Business and Finance

InterTradeIreland helps cross-border joint venture secure Exploris Aquarium public tender

Northern Ireland’s only aquarium, Exploris, is to reopen in summer 2016.

intertradeirelandWhen Ards and North Down Borough Council issued the tender for Exploris, Northern Ireland’s only aquarium, Kieran Quinn, who had successfully turned Crumlin Road Gaol into a popular tourist destination, was immediately interested. After reading the tender, Quinn realised that although he met most of the essential criteria, his bid wouldn’t pass the pre-qualification stage as he didn’t have direct experience of running an aquarium.

Quinn had previously attended one of InterTradeIreland’s Go-2-Tender workshops, which the organisation runs across the island, North and South, to develop SMEs’ confidence, knowledge and skills in terms of tendering for contracts. Undeterred by the stringent pre-requisites of the Exploris tender, he believed that InterTradeIreland could provide guidance on how he could address the essential skills deficit.

Quinn explained: “I knew that my proven skills of building and developing a top visitor attraction experience could be transferable to Exploris. Unfortunately, on reading the tender, it was clear that I’d have been out of the running at the initial stages, as I didn’t have hands-on aquarium experience.

“To move forward in the process I would need a partner that had practical aquarium skills, however I was unsure how best to find an appropriate counterpart.

“My first port of call was InterTradeIreland as, based on previous experience, I knew its knowledgeable team would steer me in the right direction. I found I was eligible for their Consortia Advisory Service, an extension of their Go-2-Tender programme, which supports joint ventures and consortium bids.

“Following extensive research with InterTradeIreland, we determined that Dingle Oceanworld from Co Kerry would be a perfect partner match for the tender. InterTradeIreland facilitated the development of our partnership and, as a result, we were able to work together to put in a bid that hit all of the essential criteria. Our joint venture consortium bid won the tender.”

Collaborative bidding opens new and larger opportunities to SMEs in the Northern Irish and Irish markets and joining forces to win cross-border business can also help smaller companies stay competitive.

Quinn added: “I’d never partnered with another company for a tender before so the whole experience was new to me and having the support of InterTradeIreland was invaluable.

“With their support, we were able to unify both companies’ methodologies and highlight the strengths that we could bring to Exploris. By addressing each element of the tender precisely we put together an excellent package, maximising our competitive advantage. Our InterTradeIreland mentor really helped us to address our knowledge gaps, supporting us as we moved forward together and assisting in the competitive dialogue stages of the bid right through to proposal presentation.

InterTradeIReland-pic-1“This was an intense process and we were delighted with the win, which was awarded in February 2016. Neither we, nor Dingle Oceanworld, could have won this tender on our own merits; however, working together we had the right skills mix to secure the business.”

Kevin Flannery, of Dingle Oceanworld, said: “Dingle Oceanworld is the number one aquarium in Ireland and we’ve been in business for 20 years and employ around 30 people at our innovative facility. We’re a National and International Centre of Excellence in the care, conservation and presentation of all forms of marine life and we conduct research, which enhances the quality of marine life as well as educating our visitors.

“Our formula has always been to diversify and evolve our offering, therefore, every few years we significantly change the visitor experience. When most people hear the word ‘aquarium’, they think ‘fish’ and we are much more than this. We’ve had penguins for around five years, insects since 2015 and more recently we have introduced otters, reptiles and snakes, bringing our guests new exhibits as well as interactive handling sessions with some of our species.

“We’ve always kept an eye on what was going on in Exploris and we used the same architect and build company. When the tender opportunity came about through Crumlin Road Gaol, I knew that the time was right to go for the business. We welcomed that we’d have the chance to do things differently at Exploris as the tender highlighted that the winning company would be able to work autonomously to inject a new way of life into the aquarium.

“We had the expertise required to develop an award-winning aquarium but we didn’t meet all the other necessary requirements of the criteria. Being based in Co Kerry also raised logistical concerns and, should we have considered going for the tender ourselves, we couldn’t have made it past the pre-qualification stages on our own.

“When we were approached to join a consortium with Crumlin Road Gaol, who had been working with InterTradeIreland’s Consortia Advisory Service, it was clear that they had researched the proposition and saw how well we could work together.

“We were supported through each stage of the tender process by InterTradeIreland and being awarded this prestigious and lucrative tender has opened up many possible new strands of business for us.”

The Consortia Advisory Service, offered by InterTradeIreland, is open to companies that have attended either InterTradeIreland’s Go-2-Tender or Advanced Go-2-Tender workshops.

Grant Gilmore, Public Tendering Manager, from InterTradeIreland, commented: “The Consortia Advisory Service was set up following the increased aggregation of demand in public procurement with some contracts now tendered as national frameworks. The new, bigger contracts have greater turnover, insurance, systems and experience requirements. Smaller companies can meet essential requirements if they join with another SME to form stronger, more competitive partnerships that can comfortably and competently service the contract.

“We can help SMEs to research and select consortium partners, find joint tender opportunities, manage partnership bids and work with both companies to prepare tender documentation. We also hold seminars throughout the year to inform companies of the support available.

“We were delighted to be able to assist Crumlin Road Gaol and Dingle Oceanworld through their experience and look forward to Exploris opening later this year as a premier Northern Ireland tourist destination.”

Quinn concluded: “To be where we are now, in a long-term partnership with Dingle Oceanworld, on the cusp of re-opening Northern Ireland’s only aquarium, wouldn’t have been possible without InterTradeIreland’s support.

“Working with another company can open many doors that would otherwise be shut for SMEs and taking the first step and asking for advice can pay dividends. InterTradeIreland, with a reach to SMEs from a wide range of disciplines across the island, North and South, is best-placed to support consortia building and I would recommend any business seeking a partner to get in touch with the team. When we attended their Go-2-Tender workshop, we knew it could only help our business, little did we know the extent to which it would pay off.”

Looking for Tender Support?

SMEs looking for tendering support can find out more on InterTradeIreland’s website at

Or call Grant Gilmore, InterTradeIreland on 028 3083 4186 or email


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