Making it Work

Institute of Sustainability Studies looks to quadruple student numbers this year

The online ed-tech company has its eyes set squarely on the future as it targets growth in new sectors

Niall Collins, chief operating officer at the Institute of Sustainability Studies. Picture: Fergal Phillips

The Institute of Sustainability Studies is looking to quadruple its student numbers in the next 12 months while also gearing up for future funding rounds to help its future expansion.

The institute’s main product, the online Diploma in Business Sustainability, aims to train the next generation of eco-conscious professionals and touches on topics like biodiversity, sustainable finance, and decarbonisation.

Niall Collins, the institute’s chief operating officer, said the change in attitude over the last few years to the green movement, spurred particularly by the EU’s introduction of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) last year, has been a revelation for the scope of their business proposition.

“What you’re seeing now is the move of sustainability as a ‘nice to have’ into a strategic opportunity for businesses and one they need to transform the business towards,” he said.

“The scale of this is massive now because you’re starting to see more organisations looking for sustainability managers and teams”.

Fact Find

Founded by: Justin Cullen and Niall Collins in 2022

Staff: 7

Turnover in 2023: €500,000

Collins expects huge growth for the business this year which he hopes will be delivered by making further headway in Ireland and Britain, its primary markets.

Collins is hoping that future funding rounds will further embed its presence in those two core markets while also aiding in a potential expansion across Europe in the coming years.

However, he isn’t eyeing up any targets further abroad for the company quite yet, citing huge untapped potential in their existing markets.

“I think we’ve only scratched the surface with those two . . . what we really want to do is establish ourselves in our home markets before then branching out,” he said.

Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Belgium are all markets he’s interested in down the line.

But to kick off the year, Collins’s team will be working on enhancing their business-to-business offerings, which would hone portions of their course down into what he called “micro-credentials” that are tailored for different sectors.

This is part of getting their “ducks in a row” for the next year, Collins said, with a view to going out for more funding “to really accelerate our growth,” which will include expanding to more languages – currently, the course is only available in English – by the end of this year.

The company, which was founded in June 2022 and only started running courses in January last year, reached revenues of €500,000 in 2023, and is aiming to quadruple the number of students going through its online programme this year.

The institute has just over 250 students so far but with further tailoring of its offering for different sectors hopes to grow this number further.

Very beneficial

Students so far have been come from all kinds of sectors, Collins said, but their largest clients are in construction, manufacturing and IT services. They also see a lot of interest from sectors with high carbon emissions like heavy manufacturing and construction.

The company’s staff count has grown to seven, and Collins foresees an increase to as many as 15 by the end of the year, provided additional funding comes through.

Enterprise Ireland (EI) funding was key to getting the business off the ground, especially at the outset.

“They were very beneficial,” he said, “because we did two high-potential start-up grants with them, which really helped us kick off our products and really get launched.”

Further down the road, they also were the beneficiaries of a different kind of funding from the state body. “We also got matched funding from them with our first investment round, which really lessens the stress on you in terms of EI rowing in behind you”.

“It really does help that EI backs you with all the supports they can offer in terms of team development and questions that we needed answered”.

This Making It Work article is produced in partnership with Enterprise Ireland