We look at 75 brilliant Irish business women leading extraordinary companies or helping to guide and inspire others in 2022.
2022 looks set to be a pivotal year for Irish women entrepreneurs. Ireland is not short of ambitious women leaders growing businesses and inspiring others to succeed.
In March 2021 the goal of seeing Irish women-led start-ups surpass the €100m venture investment level was achieved for the first time as 50 Irish tech start-up and scale-up companies with a female founder or co-founder raised a total of €105m through venture capital, grants, equity finance and angel investment in the past year.
We selected inspiring women business founders and leaders from a range of sources, from interviews over the past few years to women partaking in schemes such as Going for Growth, Back for Business and Acorns, to name a few.
Laura Bonner returned from London to found her business The Muff Liquor Company in Co Donegal.
“I was away for six years in London where I worked in property. I started off in lettings and climbed the corporate ladder to become director of the UK for an Australian company selling to the Chinese.
“I love Ireland – if the recession didn’t hit us back in 2008, I don’t think I would ever have left. I knew since I was a teenager that I would do what I am doing now. I always knew I would own The Muff Liquor Company and produce Irish spirits, which is part of my family heritage. Once I made a bit of money, I knew it was time to return home and follow my dream.
“The Muff Liquor Company produces premium potato-based Irish spirits. It was inspired by my grandfather, Philip McClenaghan, who used to make poitin. We launched the business in February 2018 with Muff gin and followed that with Muff vodka. We are now selling in multiple countries worldwide.”
Katie Brandon Byrne, from Bray, Co Wicklow, stepped away from her career as a global buyer for Primark to launch Lil & Izzy, a sustainable, organic clothing brand for children and babies, in August 2019.
Katie was inspired to become an entrepreneur after the birth of her second daughter, Isabelle, who suffers from eczema. She found it difficult to get baby clothes that didn’t irritate Isabelle’s skin. More suitable clothing, sent by her brother in Australia, was too light for the Irish climate.
So, the Wicklow native decided to design the clothes herself and started Lil & Izzy, named after her daughters, Lily and Isabelle.
From the outset, Katie wanted to ensure that her clothing range would be ethically made and aesthetically pleasing. As well as using organic cotton, Lil & Izzy only uses water-based and eco-friendly dyes and prints.
All of the illustrations on the clothing are inspired by her children’s imaginations and their daily lives. For example, a recently launched collection, featuring mermaids and swans, was inspired by living beside Bray harbour and feeding the swans there each day during Covid-19 lockdown.
Laura Cavanagh was studying for her psychology degree in UCD when she became interested in computer programming.
And what started out as a hobby ended up becoming her future career. She worked full-time as a computer programmer in Dublin before moving to work in Australia for five years.
Laura always had a desire to set up her own business and, in fact, had established one when she was in her 20s before her career took off. On returning home to Buncrana, Co Donegal, Laura decided to go it alone again and set up an app development company called Glitterbug, with her partner Colin Vaughan.While working on Glitterbug, Laura and Colin developed their own eco-friendly wedding app, called Be Our Guest, which they decided to work on full-time.
Be Our Guest is a one-stop shop for weddings. It is a mobile platform where couples, suppliers and guests can communicate with each other.
It allows couples to design digital invitations and build a community through a microblog, while guests can RSVP through the app – and even choose their meals.
The app was launched in a beta format in 2019 and the couple have spent 2020 – when it was quiet with weddings as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown — building the product and focusing on strategy.
Elaine Coughlan, Atlantic Bridge Capital
Elaine is a co-founder and general partner of Atlantic Bridge Capital, a global growth equity technology fund with over $450 million of assets under management, and over $300m of co-investment from Limited Partners. She is also a co-founder of Summit Bridge Capital, which is a China Ireland focused fund aimed at helping Irish companies scale in China. The team and fund are backed by China Investment Corp which is the world’s 5th largest Sovereign investor with more than $585bn of capital under management and Ireland’s Sovereign Wealth Fund NTMA. Summit Bridge is jointly managed by Atlantic Bridge and West Summit Capital and brings extensive networks in China to Irish companies.
She has over 20 year’s operational experience as CFO/COO in scaling technology companies with extensive operational and mergers and acquisitions experience. Previously, Elaine was a co-founder and non-executive director of GloNav Inc, a GPS software and hardware business successfully sold to NXP for $110m in 2008. Prior to Atlantic Bridge, Elaine was CFO at Parthus Technologies and took three high-growth technology companies public on both NASDAQ and LSE.
Elaine is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and a qualified Chartered Director. She was named as one of Europe’s Top 100 Women in Technology and appointed by the Irish Government to the Board of Enterprise Ireland in 2014.
Phillippa Christie’s new equestrian business was driven by a need to connect when physical, face-to-face connection was effectively prohibited due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Christie, an equine psychologist and evidence-based trainer from Yorkshire in England, had been offering coaching and equine products through her existing business, Equine Partnership, in Killorglin, Co Kerry, when the pandemic prompted a new collaborative business that would allow her and her peers to continue to provide their services.
Recognising that her colleagues in the industry were as restricted from doing normal business as she was, Phillippa created the Equine Academy, which offers a range of online courses for equestrians who want to develop equestrian partnership.
Phillippa had previously worked as a web developer and in education, so she knew some of her colleagues would not be able to create their own platform and would not necessarily be used to creating online courses.
Her goal was to create a community of equestrian coaches, who would be able to provide their services, without having to pay to do so. The Equine Academy helps with course creation, provides marketing services, and hosts the course on its platform in exchange for a revenue split on bookings.
Tigers Childcare was founded by Karen Clince in 2003. Today the business operates 13 childcare facilities in Dublin and one in London. It employs over 200 people and provides childcare services to more than 2,000 children. It is the third largest childcare provider in Ireland by the number of sites. The business recently raised €10.5m in equity funding from growth capital investor BGF.
Before starting Tigers Childcare, Clince worked as a special needs teacher in north Dublin and then in software. But she always wanted to start her own childcare business.
“There was always a plan to grow in the UK and continue to grow in Ireland.”
Stoical about the challenges of the past year, Clince said the lockdowns gave her and her team a chance to refocus on their UK plans.
“It made us focus on getting it right. We focused very much on our staff training. How can we upskill? And how can we get ourselves ready for growth? If growth wasn’t going to come this year there are certainly things we could look at and get in the pipeline. But while we have this time that we probably will never get again, how could we perfect the business? How can we make it better? And how could we make sure we were ready to grow when things hopefully would return to normal?
“So that was where we put our focus and it was it was no harm for someone to push a bit of a brick on my head and slow me down. The things we have in the pipeline are still there, just they are happening slightly slower than we would have anticipated.”
Vanessa and Lisa Creaven from Spotlight Oral Care
Set up just five years ago by Dr Lisa and Dr Vanessa Creaven, two sisters who are both dentists along with Dr Barry Buckley, Spotlight has developed safe and effective oral care products that are clinically proven to target your dental needs.
Since 2016, the oral care brand has revolutionised the industry, with their toothpaste tubes being the first 100pc recyclable tube in the world. Spotlight Oral Care develops, markets, and sells a comprehensive range of products for specific consumer oral care needs both online and through blue-chip retailers in Europe, the UK, and the United States.
The company currently has 17 products in its range, all of which are clinically formulated and tailored to target specific oral health needs using clean, active ingredients. Spotlight Oral Care has experienced significant demand and growth over the past 18 months, with turnover trebling to €19m in the last financial year. In July the company raised €12m in a funding round led by Development Capital that will enable the company to drive its international expansion into Europe and the US.
Dr Anne Cusack is the co-founder and managing director of Critical Healthcare Limited. The company strives to be the first choice for Emergency Medical Professionals. It is an Irish company offering a comprehensive range of emergency medical products and SaaS to the pre-hospital market and ambulance service providers in Ireland, and more recently, the UK and Europe.
The success of their SaaS offering first led to Critical Healthcare winning a contract with the National Ambulance Service in 2013 to implement Medlogistix across all 102 ambulance stations in Ireland. That was followed by contracts with Dublin Fire Brigade and the Irish Coastguard, but that was just the beginning.
Critical Healthcare employs 22 people throughout Ireland, the UK and Europe, supplying product to over 3,000 ambulances through Medlogistix, the company’s online procurement platform. Anne and her team have won numerous awards including the SFA Innovation Award 2013 and the IMSTA (Irish Medical and Surgical Trade Association) Best Services Company Award 2014. Most recently, Critical Healthcare has been asked to participate in the Enterprise Ireland Competitiveness Campaign. The business is continuing to grow at over 20 per cent annually and the focus for 2018-2020 is Mainland Europe.
