Career change is a strong trend that is taking hold in rural Ireland as new female-led businesses have started to emerge with help from the Accelerating the Creation Of Rural Nascent Start-ups (ACORNS) programme. ACORNS is a highly-successful development initiative to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland.
Among the 50 new female led businesses that took part in the last cycle of ACORNS during the Covid-19 pandemic, many changed their career direction completely to establish their businesses.
A desire to make lifestyle changes was a common thread among the participants. Resilience and flexibility – especially during the challenging economic circumstances – was particularly evident. There was great variety and diversity in the new businesses.
The call for applications for the latest cycle of the programme — ACORNS 7 — was launched by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD. ACORNS is funded under the Department’s Rural Innovation and Development Fund.
Programme organisers are looking for female entrepreneurs and female led businesses in rural Ireland, who wish to start and develop new businesses or who have recently started a venture.
A total of 50 new entrepreneurs will be selected and the free initiative will run over six months from October 2021 to April 2022 with the deadline for applications midnight on September 10, 2021.
Based on a belief that entrepreneurs learn best from each other, ACORNS is centred on interactive round table sessions facilitated by successful female entrepreneurs who have started and grown businesses in rural Ireland. These are known as ACORNS Lead Entrepreneurs, and they give their time free of charge to encourage and support the new business owners.
There is no charge for those participating in ACORNS, thanks to the continuing support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the voluntary contribution of time by the Lead Entrepreneurs.
This year’s voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs are Anne Reilly, PaycheckPlus; Caroline Reidy, The HR Suite; Eimer Hannon, Hannon Travel; Larissa Feeney, Accountant Online; Mary B Walsh, Ire Wel Pallets; Norma Dinneen, Bó Rua Farm and Triona MacGiolla Rí, Aró Digital Strategies.
In addition, Monica Flood, formerly Olas IT and a Going for Growth Lead Entrepreneur, will facilitate an ACORNS Plus round table for selected previous participants who are committed to driving forward the growth of their businesses.
The previous cycle of the programme — ACORNS 6 — was held during nationwide restrictions to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite the challenges that they were facing, the ACORNS 6 participants were very positive, and their businesses grew. Over the six-month period of the programme, the combined turnover of the overall group doubled from €1.8 million to €3.6 million.
Six new businesses started to trade during the programme and there were seven new exporters. At the end of the cycle, ACORNS 6 participants employed 107 people — an increase of 29.
A further 150 past participants were actively involved in other Community aspects of the initiative during the sixth cycle.
Charlie McConalogue TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, says, “along with my Department, I am delighted to be in a position to support such a successful and progressive initiative. Now in its seventh year, and going from strength to strength, ACORNS continues to support early stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland.“
“This innovative programme is funded through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund. Over 300 female entrepreneurs have taken part in ACORNS to date and a significant proportion of these are still actively involved. The progress made by participants in previous years has been remarkable, with many reporting increased sales, exports and job creation. This is an incredible opportunity and a wonderful support for rural-based female entrepreneurs, particularly in the current environment and I encourage those who have recently started or are about to start a new business to apply to participate in this very exciting initiative.””
Larissa Feeney, Accountant Online, is one of the Lead Entrepreneurs, and said, “starting a new business may seem like a lonely road. It is so important to realise that you are not alone in the challenges that you are facing as an early stage entrepreneur and that your problems are not unique. The ACORNS round tables really help here in building confidence, motivation and sharing insights. While the businesses are all different, the issues that they encounter are often similar.”
Fitzsimons Consulting, specialising in entrepreneurship and growth, developed the initiative. Founder Paula Fitzsimons says, “what the ACORNS participants achieved during the last cycle in challenging circumstances was remarkable – new sales, additional employees, and new exporters. We are delighted that, through the support of the Minister and his Department, we are in a position through ACORNS to continue to support entrepreneurial women in rural Ireland, as they start and develop their businesses.”
Any woman with a new business based in rural Ireland — or a well-developed idea for a new venture they want to get off the ground — can get more information and register to receive an application form at www.acorns.ie . There is no charge for participation.
ACORNS 7 will run from October 2021 to April 2022 and will include a launch event, six roundtable sessions, an understanding the financials workshop, a briefing by the various development agencies and an end of cycle celebration.