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ACORNS New Business Development Programme for Female Entrepreneurs in Rural Areas

ACORNS is a free development programme for early-stage female entrepreneurs based in rural Ireland and funded through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM). As the call for applications for the 9th cycle of ACORNS is launched, all of the participants who completed ACORNS 8 would encourage others to apply for the programme.

Charlie McConalogue TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, launched the opening of the call for applications for ACORNS 9. The deadline for applications is midnight, September 22.

In a survey carried out at the end of the eighth cycle of the programme in April, 100% of participants said they would recommend the programme to others. The 46 entrepreneurs in ACORNS 8 also reported significant growth in their new businesses. Their combined turnover, which doubled in the six months to April 2023 – from €1.9m to €3.6m.

Participants in ACORNS 8 employed 96 (55 full-time, 41 part-time) staff at the end of the cycle, an increase of 16. There were also five new exporters over the cycle.

A total of 96% of the participants said that they felt closer to achieving their ambitions after having completed ACORNS. While 89% said that their participation brought about a practical change within their business.

ACORNS is based on the belief that early-stage entrepreneurs learn best from their peers. Participants interact with each other in the monthly round table sessions, which are facilitated by a Lead Entrepreneur, who has first-hand experience of starting and successfully growing a business in rural Ireland. There are 50 places available for ACORNS 9. Those wishing to receive an application form for ACORNS 9 should register on the website

Only early-stage female entrepreneurs operating in rural Ireland, and who have had no sales before the end of June 2020, are eligible to apply. As ACORNS receives many more applications than there are places available, selection is on a competitive basis.

ACORNS 9 will run from October 2023 to April 2024 and will include six monthly round table sessions, a workshop on understanding financials, a briefing by various development agencies and an end-of-cycle celebration.

There will no charge for those selected to participate in ACORNS 9, thanks to the continuing support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the voluntary contribution of time by the Lead Entrepreneurs.

While 46 participants completed ACORNS 8, the initiative also provided continued support to more than 200 past participants through the ACORNS Community, which provided past participants with the opportunity to take part in workshops, roundtables, and other networking events.

Each of the Lead Entrepreneurs give their time to the programme on a voluntary basis, as they believe in the philosophy of ‘entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs’.

Speaking of the launch Minister McConalogue said, “while there are many rewards to being an entrepreneur, it can be a lonely journey with many challenges. To provide support in dealing with these challenges, I am pleased to be able to provide further funding to female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland through the 9th ACORNS Programme. This programme will not only help develop businesses but will provide networking opportunities to participants that may not be as available in rural parts of the country.”

“To date through the ACORNS program, I have been able to support over 400 female entrepreneurs to realise their business ambitions while contributing to society in a meaningful way. The impact of this support has been overwhelmingly positive, with participants reporting both increased sales and the creation of additional jobs. Considering the wide-ranging benefits accrued, I am delighted that we are in a position to continue to support a further 50 participants for this year’s initiative which is funded under the Rural Innovation and Development Fund”.

Multi-award winning Niamh Dooley, BiaSol, who participated in ACORNS 7, recommends participation to early-stage female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland, “I highly recommend ACORNS. The sense of community the programme has built is amazing and it is a brilliant way to connect with other women in business.”

Anne-Marie Feighery, of Feighery Farms’ Beetroot Juice, who participated in ACORNS 5 and more recently ACORNS Plus, speaks very highly of the benefits of her experience, saying, “ACORNS has been a truly rewarding experience for me on my entrepreneurial journey to date. To meet such a group of supportive, focused, and positive women was truly inspiring and incredibly motivating, alongside the wealth of knowledge and vast experience offered up by our Lead Entrepreneur. I am very proud to be a member of the ACORNS Community and very grateful for the continuing support.”

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