In 2012, Julie co-founded Initiafy, now GoContractor. Julie explains exactly how GoContractor helps their clients save time and money; “construction faces the challenge of high volumes of contract staff who all need to be introduced to the site rules, company policies and safety procedures. GoContractor moves this process from the classroom to the cloud offering customers 90pc cost savings as well as safer, more compliant sites. Their client base now includes Sisk, AECOM, Roadbridge, ESB, DAA and Dublin Port as well as most of the top construction companies in the US. The product offering has also seen a major revamp in 2019 with user experience for construction workers being placed as the most important element. Today, GoContractor employs 30 people in Dublin and has 15 staff in their New York office.
“When setting up a business, you should focus on perfecting a sales pitch,” Currid said. “Everything from acquiring customers, raising capital, PR, marketing and recruitment are all influenced by your ability to sell your company, your product and yourself!”
Naas-based beauty start-up Pestle & Mortar is a skincare brand that offers simple solutions for beautiful skin. Pestle & Mortar founder Sonia Deasy explained to ThinkBusiness last year that the company believes everyone is beautiful and that the mission is to protect that natural beauty by harnessing the power of science and nature to develop effective, simple formulations.
Barra Kelly, SHD Chartered Engineers, voluntary Lead Entrepreneur Áine Denn, and former participant Shane Bourke, Irish Office Space.
Áine Denn co-founded Altify, now Upland Altify, in 2005. Upland Altify is the Customer Revenue Optimization (CRO) company, helping businesses generate value and grow revenue. Upland Altify customers include Autodesk, BT, GE, Workday, HP Enterprise, Johnson Controls, United Healthcare and Salesforce.
A key contributor to the direction of the company since its inception, Áine’s insight is informed by more than 25 years’ experience in enterprise software, business development, operations and customer engagement. Prior to Altify, Áine has served in senior executive positions in public and private companies including The SCO Group, NewworldIQ, Prudential UK and Accenture. Altify was recently acquired by US technology company Upland Software (UPLD) in a deal worth nearly €76m.
Norma Dineen and her husband Tom produce a range of award-winning cheeses on the family farm Bó Rua Farm in County Cork using milk from their herd of Montbeliarde and Friesian cows. Named in honour of the rust-coloured Montbeliardes (Bó Rua is Irish for ‘Red Cow’), the cheese is made from March to October when the cows are out on pasture.
“From pasture to plate, our family takes time and great care to ensure we produce the finest of farmhouse cheese. Using traditional techniques Bó Rua Farm cheddar is carefully hand crafted and matured on the farm. It is gently aged until it has a firm yet delicately creamy texture and a full, approachable flavour. In the short time since launch in May 2019 we have received numerous awards including Gold at the Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards for Best Irish Hard Cheese.
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit we have pivoted from supplying Bó Rua Farm cheese to foodservice and switched focus to supplying speciality food stores and the multiples nationwide. We also now retail directly online through our web shop.
Dineen found ACORNS particularly beneficial: “Over six months, established female entrepreneurs in different locations around the country lead monthly, day-long, round-table sessions with groups of women who have been running a business for less than two years, or are about to start one. You learn from other women’s experiences and, of course, the lead entrepreneur is a successful person in her own right. Focusing on different topics each month, such as marketing, sales, finance and employment, discussions cover all the pieces of the jigsaw you are going to need to successfully set up a business. I found it extremely helpful in setting goals, with “positive peer pressure” being a motivation to complete goals in time to report on it at the next meeting. In the day-to-day running of the household and the business, you can get consumed by the small details. ACORNS provides the chance to take a step away, talk to other women and tap into their experiences.”
Clare Duignan has over 25 years CEO and senior leadership experience, and serves on the boards of both public and private organisations.
As director of Programmes RTÉ Television and MD RTÉ Radio, she reduced headcount and operating costs while holding audience share, identified new revenue streams and drove a more customer-focused sales policy.
Clare has a strong track record of strategic leadership and a deep understanding of consumer needs and behaviour, marketing and branding and social media. Her experience in recruitment, team leadership and performance management is coupled with a track record in supporting female leadership and promoting gender balance in the workplace. A qualified executive and leadership coach, she mentors female entrepreneurs, and works with ambitious organisations and individuals as they review their strategy and scale for growth.
Clare is an experienced non-executive director, currently serving on the boards of The Irish Times, Fáilte Ireland, The Institute of Banking, Business to Arts, and Women for Election. Clare is a member of the Institute of Directors and received the Diploma in Company Direction (Dip IoD) in July 2013.
Polly & Andy makes seam-free and super soft bamboo socks for children and adults. A simple comment from Polly Doyle’s four-year-old son broke her heart – and led her to set up her clothing company. Andy is autistic and wasn’t then able to communicate fully but, after pulling on new soft trousers, said: “these don’t hurt.”
As he happily ran off to play, Polly was devastated that Andy’s clothes had been hurting. Polly, who was Andy’s full-time carer, investigated clothing made from bamboo, which she felt was perfect for the layer of clothes next to your skin.
She could not find anyone in Ireland making such products so, in July 2019, Polly launched Polly & Andy from her home in Cheekpoint, Co Waterford. The company makes seam-free and super soft bamboo socks for children and adults.
Polly & Andy is now stocked in 25 stores including Foxford Woollen Mills. Polly is working on a new range including soft top socks, with no cuffs. She is also planning to introduce new lines such as vests and underwear.
Fiona Edwards Murphy
Agtech business ApisProtect is working on revolutionising beekeeping by working with beekeepers around the world to develop innovative technology to remotely monitor honey bees. Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy, CEO and co-founder of ApisProtect is among the most widely published authors on Internet of Things and honeybees. ApisProtect provides real-time hive monitoring powered by intelligent sensor technology. The platform gives beekeepers actionable insights and alerts to help prevent losses and increase colony productivity.
Louise Egan set up her business I-SPY, based in Co. Clare, with her mother Paulette, when she was in Transition Year in school
“Our primary focus when we started out was to design and create stylish and comfortable fitness leggings that are completely non see-through. In the four years since, we have definitely accomplished this, and the quality of our leggings is well known in Ireland. We have also brought this same philosophy into other products in our range and we are highly confident that our range not only makes our customers look good, but it makes them feel comfortable and confident while working out.
“Personally, as I first started my business in Transition Year in school, I would say that my parents both being self-employed had a huge impact on my desire to own and run my own business. Seeing their passion for entrepreneurship led me to take part in a ‘Start Your Own Business’ course during Transition Year and from there the idea for I-SPY blossomed. I had also played sport at a high level for years so I could see that there was a clear gap in the market for stylish and comfortable female fitness clothing.
“I have to say that I feel the start-up environment is such a welcoming place for women in Ireland. There’s definitely a great sense of community between female entrepreneurs and programmes like ACORNS are so beneficial in cementing this community and using the resources and knowledge of these amazing female founders in an organised way. I also think that many of the events that the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) run greatly benefit female entrepreneurs and help to promote a culture of empowerment for female-led start-ups.”
Larissa began her career as a qualified chartered accountant spending a number of years as a sole practitioner, providing accountancy services to a wide range of business clients in her local area. She then went on to set up the award-winning online accountancy firm Accountant Online, based in Letterkenny, Co Donegal. In 2017, she joined forces with Rose Kervick, an accomplished digital entrepreneur and together they opened a second office in Dublin, in order to be closer to the capital’s startup technology community.
The company provides a complete range of financial and governance services, from company setup stage through to secretarial, tax, payroll and company filings, ensuring the client’s accounts and compliance needs are met. Accountant Online has grown rapidly and the company now employs 45 staff. Their success has been widely recognised, seeing them selected as winners in the Irish Accountancy Awards 2017 and 2018 and Shortlisted for 2019 Medium Practice of the Year, Best Use of Technology and Accountant of the Year.
In October it emerged that Accountant Online is to triple its workforce with 100 new jobs over the next four years.
“Accountancy services are traditionally offered via high street bricks and mortar offices, but this does not serve online and tech businesses well,” Feeney said. “They need accessibility to professional expertise online.”
Finola Fegan has suffered from rosacea – a chronic skin condition for which there is no cure – since her early 20s.
After trying every cream on the market, she discovered the cosmetics contained chemicals and additives that caused irritation instead of helping her condition.
Finola was running her own engineering company with another female engineer – a school friend from her home town of Mayobridge, outside Newry.
But after 20 years in the business, she had achieved all she wanted and decided to establish a cosmetics company to help other people with rosacea.
While lecturing in Dundalk Institute of Technology, she heard about the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme. On this programme, she realised her business could be global.
Finola was already making sales but set up Finca Skin Organics as a limited company at the end of 2018, making a range of five products from a small manufacturing unit in Carlingford, Co. Louth.
Finola availed of many supports. Louth LEO helped her with a priming grant and she attended DCU’s Ryan Academy, before receiving Competitive Start Funding from EI.
