A young entrepreneur from NI who turned a university project into a unique business idea
It started as a project for her undergraduate degree but now Gabrielle Feenan has launched her own business which has a unique selling point – it leaves little to no impact on the environment.
The Banbridge woman set out in her senior year at the University of Ulster to find a sustainable alternative to modern MDF furniture and thus Corkki was born.
All unique Gabrielle furniture pieces are made of cork and glass and are much more environmentally friendly than most furniture produced around the world.
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After studying at Sacred Heart Grammar, Newry earned a degree in Product Design from the University of Ulster, Belfast, graduating in 2021 with first class honors.
Explaining her work, Gabrielle told Belfast Live: “ I’ve been interested in design and problem solving for as long as I can remember, and I’ve known I wanted to follow a path in creating something that has the potential to make a difference.
“Korkki was developed during my final year at university with invaluable help and guidance from teachers as well as the UUSU Enterprise team.
“Furniture waste is an ever-growing problem that doesn’t get much exposure or attention and it’s not an issue we tend to consider as consumers. The problem is not only the glut of furniture we throw out annually but also modern manufacturing options and materials associated with the pieces we buy: in the UK, more From 22 million pieces of furniture to landfill annually, a number that continues to grow.
“All of our pieces are made of cork and glass and are inspired by the local culture, with cork being an incredibly sustainable material for an alternative to MDF. Cork is biodegradable, recyclable, biodegradable and anti-carcinogenic to name a few, this allows us to create a solution for the future that has Big impact, but leaves little impact.”
Despite her passion for empowerment, and the desire to make a difference in the world, Gabrielle did not plan to turn it into a company.
She said:In terms of starting a business that I didn’t plan directly for, but knew the 9-5 standard wasn’t right for me, I personally love the diversity of startups and entrepreneurship.
“It’s a job that allows me to be creative and innovative, which has always been a must for me when it comes to work.
“Korkki got really started after being in the Catalyst’s Student INVENT competition last year, I applied and I’m not sure what’s coming from it, but I’ve always been eager to participate in competitions and decided to give it a try. At the awards ceremony in September, Korkki was named the winning student of the evening, support and funding And exposure from INVENT is what prompted me to start the business.
“Until INVENT, I didn’t think many people would be interested in my products, but I’ve gained incredible support and guidance since then, and have been able to take full advantage of some amazing opportunities for both the company and I.”
Since its inception, Gabrielle’s work has gone from strength to strength and has won many awards herself.
“Korkki has seen some great success over the past few months, winning the Institute of Directors’ Pitch Perfect competition at this year’s Women Leadership Conference. I was awarded a £4,000 grant to business which has been a huge boost, not to mention the privilege of sharing the platform. With some amazing female leaders.
“I was also honored to be among the 30 Under-30 Northern Ireland Entrepreneurs at The Belfast Telegraph this year and this is a huge recognition I received early on in my business journey.
“I recently participated in Young Enterprise’s Connect USA program which saw me pitch Korkki to some amazing entrepreneurs in Boston and New York. This trip not only introduced me to an amazing group of entrepreneurs, but also allowed me to interact with an international market, listen to some people The truly inspiring people who walked the entrepreneurial path before me.”
The 22-year-old is so passionate about her work and likes to make sustainable products available to everyone, she feels we can all do our part to help revitalize.
“Sustainability is definitely a very recent topic and something that is very much on the cutting edge of our minds these days, but I find furniture often forgotten in this space.
“Our mission is to make sustainable furniture as accessible as possible, to allow everyone to make better choices. I think it is fair to say that sustainability as we know it is a luxury for most people, with eco-friendly products costing more than the standard, we would like to change that and offer a wide range From pieces that cover most styles and budgets.
“I also believe that everyone has a level of social responsibility to improve our planet, and we want to make it easier to do that, as well as help educate along the way. Korkki has allowed me to create a product that works for the greater good, a legacy that I would like to leave behind.”
For any other young man interested in pursuing his or her own business dreams, Gabrielle had something to say.
“Take full advantage of all the opportunities out there, there is plenty to take advantage of and I’ve found the ‘startup world’ in Northern Ireland in particular more than willing to help you throughout your journey.
“There are many programs and enterprise spaces that will make a huge difference to you and your business idea, being in the right mindset and environment is very important.
“For example, when I moved to Korkki to the Ormeau Baths, it was an absolute game-changer, both in terms of facilities and who they call home. The best way to look at it is what’s the worst that could happen? Office jobs will still be around if you decide to Entrepreneurship is not for you, but it is definitely a very rewarding path and worth a try.”
You can find more about Gabrielle’s work here.
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