Back for Business: Anna O’Grady, Dogwood Designs

Now Back for Business, Anna O’Grady, a teacher from Gurteen in Co Sligo, originally left Ireland in 2002 to go backpacking in Australia with a group of other teachers.

The co-founder of Dogwood Designs returned from that trip with an Australian husband and, after spending some time in London, the couple went back to Melbourne and spent 13 years there.

At first, Anna continued with teaching in Melbourne, but she later did a postgraduate degree in business before moving into training and development work. Meanwhile, her husband, Danny Ogge, was making bespoke furniture for friends in Melbourne, and Anna became involved in the business.

“The Enterprise Office in Castlebar helped us initially with how to form a business and everyone has been so helpful and welcoming”

In 2020, the couple returned to Ireland with their family for personal reasons. “The kids got to the age where they were starting school, and I wanted them to experience life in Ireland and get to know family over here. There was no particular plan in place for when we got here,” she says.

A plan quickly emerged. Anna and Danny decided to make a go of the furniture design business, and they registered Dogwood Designs in March 2021. Dogwood Designs creates plywood kitchens and bathroom vanities as well as custom-made bespoke designs. “So many people in Ireland, who are building, or renovating, are looking for more than what’s on offer in the bigger chain stores,” Anna says.

Based in Westport, where they also live, Anna, who is responsible for marketing and business development, launched the business through social media and a company website.

The move back to Ireland has worked for the family. “Westport is beautiful. You are surrounded by mountains and the ocean. It wasn’t the easiest place to set up a business, but it was about a lifestyle for the family, as well as a business. The lifestyle has been brilliant, and we’ve made the business work,” she says.

She says not having a network is the biggest issue with coming home from abroad. “You have to start from scratch all over again,” she says. “But the Enterprise Office in Castlebar helped us initially with how to form a business and everyone has been so helpful and welcoming.”

The biggest business struggle for Dogwood Designs has been securing a larger premises, but Anna is philosophical about it. “We set up in a tourist town, so it was always going to prove more difficult,” she says.

One of the highlights for the company so far has been receiving recognition as a finalist in the Best Emerging Business category in the Mayo Business Awards. “That was pretty special. It was validation that we were doing the right thing,” Anna says.

Initially, Anna was daunted by the Back for Business programme. “I felt like a bit of a fraud because I was a teacher who started a furniture design business. I thought it would be very corporate, but it wasn’t,” she says. “There were people from all sorts of backgrounds who were starting all sorts of businesses, and an awful lot of them were doing something completely removed from their previous career. Back for Business was invaluable in helping me to find my feet in the business world.”

Anna’s plans for the business are to expand into a larger workshop and hire staff to help Danny with making the furniture so he can be freed up to design. She’s also working towards shortening the lead time on delivery of orders.

Are you thinking of coming Back for Business?

This is the sixth year of the Back for Business programme and there are up to 50 places available to support those have returned to Ireland – or are  thinking about it – and have or want to start a business here.

The Back for Business developmental programme, which is funded from the Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, was created to foster and support entrepreneurial activity among emigrants returning to live in Ireland. The call for this year’s applications was launched by Colm Brophy TD, Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora. 

Back for Business 6 will run from the end of January to June 2023. There is no charge for those selected to participate and the closing date for applications is Friday January 6th 2023. 

Back for Business is aimed at those who have lived abroad for at least a year and have returned in the last three years or those planning to return in the near future. It addresses challenges that all early-stage entrepreneurs encounter, but also focuses on the additional barriers faced by those who have been living outside Ireland for some years

Participants on last year’s programme increased their combined workforce by 76% and more than doubled (107% ) their turnover during the cycle – despite the restrictions placed on businesses as a result of the Covid pandemic.

Those selected to join Back for Business 6 will take part in round table sessions, focused on goals and milestones, which are facilitated by voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs who have experience of successfully starting and growing a business. 

This year’s Lead Entrepreneurs are: Hannah Wrixon, founder of WrkWrk, formerly known as Get the Shifts; Morgan Browne, CEO of Milner Browne and Enterpryze; Paul Duggan of The Gardiner Group; Seamus Reilly, co-founder and formerly of Critical Healthcare; and Thomas Ennis, founder of the Thomas Ennis Group.

A Back for Business Community is also being formed for previous participants, who will be offered workshops, review round tables and an annual Community Forum.

Those interested in learning more about applying for Back for Business 6 can download a brochure and register their interest in receiving an application form by visiting

Main image at top: Anna O’Grady, co-founder, Dogwood Designs. Background image of Mayo by Colin C Murphy on Unsplash

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