Scale Ireland, the independent not-for-profit organisation which represents and advocates on behalf of tech start-up and scale-up companies last year appointed Martina Fitzgerald as its new CEO. Fitzgerald has two decades senior communications experience working as a national journalist including as political correspondent with RTÉ, is a best-selling author and was more recently a visiting fellow at Columbia University in New York. She is a member of the board of Dochas and the National Screening Advisory Committee.
Across Ireland there are 2,000 indigenous tech start-up and scale-up companies that between them employ 47,000 people and more can be achieved, Fitzgerald believes.
Speaking with ThinkBusiness recently, Fitzgerald outlined how she believes the importance of supporting scaling tech companies should be abundantly obvious to policymakers.
“The best advertisement for this sector – the start-ups, the founders – are those with the vision to take the risks, who are growing their companies and are solving problems in areas like logistics, enterprise, medtech, cleantech, agritech. You don’t have to travel very far to see why you should support the sector. All you have to do is hear from the founders themselves.”
Monica Flood, Lead Entrepreneur (formally Olas IT), Nessa Cronin, Going For Growth participant and owner of Vanity Fair boutique in Kildare, Julie Sinnamon, former CEO Enterprise Ireland, Olivia Lynch, Partner KPMG. Image: Shane O’Neill
Monica Flood established an IT training and consultancy business in 1981. Olas has developed as one of the premier IT training companies in Ireland and is the sole appointed education partner for SAP. Monica completed the sale of Olas to a French public company, Assima plc. and has retired from the position of CEO to pursue other business and investment interests.
Monica’s experience of building a service business and a loyal customer base in a very competitive market provides an important perspective for growth and success. A great supporter of the arts in Ireland, Monica is a Patron of The Model in Sligo, home of the Niland Collection and one of Ireland’s leading contemporary arts centres. Monica has recently been appointed as a non-executive Director to the Projects Arts Centre which began in 1966 as a small artist led collective and is now evolving into Ireland’s national centre for the contemporary arts.
When Kel Galavan stepped back from her 16-year career in pharmaceuticals to spend more time with her children, she could never have imagined the path it would take her on.
Kel, with an MSc in Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs, found her career meant long days and gruelling commutes. She felt her children’s childhood was passing her by
Cutting the household income in half would be a big move. So Kel decided to make the money that was coming in work as hard as possible.
She embarked on a No Spend Year in 2019, giving up alcohol and takeaways, new clothes, makeup, and dying her hair, among other things. The family cut spending by €27,500.
Galavan’s Instagram account gained a massive following, and she teamed up with Orpen Press to write a book. Mindful Money: More Money, More Freedom, More Happiness launched in January 2021. The first print run sold out in under three weeks.
During this time, Galavan was getting lots of enquiries asking for advice and her career as a money mentor began.
Set up just outside Kildare town in February 2020, Mrs Smart Money is a mindful money mentoring business, which helps people take control of their money and use it to build a life that works for them and not the other way around.
Mairead Guinan from Neighbourfood is passionate about the effects good, local food has on your body – and the environment.
Mairead Guinan grew up on a farm, studied microbiology and worked in quality improvement for healthcare, so knows the effects good, local food has on your body – and the environment.
She started Neighbourfood Tullamore as she believes in people eating ‘real’ food from local growers to improve their health, the environment and support the local economy.
As a concept, Neighbourfood, which started in Cork in 2018, is simple. You shop online for local products and pick them up on a specific day at a local venue.
The producer gets 80pc of sales, while Neighbourfood and Mairead receive 10pc each, so it raises all boats. It also gives producers access to a wider customer base, without having to invest in an online platform.
Eimer Hannon got the ‘travel bug’ early in her working life, when she joined the staff of the national student travel agency USIT, at University College Dublin. Eimer always had the ambition to be in business for herself. She started Hannon Travel in 1999, offering a highly personalised service in the corporate travel sector. Her commitment to her clients was to provide them with a complete travel service that would support them at all points of their trip. The company has grown to employ close to 30 people, has offices in Navan and Belfast, and is expanding in the UK. Eimer says “Going for Growth gave me the push, confidence and support to follow my dream and grow the business to the next level.”
The company continues to strengthen its presence on a global basis, having recently signed a global partnership agreement with Reed and Mackay, enabling them to deliver complete corporate travel management for professionals with exacting needs in over 40 countries worldwide. In 2019 Eimer received the Matheson WMB Female Entrepreneur Award 2019 and Hannon Travel was shortlisted for the award for customer service in the Aviation Industry Awards.
“We have gone from being a small local corporate travel provider to now being international, and we are continuing to grow. Going for Growth helped make this happen,” Hannon said.
As a young child, Sharon Huggard watched her mother transform into a Hollywood star when she got dressed up for dinner dances. The power of this instantaneous transformation through style stuck with her and is at the heart of her business mantra ‘Style…it’s a feeling!
Sharon spent 13 years in financial services before taking a career break to raise her three young children. During this time, and with no fashion experience but a passion for empowering women through style, she entered Ireland’s Next Top Stylist competition – and won.
She trained as a stylist and set up Style for You from her home in Innishannon in Co Cork but her career as an entrepreneur was interrupted when she was headhunted by Dressed boutique in Cork.
She worked as a stylist and fashion buyer for six years, before being made redundant in July 2019. Sharon decided this was her moment to do what she always wanted and established The Style Coach in September 2019.
The Style Coach merges personal style with personal development and Sharon has a range of qualifications in both styling and being a Life Coach.
The business quickly gained momentum, with collaborations with stores such as Brown Thomas, and workshops being held nationwide. Then Covid-19 hit and she had to reinvent herself.
She took her business online, developed group programmes and established a membership model.
Having carried a passion for technology and all things digital from an early age to university and throughout her career, Niamh Hogan is now leading her own business providing complete digital marketing services.
Hogan has over 20 years’ experience in the IT industry and holds a number of qualifications, including a degree in electronic engineering from the University of Limerick. As a web designer and SEO expert, she is passionate about creating aligned digital strategies.
She worked with several top technology companies before setting up as Web Clare in 2016. While running Web Clare, Niamh provided web design and SEO services and worked with a wide variety of clients across Ireland.
Hogan wanted to create an agency with a full suite of digital marketing services and in August 2020, Agile Digital Strategy was incorporated.
Based in Shannon, Co Clare, Agile Digital Strategy offers clients a suite of services in digital strategy, social media marketing, web design and search engine optimisation (SEO).
“Through its aligned digital strategies, Agile Digital Strategy helps companies meet and exceed their goals and sales targets,” Hogan said.
Since launching last year, the company has built up a strong clientele, working with businesses nationwide and internationally.
Izzy and Ailbhe Keane
Recently shortlisted for the prestigious EU Prize for Women Innovators, sisters Ailbhe and Izzy Keane are ranked among the most talented women entrepreneurs in Europe.
Izzy Wheels was founded in 2016. The company was inspired by Izzy, who was born with spina bifida and is paralysed from the waist down. Her sister Ailbhe designed a range of wheel covers as part of her final-year project at the National College of Art and Design that year.
The company recently collaborated with Disney to create a range of bright and colourful spokeguards for wheelchair users that includes characters from among other films, Frozen, Lion King and Toy Story.
Martha Kearns moved from Dublin to Sligo with her young family and set up StoryLab with her husband in 2014.
“Myself and my husband, Ciaran Byrne, are former national newspaper news editors (in Ireland and the UK) and were enjoying successful careers based in Dublin but, after each having worked in the industry for 20 years, we were looking for a fresh challenge on a professional level while also seeking a better work/life balance that would benefit our young family. Being on the front line, receiving hundreds of press releases daily, we could see where a lot of PR companies were going wrong in their approaches to the media. We could also see how businesses were struggling to tell their stories in an engaging way. With a background running newspaper departments in areas including news, business, education, lifestyle and features, we could see how we could help businesses develop their stories and raise their profiles.
“StoryLab is a content and PR company. We’re still in the storytelling business! Some of our products include producing written content, such as supplements for national newspapers and strategic internal and external communications in multiple formats for large corporations. Our other core services include graphic design, branding, social media, videos and podcasts.
“Being a female entrepreneur has not been an impediment but rather you might see some positive bias (especially when event organisers are trying to balance gender among speakers!). Being part of ACORNS showed me the comradery among female entrepreneurs in Ireland and how much we all want to help each other succeed.”
Caroline Keeling is the CEO of Keelings. Keelings is a 100pc Irish-owned family business which started producing fruits and salads on their farm in the 1930s supplying produce to local Dublin markets. Keelings is focused on growing and sourcing the best fresh produce from around the world. The Company has expanded to its current size with five divisions – Keelings Retail, Keelings Farm Fresh, Keelings Market, Keelings International and Keelings Solutions. Keelings is headquartered in FoodCentral, Co. Dublin, Ireland but has operations in the UK, Europe and Asia. Keelings employs over 2,000 people.
