16-year-old entrepreneur buzzing ahead of Ploughing

An enterprising teenager is hoping her multi award-winning innovation will create quite a buzz at this year’s National Ploughing Championships which take place later this month.

Sixteen year-old Alanna McCabe’s ‘Fence De-Fence’ mechanism is no bigger than a standard bottle opener. A groove at one end of the small, key-ring device allows the user to push down on or hook up an electric fence, without fear of getting shocked, saving time and improving personal safety while out and about in the great outdoors.

Alanna believes Fence De-Fence will be a huge hit with the farming community as well as those involved with horses, gun clubs, hillwalking, farm contractors or anyone who regularly crosses lands cordoned off by electric fences and doesn’t want to risk getting shocked.

Fence De-Fence has already won the approval of the judges at the Enterprise Ireland virtual Innovation Arena in 2020. The then 14 year old was crowned  the youngest ever winner of their Young Innovator of the Year Award. She was also an overall award winner at the recent Tullamore Show.

An incident on the family farm in Mountnugent in Cavan sparked her inspiration and Alanna worked with her father, Derek, a civil engineer with a strong interest in suckler farming, breeding Irish draught horses and forestry, to develop various prototypes and bring it to market in time for this year’s National Ploughing Championships.

 "I was out farming with my dad and he was crossing a fence and tried to jump it,” Alanna explains. “He fell over and was lucky he didn't hurt himself. I decided there and then that there should be an easier way to cross an electric fence and I came up with the idea.

“I developed several prototypes. I started out with one from a Mecano set. I then moulded one using Sugru. We progressed onto a 3D printed model before settling on a laser-cut, acrylic product. We can also personalise them and make them out of wood. We get everything manufactured locally – we’re anxious to keep it all local.”

Winning the Young Innovator Award was phenomenal and as part of the prize, Alanna gets exhibition space in the Innovation Arena at this year’s National Ploughing Championships. “I will be selling Fence De-Fence at our stand. Going forward I am open to partnering with electric fence companies, and merchandising companies  and hopefully down the line I will also look at the export market for Fence De-Fence. I am confident that it has global appeal.”

Fence De-Fence can be attached to a keyring and there is room on each side for logos, making it ideal for merchandise to promote a whole plethora of businesses. It is designed, laser cut and manufactured in Ireland and can be produced either in plastic or wood, Alanna added.

Proud dad Derek McCabe is a Nuffield Ireland scholar and commended his daughter’s entrepreneurial spirit and determination. “Alanna already has her thinking cap on and she’s working on add-ons, while also just back to school in St Oliver’s Secondary School in Oldcastle in Meath and into 5th year.”

Alanna didn’t lick her entrepreneurial spirit from a stone. The family farm is a mixed enterprise holding which includes Irish draught horse breeding, a mixed suckler herd of Pedigree Angus and Continental stock as well as forestry and a firewood processing business. 

She says several people have helped her along the way, among them her father, Derek; John Concannon in JFC Plastics and her Business teacher, Ciara McConnell who has helped several students reach for the stars in enterprise awards. 

Alanna’s older sister, Emma is a National student enterprise award winner from 2013. She developed Sheepwatch, a collar which detects a spike in the heart rate of sheep when danger looms and sends a text to a farmer to alert him to a potential attack from dogs etc. The Accounting and Finance Student in DCU also has her own branded clothing range marketed at the sea swimming sector, Wavey Daze. She has combined her love for the ocean and fashion into a unique brand which also raises money and awareness about ocean pollution.

And her brother, Callum, who has just completed his Leaving Certificate, is very involved with the family farm and hopes to further his education in DCU later in the month.

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