In times of unemployment and economic difficulties, some of the brightest stars are the entrepreneurs who chance it all on an idea.

Derek Walker’s product – grass – graced Changing Ireland’s front page three years ago. Since then, he’s sold enough to cover the pitch at Croke Park.

But his grass is different than the kind a sliotar skims over. People consume this grass for its health benefits…

Changing Ireland's Autumn 2016 issue

Read the full report in our Autumn 2016 issue.

Derek was, for a time, unemployed. Like others, he had a small business idea that, once he received the right support, could provide him with sustainable work. So, like thousands of others every year, he availed of the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance (BTWEA).

The BTWEA scheme encourages people getting certain social welfare payments to become self-employed. There is also a separate Short-Term Enterprise Allowance, which supports people on Jobseeker’s Benefit to start their own business.

Through BTWEA, people have opened bakeries and hair salons and become self-employed gym instructors (to give just a few examples). These entrepreneurs also received training and advice from local development companies (LDCs)*.

And, in many cases, these small-business owners went from being unemployed to becoming employers.

Most of the businesses helped through the BTWEA have had continued success.

Derek was truly entrepreneurial in his ambition to produce frozen wheatgrass shots. His was also very much a family affair, as his wife Anna is his business partner.

Late last year, Derek and Anna’s products – Natnoot juices – were accepted into SuperValu’s Food Academy and are now available in-store. Two of the newest juices are called Achieve and Believe.

Image courtesy of Natnoot

Image courtesy of Natnoot.

Before starting Natnoot, Derek literally faced a dark future, and needed a business idea that would provide an income long-term. He had degenerative loss of sight and was becoming increasingly blind.

Today, he is an inspiration to other small entrepreneurs on the BTWEA.

Derek and Anna appeared on RTÉ’s Nationwide recently to talk about the reasons behind setting up the company, and the challenges Derek faced.

He was among the guest speakers at the national small enterprise awards in Tullamore on 16 May, organised by the Irish Local Development Network.

* These allowances from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection are supported by local development companies through the Social Inclusion Community Activation Programme (SICAP), a Department of Rural and Community Development programme.

Interested in reading more about the state of Ireland’s community development sector? Check out our latest issue.

Main photo: Ervins Strauhmanis/ (CC BY 2.0)