As well as fresh produce, Keelings has developed produce-specific ERP software solutions, consultancy and management services. Caroline has a BSc (Chem) & MSc in Food Science which she obtained from University College Dublin (UCD). Caroline started her career with Green Isle foods in 1992, before joining Keelings as technical manager in 1994. Caroline is an ambassador for The Women’s Fund for Ireland, a Bord Bia Board Member, Chair of the Horticulture Board of Bord Bia, Chair of Dublin Action Plan for Jobs Implementation Committee, board member of the Ifrah Foundation and a member of the Export Trade Council.
“The Sligo Oyster Experience tells the story of Sligo and its earliest inhabitants through oysters. Over 6,000 years ago the reason people settled in Sligo is because of the abundance of shellfish hence the name Sligeach meaning ‘abounding in shells’. We invite visitors to learn about oysters and see a commercial working oyster farm completing its daily tasks.
“Our core product is food tourism and it works by inviting visitors to learn all about how oysters are farmed in Sligo. My husband Glenn is an oyster farmer and he introduced me to oysters, their history and harvesting in Sligo Bay. I take visitors on a short walking tour of Sligo town and then back for some freshly-shucked oysters at a purpose-built oyster bar at the café.
My background is in business and tourism and I saw a niche in the market for a unique experience showcasing this wonderful tradition. The tour really gives people an opportunity to appreciate Sligo. This year, I launched Sligo Oyster Farm tours, which brings people directly to the oyster farms and this has been a huge success. This adds an exciting ‘hands-on’ element. People really get to see how the oysters are grown, the impact the weather has on the farm and the hard work involved from the beginning of the process to the final product.”
Hawthorn Handmade Skincare, developed by Mayo native Elaine Kennedy, has created a range of natural skincare products – using only 100pc natural and sustainable ingredients, in eco-friendly and fully recyclable packaging.
Elaine’s family have a long tradition of crafting and farming based on the shores of Lough Carra at the foot of the Partry Mountains and her parents instilled a sense of duty to preserve the precious landscape surrounding them from a young age.
This connection to nature is what inspired Elaine to return home to Ireland and establish the business.
Journalism and technology have always been an integral part of Áine Kerr’s career so her latest venture – Kinzen – is a natural progression of that journey.
Kerr is co-founder and chief operating officer of Kinzen, which helps organisations solve the information crisis, find accurate information and avoid fake news.
A former journalist, Áine first went into the start-up world as managing editor of Storyful, Ireland’s first social media news agency. Now, she is back with Storyful founder Mark Little to head up digital technology company, Kinzen.
In between the two start-up ventures, Áine spent almost two years in New York as Global Head of Journalism Partners at Facebook
Kinzen was established in 2017 with the purpose to find human solutions to sifting out disinformation across platforms using machine learning and data science. Headquartered in Dublin, it has 10 full-time employees, a large base of contractors around the world and operations in 12 global markets.
“We wanted to look at how you, on one hand, use technology to build a platform to root out the bad actors who are spreading misinformation, and on the other hand, ensure that we are building technology that uses human judgement. The 2020 US elections was one of the biggest ever flashpoints in this area,” says Áine.
“Kinzen is trying to rebuild that trust and engagement in platforms while also balancing the rights of freedom of speech. We see ourselves as ‘trusted flaggers’ but then it is down to each platform to use their own decision-making on whether or not to remove that content.”
Just months after setting up The Brill Building, Roisin Keown’s creative advertising agency became one of the most awarded new creative agencies in Ireland.
Originally from Antrim, Roisin has 20 years’ advertising experience, having grown through the ranks with DDFH&B Group.
Roisin and her husband moved their family from Dublin to east Clare in 2018. After winning several brand strategy contracts in Munster including Kilkenny Design, she launched her own creative agency in 2019.
The Brill Building, which works with clients all over Ireland, is pioneering a new model for agencies which is designed to work better for both the client and creatives. With four core staff, The Brill Building works with a trusted and highly-experienced network, including digital strategists and production experts.
The Brill Building created the Champion Green brand and campaign for Kilkenny Design and Visa, encouraging a new generation to support local when shopping.
The agency’s campaign for Breakthrough Cancer Research, The Shop That Nearly Wasn’t created the world’s first shop 100pc stocked and staffed by cancer survivors. The campaign has won many national and European awards.
Nora Khaldi’s biotech firm Nuritas plans to scale globally in a drive to deliver plant-based peptides after raising $45m (€39m) Series B funding round. Nuritas has established the world’s largest peptide knowledge base. Peptides are smaller versions of proteins with the same nutritional power, but with added highly specific benefits. The new funding will accelerate Nuritas’ global expansion and support its mission to unlock the power of nature to make many of the products we consume daily healthier, safer and more sustainable. “It has been a landmark year, resulting in the expansion of our peptide portfolio, growing the commercial team and developing key global partnerships,” said Dr Nora Khaldi, founder and CEO of Nuritas. “Our new investors bring a wealth of invaluable expertise, and this latest round will help to build our US headquarters, continue to expand our team, scale our platform to discover more life-changing ingredients and accelerate our route to market.”
Roisin set up Kingston Lafferty Design in 2010 and quickly built up the company to become one of the most respected interior architecture and design agencies in Europe. She now has a team of thirteen people working in KLD, based off Baggot Street in Dublin 4, with Roisin taking on the role of creative and managing director. Her main objective is to create spaces that enhance people’s lives in a way that is both functional and beautiful.
In 2015, she was awarded the Fit Out Young Designer of the Year as well as picking up the award for Residential Project of the Year in both 2015 and 2016. 2018 saw KLD winning best café at the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards for her design of Pot Bellied Pig. KLD also won Best Fit Out Retail at the Fit Out Awards 2018 for The Vaults Parlour. Róisín was also named Interior Designer of the Year at the Image Interiors and Living Awards 2018. In 2019 Róisín was named the youngest ever President of the Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI). KLD plans to expand further into the UK and the rest of Europe over the next five years.
“All of our jobs are bespoke and unique and we also design individual pieces of furniture which fit the spaces we are designing,” Lafferty said.
Lisa Larkin changed career and moved from Dublin to Kilbeggan in Co Westmeath to set up Durrow Mills.
“Durrow Mills came about as I was looking for a flour that was gentle on the system, healthy and nutritious and organic. When you start looking at what you eat, you realise that flour is in so many products. So why settle for a lower quality when we eat so much of it? With a huge rise in people experiencing digestive issues related to foods, in particular wheat, I realised that an alternative was needed.
“Our core products have been to produce a range of Organic Sprouted Flours for retail and also for trade such as bakeries and food service. Sprouted flours take a few days to manufacture as the grains need to be soaked, allowed to germinate or sprout, then dried very gently over a long period of time and finally we stone mill them fresh to order. Our most popular flours are our range of sprouted wheat of which we have 3 products – fine milled, coarse milled and a blended bakers mix, while also making sprouted rye, buckwheat and spelt. We sell direct to both retail and trade customers and are also selling through two distributors since the start of the year, and are currently in the process of launching a new e-commerce website to maximise our online demand which has particularly grown since the Covid- 19 pandemic this year.”
In 1991 Layden Group bought part of South City Markets, including the George’s Street Arcade which at the time was run down and had only a few clients. Gwen Layden had just finished university and shared her father’s vision to restore and preserve the architectural integrity of the arcade and fill it with businesses.
There are now more than 40 businesses operating shops and stalls at the arcade and some of the original tenants are still there including The Piercer and Stokes’ Antiquarian Books, as well as a diverse array of younger businesses including Pepperpot Café, Umi Flafal, Benedicts Egg Shop and Loose Canon.
Before the 2009 recession took hold Layden Group reduced all arcade rents by a third and as a result tenants went into the recession with a buffer and all survived. Similarly, when the Irish Government introduced the first lockdown in March 2020, the Layden Group decided not to charge rents to tenants who were forced to shut due to the Covid restrictions.
The Layden family decided that to charge rent to tenants during the lockdown would have been immoral.
Crucially, according to Gwen, the ultimate goal and purpose is to leave a legacy of thriving in the city centre.
“We love to see small businesses thrive. 30 years ago when I walked through the arcade with my father there were very few tenants, few paying rent, and it was very run-down.
“We decided to restore the architectural integrity of the arcade because it’s a very beautiful building. There are 40 businesses there now and that’s 40 families who have a livelihood and some of their children and grandchildren will come into those businesses.
“When I evaluate a tenant, I don’t ask for references, I just meet people and I evaluate their passion for what they want to do.”
Growing up in the Kildare countryside meant that Emma-Jane Leeson and her siblings spent most of their childhood exploring the outdoors and natural environment around them.
Emma-Jane left her full-time job to pursue Johnny Magory as a business and the book series is now becoming a brand for all things children, outdoors and exploring Irish heritage and culture. The website includes a Christmas shop for books and toys, including an Explorer Box and a range of book bundles, art, toys and puzzles.
