In a new series, we talk to female entrepreneurs who are forging innovative businesses in rural Ireland. Today, we talk to Norma Dinneen from Bó Rua Farm.

In recent weeks we reported on how women in rural Ireland with new businesses or at least with well-developed ideas are being invited to join ACORNS 6. The ACORNS programme is designed to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland through a peer learning approach.

Thanks to the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the voluntary contribution of time by Lead Entrepreneurs, there is no charge for those selected to participate.

“While it is the last career move my engineering colleagues expected, being the head cheesemaker at Bó Rua Farm means that I now have a far healthier work life balance and happier family life and my daily commute is now all of three minutes”

The call is now open for applicants for ACORNS 6 and fifty female entrepreneurs from across the country will be selected to participate. Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the September 21, 2020 deadline for ACORNS 6 should register their interest here

Today, we speak to Norma Dinneen of Bó Rua Farm in Co Cork.

What is the problem you are trying to solve and the size of the market you are addressing?

Norma Dinneen from Bó Rua Farm

We produce a range of award-winning cheese on the family farm, Bó Rua Farm, in County Cork using milk from our herd of Montbeliarde and Friesian cows, which are tended by my husband Tom. 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.

What is your core product and service about?

Bo Rua Original Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese
Photo Joleen Cronin

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 webshop www.boruafarm.ie

“Life will put obstacles in your way and fear might make you believe now is not the right time. Take the plunge, I am just sorry I did not do it sooner!”

What are the experiences that encouraged you to become an entrepreneur?

I recall exactly the moment I realised the combination of my career as an electrical engineer and motherhood was no longer compatible. It was during my first week back in my job with a US multinational company after the birth of our second child, when I was asked to make a trip to Shanghai, which was a regular occurrence in my role. In that moment I recognised that I had to do something proactive about my work-life balance. I needed more flexibility, I needed to be able to set my own schedules and not only did I wish to avoid frequent overseas travel, I wanted to eliminate the daily commute of up to three hours from our east Co Cork home to offices in either Cork or Limerick.

Within six weeks, I had left the company. I took the plunge and pursued a dream my husband Tom and I had of diversifying the farm at our home in Ballynoe, near Fermoy. I am now an award-winning farmhouse cheesemaker, qualified dairy farmer and mother of three – with three-year-old Tadhg joining his sisters, Méabh (8) and Áine (7) to enlarge the family during the time of great change. While it is the last career move my engineering colleagues expected, being the head cheesemaker at Bó Rua Farm means that I now have a far healthier work life balance and happier family life and my daily commute is now all of three minutes.

What are your impressions of the start-up ecosystem in your region and in Ireland in general?

It has been our experience that here in Co Cork there is a very healthy ecosystem in which to start a new business. During our start up journey we have availed of many different supports, for example: an educational bursary, an entrepreneurship accelerator program and skills development programs, financial supports and networking opportunities. These supports included from: our local LEO, LEADER, ACORNS, EI, Teagasc, DAFM, Bord Bia and UCC.

What are your thoughts on the start-up environment in rural Ireland from the perspective of being a woman entrepreneur?

ACORNS has been vital in this regard. A significant step forward in developing our business was being accepted for the  free, peer-led support programme for female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland, Accelerating the Creation Of Rural Nascent Start-ups (ACORNS).

How did ACORNS help you navigate the start-up landscape in Ireland?

Cheese on a block

Bo Rua Original Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese
Photo Joleen Cronin

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. 

What are the biggest mistakes or lessons you have learned so far?

Hire for attitude, train for skill.

What advice do you have for fellow founders?

Like the Nike slogan goes, “just do it.” There will never be the absolutely perfect time to follow your dream and start your own business. Life will put obstacles in your way and fear might make you believe now is not the right time. Take the plunge, I am just sorry I did not do it sooner!

Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the September 21, 2020 deadline for ACORNS 6 should register their interest here

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 31 August, 2020

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