Two teenage sisters from Summerhill in Meath – 13-year-old Annie and 14-year-old Kate Madden – have built a business out of making horse feed more appetising for racehorses using fenugreek herbs and spices, selling more than 7,000 units to trainers in Europe as well as in the Middle East and China.
The sisters, who are in first year and third year respectively at the Loreto College on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, have started a company called FenuHealth that, with the assistance of Enterprise Ireland and Meath County Enterprise Board, has gone on to manufacture produce for global distribution.
The business has been such a success that they are now looking to hire an entrepreneur who can develop and lead the business until they are ready to return to it in a few years after completing school and college.
As Annie Madden describes it, FenuHealth is also looking into the possibility of using the formula to cure stomach ulcers in horses.
Annie said it all began when her sister Kate did a BT Young Scientists’ project on whether Mars bars help horses to go faster. “They actually don’t,” she deadpanned.
Spurred on by an experience they had with one of their own ponies that wouldn’t eat his feed last summer, the sisters decided to enter this year’s BT Young Science & Technology Exhibition with a project that proves seven out of 10 horses agree that fenugreek makes their meals tastier.
“We tested over 100 horses with fenugreek, vanilla and caramel. We turned the fenugreek spice into a liquid by adding 100ml of boiling water and then some caramel and put it into a report for the BT Young Scientists,” the pair explained.
The sisters were able to prove that a definitive 70pc of horses preferred flavoured to unflavoured feed. The clear favourite in terms of flavour went to fenugreek.
Courses for horses
Having come second in the intermediate biology category at the 2015 BT Young Scientists Awards, the sisters were spurred on to establish a business.
“We contacted lots of the top trainers like William Mullins, Gordon Allen and Tony Martin,” Annie explained. “And we tested over 110 horses countrywide.
“The day after we won our prize at the BT Young Scientists, Michael Connolly from Red Mills contacted us from Shanghai to figure out what we had done.”
With the help of Irish company Connolly’s Red Mills, the product has now been tested to Olympic Council / Turf Club / Jockey Club and FEI Standards to parts per billion and FenuHealth flavours passed all tests.
The girls established FenuHealth and the product is now selling throughout Ireland and online. Annie and Kate, with the assistance of Enterprise Ireland, Horse Racing Ireland and Meath County Council Enterprise Board, as well as fellow Irish entrepreneurs, attended Equitana, the world’s largest horse trade fair, which takes place every two years in Essen in Germany, in March 2015, where they sold 1,000 units to Qatar and are still talking to five distributors from Germany and one from the Netherlands.
In all, Annie reckons FenuHealth has sold more than 7,000 units so far to five countries – an export success that many experienced business people would find hard to match or surpass.
“Enterprise Ireland were a huge help to us and Dagmar Gering who works for Enterprise Ireland in Austria, the Netherlands and Germany helped us to land a big distributor.”
The product is manufactured in the UK and the girls pack the product themselves.
It has been advised by the girls that every tack box in the country should have a sachet of their flavour in case, in an emergency, a horse goes off his feed. If the sachet is not used it will be replaced free of charge after the approximate two years’ use by date.
“If a racehorse goes off his feed the day before a race – and this could be a stallion with €100,000 cover fee – that cover fee could fall to €80,000. This could stack up to €1.6m a year in losses if you are a trainer with 80 mares, for example.”
Annie and Kate say they are currently looking for an entrepreneur to spearhead the growth of FenuHealth. “We are in school and don’t have much time to move it forward, but maybe in 10 years time we could have an option to go back into the business.
“Our next project will be to see if fenugreek could be used to reduce stomach ulcers in horses because it has proven to do so in humans. We are focused on R&D to find new dimensions to take the business in new directions,” Annie said.
Looking to the future, Annie said she would like to be a vet, while Kate says she is planning to make her mind up in fourth year.
Whatever they do, they have already proven they have the entrepreneurial talent to build a business.
Horse racing image via Shutterstock