Triona MacGiolla Ri, Aró Digital Strategy (lead entrepreneur)
Aró Digital Strategy was set up by Triona Mac Giolla Rí and Alan Rowe in 1996. The business began working with golf clubs and within a year won The Irish Times Business Website of the Year for golfclubireland.com. By 2000, Aró had secured contracts with Jurys Doyle Hotel Group and Bórd Fáilte, establishing themselves as a leading digital agency in the Irish tourism sector.
Today, Aró Digital Strategy works with over 200 luxury hotels in the UK, Ireland and across the world. Aró provides a comprehensive range of digital services to the hospitality sector. They provide luxury hotel website design, a conversion-focused technology platform, expert data analysis and reporting along with digital marketing programs. The predominant reasons that clients choose to work with Aró include the stunning bespoke websites they build, along with an exceptional level of service, but mostly its knowing that they will probably perform better than their competitor set.
“I was privileged to join a group (Going for Growth) of positive, creative and committed women. The format was very professional in a safe space where each participant could discuss their challenges and developments and gain insights from the peers’ experiences,” MacGiolla Ri said.
Back from New York City, Aileen Markey set up Unglu-d, a dedicated online Gluten-free business, providing services and support to people with Coeliac Disease or who are Gluten intolerant.
Originally from Dundalk, Aileen left Ireland in 1989 to study Hotel & Catering Management in the UK and lived abroad for 27 years.
In May 2017, she set up Unglu-d in Dublin, which started as a pop-up shop but is now an online Gluten Free business, providing services and support to people with Coeliac Disease or gluten intolerances.
It helps people access products they might not get in supermarkets and provides information to the communities.
“I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease before I moved home to Ireland. I had to change my whole diet, re-think how I shopped and get used to reading labels on everything. I then had to re-learn it all over again when I moved home as the symbols and rules vary between countries.”
Aileen had to go to several different shops to find what she needed so had the idea to create a one-stop shop herself.
“I thought what if you could go to one shop and find a ton of stuff you actually liked where there’s no risk of cross contamination and you don’t have to read the labels as it’s all done for you.”
A summer job in the family business turned into to Avril McCarthy taking the helm and leading the future of Derrycourt Cleaning Specialists.
When I was in school, I was always used as the spare cleaner if someone was sick so I had no intention of joining the family business. Initially, I was just supposed to be there for a few months but my business skills proved to be of great use and I am still here 20 years later,” says Avril, who is now general manager and a shareholder in the company.
Avril — who is also chair of the Irish Contract Cleaning Association — oversees the day-to-day running of the business, which is headquartered in Dublin with a base in Cork. It employs 1,700 people across the county including 90 support staff; the remainder are cleaning staff based across the country.
The company specialises in a range of sectors from hospital and healthcare facilities and pharma cleanrooms to crime scenes and food processing and manufacturing plants.
Some of its clients include An Garda Síochána, the HSE, FBD Insurance and the country’s two children’s hospitals in Temple Street and Crumlin. In March 2020, the company were in London to accept the Golden Service Award for Best Cleaning Healthcare Premises for its work at Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin.
Mayo business Payslip is scaling globally due to skyrocketing of demand for payroll services by multinationals that have postponed the return to the office.
Payslip was founded in Westport, Mayo, in 2015 by Fidelma McGuirk. Payslip’s software-as-a-service platform empowers payroll professionals to streamline their global payroll processes.
One of Ireland’s hottest start-ups Payslip is expanding its presence to more than 60 countries having seen a surge in demand for hybrid workforces as a result of the pandemic.
Major tech corporations like Apple Ireland, Facebook, Amazon Data Services, and Google have all postponed their return to the workplace until January 2022.
As a result, demand for payroll services in areas with complicated tax and labour rules has skyrocketed.
Prior to Payslip, Fidelma has over 18 years’ experience in international business. Having worked in Irish telco Eir in HR, she later led Taxback.com as director of international operations and as CEO. Fidelma studied her Bachelors in Business and German and Masters in Business in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and University of Regensburg, Germany. Fidelma trained as a certified Data Protection Officer.
Deirdre McGlone is one of the outstanding hoteliers and businesswomen in Ireland. Following her graduation from University of Limerick with a degree in European Studies, Deirdre played a pivotal role in the development of the multi-award-winning Harvey’s Point Hotel, Lough Eske, Donegal.
Deirdre is a proud member of the ‘Going for Growth’ women in business community and a lead entrepreneur with ACORNS. She is also a member of the Tourism Leaders Group, set up to help shape government policy to 2025 and a board member of Donegal Tourism. A former ‘Donegal Person of the Year’, Deirdre is also President of the Donegal Women in Business Network.
Axonista is building the video-first future of shopping, and powers interactive video commerce for global brands including QVC, HSN, WaterBear, and Oxfam.
Co-founder and CEO Claire McHugh has a career spanning TV and digital media and is a member of the Board of Directors of Scale Ireland, and of the Irish Film Institute. She has participated as an expert evaluator in the European Innovation Council and Creative Europe Media funding programmes.
Claire is an active participant in the Irish startup community, and an ardent supporter of female entrepreneurship. Claire is an advisor to Tech Ireland, and Grow Remote, and has been a lead entrepreneur for Going for Growth. In 2017 Claire was awarded Image Magazine’s Businesswoman of the Year for Digital, Science and Technology.
Prior to co-founding Axonista, Claire was part of the team that established and managed the Setanta Sports channels in Ireland and UK, and worked in a number of digital agencies, where she developed her passion for technology, storytelling, and innovation.
Suzanne Moloney’s HidraMed Solutions has developed a wound dressing system that supports people with Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS), a debilitating disease of the skin that affects one in 100 people. It causes lesions and wounds to form on delicate areas of the body such as the armpit and groin, but can occur almost anywhere. Traditional dressings require adhesives to stay on, which causes irritation and further skin damage.
HidraMed has developed a technology called HidraWear, which enables quick and easy dressing changes and secure dressing retention.
For her innovation and the promise of her business Moloney was recently chosen as The Irish Times Business Person of the Month, an award run in association with Bank of Ireland.
TestReach was set up in 2014 by Louella and co-founder Sheena Bailey. The background context was the ever-growing demand worldwide for education and professional qualifications. A unique feature of TestReach is that you can easily ‘turn on’ remote invigilation for any test. With this option, TestReach trained invigilators and supervisors monitor exams in real time over the web, via video, audio and remote screen share.
The exam hall environment is effectively re-created online, in a way that can service customers from markets across the world. The company’s main markets are professional bodies, educational/training organisations and corporations, particularly those in highly regulated sectors like financial services, pharma and aviation. Today, they employ 45 people directly, with over 400 exam invigilators on their books. For the future, their priorities will be to expand further in the corporate sector and also into the US, where they are currently looking at some expansion options.
“I have benefitted greatly from Going for Growth and from continuing as part of the Going for Growth community,” Morton said. “It gave me a great opportunity to network and establish solid business relationships that I know will support me as we continue to grow the business.”
When ACORNS alumni Katie Mugan was working as a paediatric nurse in Ireland, her exposure to breastfeeding babies was limited.
But a move to Melbourne, Australia, in 2006 opened her eyes to the supports available to new mothers with breastfeeding.
This sparked a new passion in Katie and the seed of inspiration to launch her own business helping mothers and newborns to have a more positive breastfeeding experience.
When she returned to Ireland in 2013, Katie retrained as a public health nurse to support new parents. During her time as a public health nurse, Katie saw how many mothers struggled with breastfeeding and were left feeling confused and overwhelmed by conflicting information given by different health care professionals.
Katie saw a demand for better antenatal education and quickly realised she wanted to specialise in lactation. In 2018, she decided to take the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) exam.
When she became fully certified, she launched Nursing Mama in August 2019. Based in Naas, Co Kildare, Nursing Mama offers online Breastfeeding Preparation classes, Newborn Care classes and a Weaning from Breastfeeding workshop.
“I still see so many mothers struggling with breastfeeding. Many are still receiving conflicting advice and feeling completely overwhelmed and lost,” says Katie.
“Mothers not recognising the warning signs when breastfeeding is not going well and babies with large weight losses are still a frequent occurrence. The need for better education antenatally so Mothers can be better equipped with practical knowledge when their baby arrives is essential.”
The business has gone from strength to strength since launching and Katie has acquired 10,000 followers on Instagram. Delivering classes online has allowed her to expand her clientele internationally, with clients in Australia and the UK, as well as all over Ireland.
2020 was a busy year for Wellola CEO Sonia Neary who pivoted quickly during the Covid-19 pandemic to launch a patient portal with the HSE.
The company, established by Sonia in 2016, had been focused on the mental and community healthcare market in Ireland and the UK but pivoted quickly during the Covid-19 pandemic to launch a secure patient communication portal, in collaboration with the HSE Digital Transformation Team, to protect front-line workers.
