Latest cycle of ACORNS is open for women with businesses

Express Reporter


Express Reporter


Latest cycle of ACORNS is open for women with businesses

Sile Headen of Machado Men's Grooming

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.

And female entrepreneurs from Laois who have previously participated on the programme — as well as ‘Lead Entrepreneur’ Alison Ritchie of Polar Ice — are urging their fellow business owners to apply before the September 20 deadline. There is no charge for successful applicants.

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.

Previous business owners from Laois who have participated on a cycle of the programme include Síle Headen of Machado Men’s Grooming.

“ACORNS is a rural support which proved vital for me in converting an idea into a business which is blossoming into a profitable start-up. Without the support of ACORNS, I would not have achieved the goals I set myself out at the start,” Síle said.

‘Lead Entrepreneur’ on the programme, Laois’s Alison Ritchie, Managing Director of Polar Ice said,

“I thoroughly enjoy working with my ACORNS; every year a super range of female led start-ups apply for the programme, the hardest part is choosing those select few to join the roundtable. I look for ambition, resilience, potential and what each participant can bring to the others sitting at the table. The businesses selected are non-competing, which is part of creating an open, safe and confidential setting to discuss and work through the toughest of challenges facing start-ups. It has been so satisfying to see the networks, friendships and business growth throughout the ACORNS community.”

The call for applications follows the launch of the programme 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 register their interest 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.”

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. 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.