to them. Standing up in front of these pupils in classrooms where we had once sat and explaining our idea to them was a significant experience for us as young entrepreneurs. The children loved the idea and wanted to get involved straightaway. This generated sales of just under 500 straws with an income of €1,400. It was a great start for our business!
“Even with the success we were having in primary schools, we knew that we could take our company further. We thought of our idea when we were sitting in McDonald’s, so we decided the next step was to target McDonald’s themselves. We got in contact with Bernard Byrne, who owns five McDonald’s franchise outlets, to see if we could use his restaurants as a platform to sell our product. He loved our idea and put us in touch with his son John, who is operations manager at the five McDonald’s outlets.
“We arranged to meet with John and we negotiated an agreement with him whereby we could sell our straws under our own company name and slogan. The Last Straw is now available at McDonald’s in Carlow town, Tinryland, Wexford and two outlets in Blanchardstown. We want to say a big thanks to John, who supported us from the start.
“We also contacted Supermac’s owner, Pat McDonagh, as they are the biggest Irish-owned fast-food restaurant chain. We were chatting to Pat on the phone in October 2019 and he was really impressed with our idea. He asked us to trial it with Supermac’s on a local level first, and based on how well that went, he would look at allowing us to expand wider through the Supermac’s outlets. As a result, we contacted Richard Quinn, who is manager of our local Supermac’s in Tullow.
“We arranged a meeting with him and negotiated an agreement whereby he allowed us to use his outlet as a platform to sell our straws under our own company name and slogan. We also contacted Paul O’Brien, who owns the Supermac’s franchise outlet on the Dublin Road in Carlow, and successfully agreed another deal. We want to say a huge thank you to both Richard and Paul for backing our idea of ‘saving the world one straw at a time’.
“Now that The Last Straw was available through McDonald’s and Supermac’s, we knew that we needed to generate more publicity for our idea, so in December 2019 we contacted Sue Nunn, who hosts ***The way it is*** on KCLR 96 FM and asked to be interviewed. We would like to say a huge thanks to Sue for interviewing us and making us feel so comfortable. We also secured an interview on Beat FM’s ***The Sunday Grill*** to make an impact on our target market.
“We were all just a little star struck when we met newsreader Eileen Dunne as we were walking down the corridor to be interviewed in RTÉ on 15 January 2020. We gave her one of our straws!
“With the increasing demand for The Last Straw and our concept of ‘Saving the world one straw at a time’, in January we decided to set up our own website www.thelast-straw.ie, where our customers could order their own last straw in different colours, shapes and sizes. We would like to say a big thank you to Blacknight in Carlow for sponsoring our website.
“We were delighted to win the Carlow County Enterprise Award in March and honoured to represent Co Carlow at the recent National Enterprise Awards final, where we finished second. We would like to say a huge thank you to our enterprise teacher Brian Larkin, who facilitated the programme and supported us every step of the way. Without him, our success story would not have been possible.
“We are the generation who want to solve problems and not just passively wait until they become somebody else’s. We hope that you will join us at The Last Straw and together let’s save the world one straw at a time.”