Minister Creed announces call for rural female entrepreneurs to join the latest cycle of ACORNS

 Minister Creed announces call for rural female entrepreneurs to join the latest cycle of ACORNS

Minister Michael Creed has launched the call for business women to join the latest cycle of ACORNS, a highly-successful development initiative to support female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland. There is no charge for successful applicants on the programme, which is funded under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s Rural Innovation and Development Fund. Pictured at the launch at Longueville House in Cork are (l-r back row) Lead Entrepreneur Mary B. Walsh of Ire Wel Pallets (Wexford) and past participant Caitriona Considine of Moher Cottage (Clare) (l-r front row) Past participant Emily Brick of Athena Analytics (Kerry), Michael Creed TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, programme director Paula Fitzsimons of Fitzsimons Consulting.

There has been an increase in early-stage female entrepreneurs in Ireland over the past year and the call is now open for those with new businesses or well-developed ideas to join ACORNS 5.

ACORNS is the highly successful development initiative to support female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland, who wish to start and develop new businesses or have recently started a business.

The call for applications follows the launch of the programme today by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed TD. ACORNS is funded under the Department’s Rural Innovation and Development Fund.

Over 200 female entrepreneurs have taken part in ACORNS to date and 50 new participants are being sought for ACORNS 5. The programme will run over six months from October 2019 to April 2020. The deadline for application for this year’s cycle is 20th September 2019.

Any woman with a new business based in rural Ireland — or an idea for a new venture they want to get off the ground — can get more information and download an application form at There is no charge for participation. (*Eligibility criteria in notes below)

Michael Creed TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, launching the call for applicants, said: 

“The ACORNS programme is a tremendous opportunity for early stage female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland to help them realise their ambitions. I would urge those who have recently started or are about to start a new business to apply to participate in this exciting initiative, as it is an opportunity not to be missed. Each year, the participants give an overwhelming endorsement of the role ACORNS has played in supporting them to start and develop their businesses.  I am delighted to continue to provide support to this initiative through my Department’s Rural Innovation and Development Fund.”

Paula Fitzsimons, founder and Managing Director of Fitzsimons Consulting, the company that developed the ACORNS initiative said that the rate of early-stage entrepreneurial activity increased among women in Ireland in 2018, while remaining stable for men. On average, 850 women are starting a new business every month in Ireland. The rate of nascent female entrepreneurs in Ireland is now ranked 5th across Europe.

“In most countries more men than women are early-stage entrepreneurs. This is also true in Ireland. However, the ratio in Ireland continues to narrow and now stands at 1.6:1 (men to women early stage entrepreneurs) as more women plan and start new businesses. The ACORNS programme is critical to assist this growing body of female entrepreneurs to get their businesses off the ground and on the road to success. I am delighted that the opportunity is being offered once again thanks to the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the contribution of the voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs.”

ACORNS is based on peer support and collaborative learning. Each participant will have the opportunity to learn from successful female entrepreneurs – “Lead Entrepreneurs”.

Acting in a voluntary capacity, these Lead Entrepreneurs will share their insights and experience with the group and help the participants to address the issues and challenges they face in progressing their businesses.  They also act as role models, illustrating by their actions that it is possible to start and grow a successful business in rural Ireland.

This year, the Lead Entrepreneurs are: Alison Ritchie, Polar Ice, Laois; Anne Cusack, Critical Healthcare, Westmeath; Anne Reilly, Paycheck Plus, Louth; Caroline McEnery, The HR Suite, Kerry, Deirdre McGlone, formerly Harvey’s Point Hotel, Donegal; Eimer Hannon, Eimer Hannon Travel, Meath; Mary B. Walsh, Ire Wel Pallets, Wexford; Triona MacGiolla Rí, Aró Digital Strategies, Galway.

In addition, Monica Flood, formerly Olas IT – a Going for Growth Lead Entrepreneur – will facilitate an ACORNS Plus round table for previous participants, who are committed to growing their businesses.

Many past participants of ACORNS report increased exports and job creation. Progress made by the 46 participants that completed ACORNS 4 (the last cycle), which ran from October 2018 to April 2019, demonstrates these encouraging outcomes:

  • Combined turnover for participants is €2.3m – an increase of 43% over the six-month programme cycle;
  • Thirteen participants became exporters for the first time;
  • 19 additional part-time employees were hired during the cycle, with 26 companies planning to hire additional staff this year;
  • 86% said ACORNS brought about practical change within their business; 95% felt nearer to achieving their ambitions and 100% would recommend participating in ACORNS to others.

Past participants of ACORNS are also invited to participate in a further development phase and to join the ACORNS Community, so they can continue to build their support network of valuable connections.

*Eligibility Criteria for participation on ACORNS

To be considered for ACORNS, applicants must:

  • Have set up a new business which has generated sales no earlier than the 1st January 2017; or be actively planning a new venture and have made good progress towards getting the new venture off the ground. Indicators of actively planning a business would include organising the start-up team, sourcing equipment / facilities, money saved for the start-up, writing the business plan, etc.
  • They must own or part-own the business which must be located in a rural area, that is in an area outside the administrative city boundaries of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford;
  • They must commit to attending the Launch Forum over two days in October 2019 (14th/15th); the ACORNS Community Forum on 20th and 21st April 2020; the monthly meetings from November 2019 to March 2020; and give the required personal commitment to advancing their business ideas over the six-month programme duration; and
  • They must expect to become an employer within three years.

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