When he began selling imported silage wrap at the age of just 16, Co. Laois entrepreneur Noel Walsh already knew that he wanted to be his own boss.

Noel, who is now 27, grew up on a mixed beef and sheep farm which has become a dairy enterprise in recent years.

The son of a silage contractor, he caught the entrepreneurial bug while he was in secondary school.

“I would have been working for my father when I was younger and I realised I wanted to go and do my own thing. I always felt that I would like to have a business,” he said.

“I started importing silage covers for farmers to replace tyres on pits. I got into business through that. I didn’t know what I was at to be honest. I was just buying things and selling them on and trying to develop it from there,” Noel told Agriland.

Noel Walsh

It was during his time studying for an agricultural science degree at University College Dublin (UCD) that Noel, then 19, decided to make his venture, Agvance, a limited company.

The business initially focused on importing Himalayan Rock Salt first from the UK and then later directly from Pakistan.

“When I started selling the salt, it was amazing because people remembered when they were younger feeding it to cattle. They were willing to give it a try and see how they got on. It went really well for lads,” Noel said.

The business venture saw the then student named among the top three young entrepreneurs in the county by the Laois Local Enterprise Office (LEO) in 2015.

“Because I was young, I’d no fear. I was lucky because if I had started now, I would have been probably too cautious, you have to take these risks too with business.

“I would have worked hard when I was younger and built up money during the summers. The money I was spending importing products was my own so I wasn’t really putting myself at risk too much financially.

“But I did lose money on different things. I imported plastic water containers from Taiwan. I never took the duty and customs into consideration, so by the time I had them here they were costing a good bit more than what I thought and didn’t sell as well as I thought.

“That didn’t bother me or get me bogged down, I just went onto the next thing. I think if you stay trying and persevere, you will get on,” Noel explained.

Growing his Laois enterprise

Last summer, the entrepreneur took over animalfarmacy.ie which supplies around 200 grooming products for cattle and sheep.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in agricultural shows being cancelled last year, Noel explained that it gave him breathing space to develop the niche business.

“We were lucky enough that there were a good few sales and different things over the winter. So it got product moving and gave me time to learn about the different products and how to use them.

“Whereas I think if I went straight into the shows last year, I probably would have got caught out because I wouldn’t have had the right products in stock. But I think we’re going to have a busy enough summer ahead.”

As a young entrepreneur, Noel believes that building a strong relationship with customers is vital.

“Especially in agri-business, it’s all around the customers. We try to focus on quality so we’re building up trust with our customers.

“If I come across a new product I won’t let it onto the market straightaway. I’d be inclined to either give it to a couple of customers to try out or try it ourselves at home and see how it goes.”

Noel Walsh on his recent trip to Pakistan

Noel, who is now selling over 700 agricultural products across his companies, recently travelled to Pakistan to source new products and visit his salt suppliers in the Himalayan mountains.

He also visited a local dairy farm and saw wheat being harvested in a similar style to his grandfather’s time.

In 2021, the entrepreneur moved to a new office and warehouse space in Laois to accommodate his growing business.

“You need to stay innovative. There’s a lot more focus on natural and getting away from antibiotics. That’s where we’re trying to put ourselves – our own range of more natural products, but they actually give farmers results as well.

“The last year with all the different price increases have made things a lot more difficult. But I think we’ve learned a lot over the last three years to be able to deal with these problems. We’re quite optimistic,” the determined young businessman said.