Wellola currently serves over 600 individuals and organisations in Ireland and the UK, particularly in the allied health and mental healthcare space. 2020 was a busy year for Wellola, who as well as collaborating with the Health Services Executive (HSE), launched a secure online communication portal for the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists and was awarded a place on the competitive and prestigious NHS G-Cloud 12 Framework to service the NHS.
In 2019, Neary was honoured to represent Ireland as a finalist in the global Women in Tech Awards in Paris and to accept the ‘Integrated Care’ award from the Irish Medical & Surgical Trade Association on behalf of Wellola. She is an advocate for greater gender diversity in entrepreneurship, and enhancing support networks amongst female founders.
Nature-loving scientist Olivia Norman always made her own facial oils to treat her skin conditions. But it was when she started making deodorant as a result of her underactive thyroid that a business idea was formed.
A Galway girl, Olivia moved to Cork in 1998 to finish her Biomedical Science degree in UCC, met her husband and never left. Her career started in IBTS blood bank, before 17 years in the labs in Mercy University Hospital Cork.
When burnout set in, Olivia – a trained Kundalini yoga teacher and life coach — took a career break to look at ways to create a better work/life balance. It was her 9-year-old daughter who suggested making a business from her luxurious prebiotic natural deodorant balm.
Norman completed Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers at the Rubicon Centre MTU, followed by the Exxcel Female Entrepreneur STEM programme in 2019.
Naivilo launched in March 2020. When Covid hit, the hospital asked her to help out with the pandemic. Olivia worked a few nights a month at the hospital, while spent her days testing products and working on branding.
She finished up in the hospital in December 2020 to concentrate on the business and, by January 2021, she launched two new products and her new website.
Bríd O’Brien always wanted to run her own business and after working as a leader in HR for over 25 years, she made the leap and set up Albatel in November 2019. Less than two years on, Bríd is leading a team of seven, providing outsourced Human Resources Management for companies all over Ireland.
Based in Celbridge, Co Kildare, Albatel offers services under five key areas which are HR, recruitment, payroll, coaching, and training.
The firm’s goal is to help other companies build profitable teams, reduce risk and facilitate business growth. Albatel do this by working closely with their clients as a cohesive expert team providing a “one-stop shop” service.
When the global pandemic forced everyone to move from office to home, many organisations didn’t set up new ways of working for their employees. Bríd had extensive experience in managing organisational transformation and partnering with business leaders to optimise performance, making her perfectly placed to address these new challenges in the pandemic.
Albatel works closely with businesses to help their employees adapt to new technology, and navigate communication challenges, leading to an increase in productivity.
EATTO’s Jeannanne O’Brien saw a gap in the market for nutritious, high-quality pre-prepared home meals and is cooking up a storm.
EATTO.IE is a new Irish business venture run by O’Brien which brings you delicious premium homemade meals, prepared with locally sourced and seasonal Irish ingredients.
O’Brien brings a wealth of experience and expertise to her latest venture having created and run Artizan Food Company since 2005. As one of Ireland’s leading full-service boutique corporate catering company, they are renowned for making and serving premium restaurant quality food to many of the world’s leading tech companies in Dublin.
In 2019 Jeananne saw the need for high quality and nutritious pre-prepared frozen home meals and decided to use her state-of-the-art development kitchen and team of chefs to create EATTO.
They decided it was the perfect time to expand their expertise into the area of home delivery in 2020 with their new home-cooked food brand EATTO.
All meals are made fresh and delivered frozen directly to your door in a fully insulated box to ensure highest quality upon arrival. Store in your freezer until you are ready to heat, and enjoy a homemade nutritious meal without the need to cook from scratch.
“Every meal is made from scratch with locally sourced, seasonal Irish produce where possible, and all of our meat and poultry is 100pc Irish and fully traceable,” says O’Brien. “Our mission is simple – to help make homemade food a daily ritual, making things just that little bit easier at mealtimes.”
As well as taking on the global challenge of medication errors for patients – a $42bn a year problem – Leonora O’Brien’s PharmaPod will play a leading role in safely driving Covid-19 vaccinations worldwide.
While working in the pharmacy industry, Leonora O’Brien saw that medication errors were a common and preventable issue, some of which led to the deaths of patients.
This led her to develop a cloud-based platform to reduce medication errors for patients and, in 2012, Pharmapod was launched. Pharmapod enables healthcare professionals to record, review and analyse patient safety incidents quickly and securely.
“We have become a go-to place for data,” O’Brien says. “Prior to our platform being developed, a lot of knowledge gained about errors would often stay locked within individual pharmacies. A doctor might learn from a mistake, as might a pharmacist, but it normally wouldn’t go beyond this.
“Now, healthcare professionals have a way to share information and better monitor risks in a way that also greatly improves transparency,” says O’Brien.
Pharmapod now also offers Clinical Services through its platform. Pharmacies use the system for services such as the Flu Vaccination, Emergency Hormonal Contraception and Diabetes Management.
PharmaPod has adapted this module to optimise provision of the Covid-19 vaccination worldwide. It is launching its COVAX App with support of the International Pharmaceutical Federation, which represents 4m pharmacists internationally.
Fiona O’ Carroll is a senior international executive with a 25-year track record of achievement in a variety of leadership roles including; COO, Chief Digital Officer, VP Marketing and GM in tech, retail, consumer goods, education, media and computer gaming sectors. She is a recognised international expert in delivering accelerated revenue growth and transformational change agendas primarily through empowering customers and enhancing brand’s relationships with its customers via digital technologies and platforms.
Fiona is a system thinker and strategic doer, with a consistent track record of scaling international businesses and achieving challenging financial and operational performance metrics. She has wide-ranging functional and general management experience, including P&L responsibility, with blue-chip multi-nationals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Vivendi Universal, Adobe), domestic market-leaders (INM) and high growth SME’s (Gifts Direct, The Irish Store). Fiona has a passion for building and leading high-performance teams through growth stage and transformational change, clearly aligned with company culture and mission.
She has extensive expertise in strategic execution, digital transformation, revenue, generation, marketing, e-commerce, and branding digital platforms, brand development and customer experience.
She has an MBA in Leadership for Growth from Stanford University; and an MSc in Management and BSc Marketing from TCD.
Gillian O’Dowd with Leonora O’Brien from PharmaPod
Gillian O’Dowd established Azon Recruitment in 2014, along with her husband Ronan Colleran, with just two employees and three clients. With offices in Dublin, Limerick, London and Manchester, they now employ 40 staff specialising in multiple industry sectors including accounting and finance, financial services, taxation, legal and construction, and service a wide range of national and international clients.
Having the right staff in their own company is critical to the growth they have experienced. Gillian cites this as a hugely important aspect to how they have successfully developed the business. Today, Azon provides a complete recruitment service covering all the resourcing needs of clients, including executive search, contingent recruitment, project sourcing and contract sourcing. For the future, they are broadening the range of services they offer, and plans are well developed to expand overseas.
“Our priority has always been on knowing and understanding the landscape our clients are working in,” O’Dowd said.
Breege O’Donoghue is a highly experienced former board member of Primark and her most recent role, until September 2016, was Group Director, Business Development and New Markets. She managed, with others, a business through significant growth and expansion from 17 stores to over 320 in 11 markets. She has had an extremely successful executive career across many functions, with considerable experience in European and US markets, significant experience of leadership, diverse teams and complex cross-functional business projects.
Breege also has extensive experience as a Non-Executive Director including chair of the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, and chair of Real World Analytics, as well as education at university level. She has claimed many awards across her career. Among the most recent are; UCD Business – Smurfit Patrons of Excellence 2017, Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur 2016; Iconic Businesswoman of the Decade Women Economic Forum, New Delhi, India 2016; Fashion Retailing Personality of the Year, Draper UK, 2016; Irish Tatler Hall of Fame Award, 2016. Breege recently received a Doctorate of Philosophy (honoris causa), from DIT.
Oonagh O’Hagan is the owner and managing director of Meaghers Pharmacy Group. A qualified pharmacist, she was in her late 20s when she bought the landmark Meagher’s Pharmacy on Dublin’s Baggot Street from Pierce Meagher in 2001. She has since gone on to grow the business to nine pharmacies and a thriving online store http://www.meaghers.ie/. She now employs 130 people with further growth planned this year. Meagher’s has been named as a Deloitte Best Managed Irish Company for the past five years and has been awarded Gold Status these past two years.
The Meaghers Pharmacy Group has represented Ireland in the European Business Awards and collected the two top business awards at the Irish Pharmacy News awards ceremony, taking away the Business Development of the Year award and the OTC retailer in the same year. Oonagh herself has picked up many business awards and was named as Image Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016.
Former sprint hurdles athlete and Olympian Derval O’Rourke is the founder of the Derval.ie healthy lifestyle platform for practical advice about food, fitness and wellness.
