Back for Business: Ciara Petty, designer

Back for Business, Ciara Petty returned to Ireland after 10 years in London working in interior design and branding for a retail design agency.

In London, Petty was design lead on hospitality and retail projects for clients in South Korea, America and across Europe.

The initial move to London was prompted by the financial crisis, as Ciara had just completed a degree in Interior Architecture, while managing a high-end furniture shop in the IFSC, and the economic situation in Ireland did not favour launching a career in interior design.

“My main focus is design and brand for commercial projects – retail and hospitality, hotels, restaurants – but I also do some high-end residential design”

The Dublin native’s decision to return to Ireland, where she now lives in Ennis, Co Clare, was for personal reasons. “My husband and I had a baby boy in 2019, and we decided that we would come home to be closer to family. We also felt it was a good time to come back to Ireland as there had been a recovery in the market, and there seemed to be a lot of opportunities,” she says.

Though she initially considered looking for a role similar to what she had been doing in London, the Covid-19 pandemic had deflated employment prospects. Ciara ultimately decided that the time was right to start her own company. 

“It’s something I had always wanted to do, and I felt well prepared in terms of the extensive experience that I had in leading major retail and brand design projects for a wide variety of global companies. But I lacked the network in Ireland that I’d had in London, so I initially thought starting my own company would be a bit further down the line,” she says.

Ciara Petty Design is primarily an interior design agency. My main focus is design and brand for commercial projects – retail and hospitality, hotels, restaurants – but I also do some high-end residential design.”

Ciara says this is a great time to be in retail and hospitality design in Ireland because Irish business owners are acutely aware that they are operating in a competitive market. “Retail and hospitality are no longer about simple transactions because of the advent of online shopping and food delivery services, especially during Covid. Bricks and mortar have become more about telling the brand story and the customer experience, so the design really needs to reflect that,” she says.

Ciara has found that the move to Ennis, where she has a home office, has greatly facilitated family life. “The lifestyle is brilliant. The pace of life is slower, and I find it really great to be able to have a mix of interesting and challenging work and family time,” she says. “I’ve also found it extremely positive from a professional point of view. Doing business in Ireland is a little bit more relaxed, and, essentially, it is more collaborative. Clients here are really involved in the detail from initial concepts through to developed designs.

While launching the business during the pandemic was daunting, Ciara acquired her first few clients by word of mouth. “In that sense, I started with a bit of a bang, but I then found keeping the business going a bit challenging, as I didn’t have a great network here. Coming from a design, rather than a business background, has also been a big challenge in terms of learning how to run a business,” she says. 

Ciara says that participating on the Back for Business course increased her network enormously and taught her invaluable lessons about running a business. “The main thing I’ve learned is to focus on working on the business rather than in the business,” she says. “I would definitely recommend the programme. In fact, I already have recommended it!”

Having just launched a company website, Ciara’s immediate plans are to focus on marketing. One of her clients, Offbeat Donuts, is starting a nationwide rollout of stores with her as lead designer, and she intends to tie her marketing in with their expansion.

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

ThinkBusiness, powered by Bank of Ireland, has been created for Irish business owners and managers who are seeking information, resources and help on a range of business topics. It provides practical, actionable information and guidance on starting, growing and running a business.