The group of early-stage female entrepreneurs, who took part in the latest ACORNS Business Development Scheme, doubled their combined turnover to €3.1m in just six months. The announcement was made as the call was launched for applications for ACORNS 8, the innovative business development programme for female entrepreneurs in rural areas, now in its eighth year.
Combined turnover for the 48 companies who completed ACORNS 7 increased over the cycle from €1.5m in October 2021 to €3.1m by April 2022. The firms involved also increased their combined workforce over the cycle from 94 to 116 (19%), an increase of 22 new jobs in rural Ireland. The results are even more impressive given the disruption of the COVID-19 public health restrictions throughout the Christmas and New Year period and mirror the doubling of revenues for firms involved in ACORNS 6.
Early stage entrepreneurs who took part in the latest programme include Feena McBride, The Arty Fox and Niamh Dooley, BiaSol. They, like their fellow participants, are full of praise for the initiative and their experience of it.
Charlie McConalogue T.D. Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, launched the opening of the call for applications for the latest cycle ACORNS. The initiative is funded through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). The deadline for applications is midnight on Friday, September 23rd 2022.
From the applications, up to 50 new early stage female entrepreneurs living in rural areas will be selected for the six-month programme which will run from October 2022 to April 2023. ACORNS receives well over 240 completed applications each year for the fifty places available, so those who apply will be selected on a competitive basis.
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.
The scheme is open to women based in rural Ireland who are at an advanced stage of starting a new business or who want to develop a recently-established existing venture. The intention of the programme is to provide them with the knowledge, support and networking opportunities to meet and exceed their current aspirations.
Participants learn from each other’s experiences through monthly roundtable discussions facilitated by Lead Entrepreneurs who are all female business people with first-hand experience of owning and managing a successful business in rural Ireland.
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’.
This is the eighth year of ACORNS and over 200 female entrepreneurs who have previously successfully completed the cycle are still involved in the ACORNS Community – taking part in ACORNS Plus, as well as attending topic-based workshops and networking opportunities; all of which are provided free of charge.
Charlie McConalogue T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, says, “I am delighted, along with my Department, to support ACORNS which is a successful and progressive initiative. Now in its eighth 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 350 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. 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, founder and CEO of Accountant Online and one of this year’s ACORNS Lead Entrepreneurs, says, “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.”
Participants on the recent ACORNS 7, Feena McBride, The Arty Fox and Niamh Dooley, BiaSol; are happy to recommend it to others. Feena McBride of The Arty Fox said, “from the moment you begin the ACORNS programme you are welcomed into this supportive Community. Group sessions are full of ideas, encouragement and questions that will challenge and support you. Our Lead Entrepreneur created a wonderful atmosphere where we could share our struggles and our achievements. I look forward to remaining part of the ACORNS community.”
Niamh Dooley of BiaSol said, “I highly recommend ACORNS for any woman in business. The sense of community the programme has built is amazing, and it is a brilliant way to connect with other women in business.”
Fitzsimons Consulting, specialising in entrepreneurship and growth, developed the ACORNS initiative. Founder and Director of ACORNS, Paula Fitzsimons said, “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.”