As a three time Olympian and former world champion, Derval O’Rourke certainly doesn’t need any introduction to an Irish audience. And her background in world of athletics uniquely positions her to have a voice of authority in the world of fitness, food and wellness.
Established in 2017, Derval.ie is a healthy lifestyle platform where she shares her learnings from her former professional career as well as life as a busy mother and business-owner.
The website is an innovative subscription-based model that offers members an affordable platform where they gain access to expert advice and community support. While other online platforms focus on either food, fitness and wellness, Derval.ie has a unique blend of advice from a range of experts on all three.
As an athlete, Derval was operating as a sole trader and always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. After she retired, she worked for two years as a player development manager with the Munster rugby squad.
“I had lots of ideas for a business going through my head during this time. I wrote a cookery book, which was more of a passion project than a business idea, but it was successful and that was where the seed was sown,” says Derval, who was on the 9th cycle of Going for Growth with Caroline Keeling as her Lead Entrepreneur. She also participated in Going for Growth’s follow-on programme, Continuing the Momentum, in 2020 with Breege O’Donoghue as her Lead.
“The key to the business is building a community of people that support each other. Our aim is to be the biggest online community in the country and to keep delivering real value at a relatively low price. Going for Growth massively helped me to grow and develop the business. It pointed out to me where the gaps in my business were and I loved that as, where there are gaps, there is room to grow.”
A lead entrepreneur on the ACORNS programme Caroline McEnery established The HR Suite in Co. Kerry in 2009.
“The idea to start my own HR business came about in 2009 while on a trip with Tralee Chamber of Commerce to Silicon Valley, California. Many entrepreneurs on this trip spoke with me about the challenges they faced around HR management. I then realised there was an opening for an outsourced model in this space. I launched the business in 2009 and it has grown steadily to a team of 20 employees.
“I have written two books and am an Adjudicator with the WRC and a former Low Pay Commissioner.”
“I funded the business personally and, as the business grew, I reinvested into the business to help it expand and develop key systems and technology foundations. I received excellent support from my Local Enterprise Office (LEO) in Tralee, Co Kerry and was lucky enough to join the Enterprise Ireland funded Going for Growth programme for female entrepreneurs.
The support for both these forums was invaluable in helping me focus on growth of the business and I am delighted that 11 years later we are now a key HR business partner to a varied range of clients throughout the country. During Covid-19, our client relationships and our commitment to best practice led us to support our broad client base, Enterprise Ireland, LEOs and Failte Ireland to advise in relation to responding to this challenging pandemic and the HR implications it presented.”
PaycheckPlus was founded by Anne Reilly in 2005. Headquartered in Drogheda, Co Louth, PaycheckPlus provides Irish and UK Payroll outsourced processing services to clients across a range of sectors. The emphasis of the payroll team is to help employers structure their payroll in the most cost efficient way while ensuring legislative and compliance requirements in a timely and accurate manner. PaycheckPlus is the recipient of a number of awards including The Global Payroll Provider of the Year 2017. Anne is a former lecturer in Irish payroll and a graduate of the Institute of Directors. She sits on a number of boards and enjoys speaking and sharing her experience in business with aspiring entrepreneurs.
Sadlier, who with her husband Philip Brady, manages the Coole Swan business, hails from Navan in County Meath.
Coole Swan — which is a unique blend of single malt Irish whiskey, Belgian white chocolate and fresh dairy cream —scored the highest score possible in the 2020 Wine Enthusiast Rating – one of only three spirit brands worldwide to receive this rating in the last three years.
Coole Swan’s excellence lies in its ingredients: pure, natural Irish cream, single malt Irish whiskey and Belgian chocolate. Unlike other creams, it proudly parades these ingredients on the bottle.
In November 2020, ‘Made only in Ireland’ Coole Swan achieved a major international accolade. It was endorsed in the influential Wine Enthusiast’s taste panel in New York, where it was voted the best cream liqueur in the US. It was thus described: “A milky appearance and bold white chocolate aroma mark this luxe sipper. The light, frothy palate layers vanilla buttercream, cocoa butter and white chocolate, exiting with a pleasing minty exhale and a warming alcohol kick. Made with Belgian white chocolate and single malt Irish whiskey.”
“The cream has invaluable natural properties and all we do is add a single malt and high-quality chocolate,” explains Sadlier. “We add no preservatives or other ingredients to bulk it out. This is the reason that it has a distinctive and pure taste.”
A love of food and led to Katie Sanderson forming White Mausu which makes “condiments you can’t live without.”
White Mausu was formally set up in 2017 and now has three condiments on sale: Peanut Rayu, Cashew Crunch and Black Bean Rayu with plans to launch new products in early 2021.
The products are sold directly into shops as well as on company’s ecommerce site, set up during the Covid pandemic.
“We also have a stall that we brought around to festivals but that is sleeping at the moment! However, when festivals start happening again, we will bring it out on the road again as it did help showcase the products,” says Katie.
Staff numbers have grown from two full-time at the start of Covid to five full-time and three part-time, with two more people joining the team in 2021. During the same time, it has grown its list of stockists from 200 stockists to 450 stockists.
Appointing a new CEO and revealing growth plans, SoapBox is on a mission to transform how kids learn through interacting with technology through their voices.
Soapbox Labs has revealed plans to scale rapidly in the next two years from 30 to 80 employees. The company has just appointed Dr Martyn Farrows as CEO while previous CEO and founder Dr Patricia Scanlon will become chair of the company.
Driving the company’s innovation vision and strategy, Dr Scanlon was named one of the world’s top women in tech by Forbes.
In addition to the 10 new employees it has hired in the past year, the company said it aims to scale from 30 to 80 employees in the next two years.
Maeve Sheridan who developed a fondness for craft beer in Luxembourg before moving home to the family farm in Co. Clare to set up Western Herd Brewing with her brother.
“We are a microbrewery and currently have a core range of five products but we can have up to 10 products available at any given time. Siege Pale Ale is our flagship beer so named after the Siege of Ennis. Blue Jumper IPA is always a crowd pleaser as those in the know love sharing the Fr. Ted story behind the name. We do everything in house from brewing to packaging and all our own distribution.
“In 2012, while the country was still recovering from a recession, my husband and I moved back to Ireland with our one-year old daughter after working in finance in Luxembourg for nearly seven years. My husband got a job in the financial industry in Limerick. After the birth of our second child in 2013, I was looking to return to the workforce but there were very few opportunities in Clare. My brother, a qualified civil engineer, turned to bar management after the collapse of the building industry in 2008. He could see how craft beer was taking off in Ireland and we pooled our resources and set up a microbrewery.
“Ireland has a great tradition of entrepreneurs who can quickly take advantage of an opportunity. My father and grandfather both ran their own successful businesses and were very supportive when we started up. There is an issue with red tape, rules and regulations in Ireland that really slows down the process when you are trying to get a fledgling business off the ground. Everything moves at a slow pace but once you get over the initial start-up, it is up to you to dictate the pace of growth after that.
“Starting out green and naive, charging people can be awkward at first but every entrepreneur learns fast the importance of cash flow and to keep money coming in. It is vital to the survival of your business that you develop a relentless drive to keep after your customer until they pay up or you have to ruthlessly cut them off. Keeping an eye on your cash flow at all times is probably the most critical and fastest lesson you need to learn in order to survive.”
For Beth-Ann Smith a love of food and a family heritage in the deli, bakery and grocery businesses were the perfect combination driving the creation of the Lismore Food Company.
Beth-Ann Smith’s family ran a well-known deli in Cork, while the family of her partner Ken Madden and his brother Owen Madden (her two other business partners) ran a grocery in Lismore, Co. Waterford. Both families have a long list of grocers, bakers and wine and spirit merchants in their history.
Inspired by the impressive afternoon teas at Lismore Castle, she wanted to create her own biscuits which were simple in terms of ingredients but luxurious in their taste and packaging and, in October 2014, The Lismore Food Company was born.
“While I had a background in food, I had no background in bringing products to market, so we had a lot to learn. But I knew that we wanted to create something really special and looked to the luxurious brands in France and elsewhere for inspiration to create our sweet and savoury biscuits,” says Beth-Ann.
When Covid hit in early 2020, the company had a range of biscuits and chocolate confections on the market. But when their hotel and restaurant clients started closing their doors, they had to act fast. And act fast they did, creating an online shop and bringing 15 new products to market in a two-month period.
“We developed a basic online shop and started responding to where the demand was. We were listening to our customers who were buying our biscuits but then pairing them with teas and jams to send to their friends and family during lockdown. We were very much led by the customer,” says Beth-Ann.
“So at the end of September 2020, we launched the Lismore Hamper Collection selling online with a range of own-brand biscuits, jams, teas, coffees, jams, chutneys, cordials and much more – all in our lovely orange luxury hat box. It just goes to show you what you can do when you put your mind to it. While Covid has been hard on all of us in so many ways, it did allow us to work on developing our business, not just work in the business. We know that not everyone had that luxury and so many businesses are struggling, so we do feel grateful.”
Alison Stroh’s early career saw her working in both small companies and large corporations, spending over ten years in New York and Germany. While living in Germany, she heard Dr. Johannes Coy, an award-winning German biologist, speak at a health conference and subsequently partnered with him to commercialise his research and inventions. This led to the development of a chocolate with certified health benefits that would appeal to a mainstream market and to the founding of Dr Coy’s Health Foods in Wicklow. The bars come in a selection of flavours and the unique benefit is that they have lower effects on blood glucose levels compared to chocolate containing sugar, they are high in fibre and vitamin E and are gluten and lactose free. As the business and demand continued to grow, the range also expanded further. Exports have also now commenced to the UK and to further afield places like Bahrain and Malaysia. Alison says that taking part in Going for Growth was very important in motivating her to grow the business further.
“I have been truly inspired by my lead entrepreneur’s energy, commitment and passion for the business, as well as her continued support for other female founders,” Stroh said.
For Chupi Sweetman who has grown her eponymous luxury brand Chupi by 51pc and plans 200 new jobs, scaling has always been the perfect dichotomy between creativity and business.
The business recorded 51pc sales growth in 2020, with 89pc turnover growth in the UK market and an 89pc increase in sales of engagement and wedding rings. Chupi delivered a four-year plan in nine short months, achieving financial, business and brand targets that exceeded expectation, despite the challenging environment.
Virtual shopping appointments allowed the brand deliver the luxury experience of shopping with Chupi, practically in person, worldwide. The business introduced a full VIP care team with six experienced jewellery advisors. The launch of the new digital appointments saw 337 personal shopping experiences managed for customers across 13 countries.
Digital media content was enhanced across all channels, which saw 70pc of traffic come from organic social. Innovation like the launch of Instagram Reels generated 1.6m views.
2021 business development plans for the luxury jeweller included 20 new hires with 200 jobs to be created in a five-year plan.
Niamh Tallon established Her Sport to take on the clear gender disparity in Irish sports media coverage and encourage young women to compete all the way to the top of their game.
“40.8pc of participants in sport are female, yet just 6pc of the sport media coverage in Ireland goes to women in sport,” Tallon told ThinkBusiness recently. “The standard is there, with athletes achieving on the international stage, but the coverage is not. This has a knock-on effect, with a lack of sponsorship, funding and other opportunities available to female athletes, while also creating a lack of visibility of role models for young people.”
Her Sport is quintessentially a digital media platform that creates women’s sport, health and fitness content.
“We offer the opportunity for brands and organisations to connect with our unique and loyal audience, creating lifelong connections.
Since setting up Her Sport has rapidly built up its audience, with great efforts made in 2020 to grow the brand and establish as the go-to source for women in sports news.
“Our audience now encapsulates over 35,000 people and we continue to see steady growth. There is increased brand awareness which is important in building the profile of women’s sport and allowing us to push the boundaries.”
Colette Twomey is chief executive and co-founder (with her late husband) of what is now known as the Clonakilty Blackpudding Co. The business has grown from a single butcher’s shop to be one of the best known brands in the Irish food business, supplying branded black and white pudding, sausages and rashers to multiples, restaurants and shops throughout Ireland. Clonakilty Blackpudding Co. is currently involved in a major push into the UK market. A finalist in the 2010 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Colette Twomey is the 2011 recipient of the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Award, and also the awardee of the 2011 Women Mean Business Entrepreneur of the Year, on the basis of her entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and leadership. Colette is based in West Cork.
Mary B. Walsh
Mary B. Walsh began her career in banking with AIB in the 1980s, having studied business and accountancy in Waterford Institute of Technology and later accountancy through CIMA. Ire Wel Pallets is Ireland’s leading pallet and packaging manufacturer, supplying pallets, boxes and crates to specifications for their customers. The company’s customer base includes organisations in the medical devices, pharmaceutical, electronic, food and drinks industries. Mary and Shay are looking forward to celebrating 30 years in business in 2020.
Twenty years ago, the firm bought a 10-acre site and developed the first purpose-built pallet manufacturing facility in Ireland. Over the past three years, €2.5m has been invested into Ire Wel Pallets, with a further €2m investment to come over the next six months. With customers nationwide throughout the island of Ireland, she believes Ire Wel Pallets’ presence in Northern Ireland is a key stepping stone into the UK market. To help achieve their goals, Ire Wel Pallets currently employ a team of 50 staff and are expanding.
“Over the next five years, we want to keep the business growing and begin exporting into mainland UK. We also aim to be the most successful pallet manufacturing company in Europe,” Walsh said.
Hospitality was an obvious business choice for Hannah. She had previously set up a successful childcare services business and was highly experienced in sourcing professional, quality staff for clients. Get the Shifts was set up in 2016 to provide pre-screened, quality and experienced temporary staff to clients across the hospitality sector.
With offices in Dublin and Shannon, the business has grown rapidly, and the company now employs eight people full-time as well as providing 1,500 staff ‘superstars’ for clients throughout the country. In 2018, the company was named national winner of both the National Enterprise Awards and the All Star Business Award, and in 2019 was winner of the Best Emerging company in the SFA Awards. Network Ireland also named Hannah Businesswoman of the Year 2019.
Hannah says: “I found Going for Growth hugely beneficial in terms of helping me think strategically and really kept me focused on the business. It was energising and so supportive to be with a group of women who were facing the same issues.”
Alison Ritchie is the managing director of Polar Ice Ltd., Ireland’s leading manufacturer of dry ice products since 1996. Polar Ice is located in Portarlington, Co Laois. As a serial entrepreneur, Alison established her second business Polar IceTech Ireland Ltd. in 2005, growing the business to become the market leader in cryogenic cleaning, and successfully selling the business in early 2016.
Alison has a business degree from DCU and subsequently trained and qualified as a financial accountant (CPA) and a certified tax advisor. Alison was awarded the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Award for Women-Led Business in Leinster 2015, named the Women Mean Business Entrepreneur of the Year 2016, awarded Accountant of the Year 2017 and most recently accredited ‘Thought Leader – Enterprise Development’ at the All-Star Business Awards 2018.
Susan Spence is co-founder and president of SoftCo, one of Ireland’s most successful software companies. With offices in Ireland, US, UK and Finland, and a million users worldwide, SoftCo is a leading global provider of finance automation solutions that increase productivity, reduce costs and ensure that organisations meet their compliance obligations. SoftCo is a Microsoft Gold Partner, an AWS Advanced Technology Partner, and its customers include Primark, Irish Life, Lloyd’s Bank, Argos and Bulmers.
Susan is the Irish Tatler Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 and is a former recipient of the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year and Irish Exporter of the Year awards. On her initiative, SoftCo sponsored the Irish women’s hockey team that won silver in the World Cup in the summer of 2018. SoftCo is a Starting Strong Supporter.
Before co-founding SoftCo, Susan held senior management positions with Hewlett Packard, McDonnell Douglas, and Phillips BV. She is a former non-executive director of CIE and member of the Government Enterprise Advisory Group. Susan is a member of the Institute of Directors in Ireland.
Berry Be Beauty was founded by multi-award-winning entrepreneur Lorna Venton, whose experience as a holistic therapist and reflexologist has led to the creation of this extraordinary Irish Beauty Brand that uses a holistic approach to skincare, health and wellbeing. Located in North Dublin, Berry Be Beauty makes Natural Beauty Products and Essential Oil Soy Wax Candles and Diffusers.
Waterford-based Stephanie Wickham’s Expat Taxes specialises in tax advisory services for expats and their employers and provides expert tax advice in a friendly and simple way.
Stephanie Wickham, a KPMG trained Chartered Tax Adviser and Chartered Accountant, moved to Perth, Western Australia with her husband in 2011.
While there she focused on the area of international and expatriate tax and in 2016 added to her family with a baby boy. By 2019, Stephanie and her husband had two children and decided now was the time to return home.
After returning home, Stephanie set up her own business – Expat Taxes – specialising in tax advisory services for expats. “We want to provide expert tax advice in a friendly and simple way,” explains Stephanie. “We aim to explain complex tax issues in a simple way and we enjoy working with our clients to ensure they take advantage of all available reliefs to minimise tax exposure.
“I have worked in international and expatriate taxes for the last 10 years. Given there are so many Irish diaspora around the world I could see there was an opening for a tax advisory practice that catered specifically to expats and their employers. I understand how stressful it can be managing tax issues when living overseas so I wanted to create a friendly Irish tax practice that would make expat taxes easier.
“There are very few practices in the Irish market who cater solely for expats so we have found our clients are delighted to speak to someone who understands their tax issue and also who appreciates that living and moving abroad is a stressful event.”