We talk to female entrepreneurs who are forging innovative businesses in rural Ireland. Today, we talk to Louise Egan of Clare-based fitness clothing firm I-SPY.

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.

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

“I definitely think that people are looking to buy Irish as much as possible, so this feeds into the success of many start-ups”

Today, we speak to former ACORNS participant Louise Egan who set up her business I-SPY, based in Co. Clare, with her mother Paulette, when she was in Transition Year in school

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

After 20 years as a yoga teacher, Paulette had continuously seen issues with see-through leggings and ill-fitting tops in her classes so we joined forces to launch our own range of clothing that would solve all the problems she had seen. We would estimate the Irish market for female fitness clothing to be worth approximately €120m. In the future, we would also look to expanding into the UK market, which is worth roughly stg£2bn every year.

What is your core product and service about and how does it work?

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. Our full range can be found at: https://i-spy.ie/

“ACORNS gave me the knowledge and skills to grow my business to where it is today”

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

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.

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

I think the start-up ecosystem in Ireland is really so strong at the moment. There is a huge amount of support out there for anyone starting out and I definitely think that people are looking to buy Irish as much as possible, so this feeds into the success of many start-ups.

I couldn’t speak highly enough of the amount of support available for start-ups in Clare and indeed in Ireland as a whole. We were blown away by the Local Enterprise Office in Clare and how willing they were to help us from day one. From courses to networking events and even financial aid they have been absolutely incredible. I also think that the start-up ecosystem in Ireland is so strong because fellow entrepreneurs are so willing to help each other and to share their experiences and struggles. This definitely makes it easier when you know that you’re not going through it alone!

“Definitely try and build up a network of fellow entrepreneurs around you, because there will come a point when your friends and family have heard enough! Trust your gut and remember that you know your business better than anyone”

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

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.

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

I cannot speak highly enough of ACORNS and how much it has benefited both me personally and my business. When I first started ACORNS, we had just launched our first range six months previously. I was in 6th year in school and I simply had no idea how to run a business. ACORNS gave me the knowledge and skills to grow my business to where it is today, as well as an invaluable network of other female entrepreneurs from whom I could get advice and direction.

I feel so honoured to be part of such an incredible network of women and I can safely say that ACORNS was the single best thing I have ever done for my business!

Are you raising funding at present?

No, we are not currently raising funding as we have achieved organic growth of between 200pc and 300pc for the last three years and we intend to continue to grow organically for the foreseeable future.

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

When we first started out, we were unfortunately let down badly by one of our suppliers and as a result we ended up having no supplier for almost a year. However, without this we never would have found our current suppliers, whose quality and professionalism is outstanding. This definitely taught us that we always need to have a back-up supplier ready to go just in case something unforeseen happens. We also learned that what can seem like a disaster at the time can turn out to be the best thing that could have happened.

What advice do you have for fellow founders?

I think the first thing would be to just get started. You can spend so much time trying to get everything perfect and things can still go wrong, so get started and go from there. Learn as you go along and never think that you have everything perfect! Always accept criticism with an open mind and if something needs to be changed, change it. Definitely try and build up a network of fellow entrepreneurs around you, because there will come a point when your friends and family have heard enough! Trust your gut and remember that you know your business better than anyone. And if you can, definitely apply for ACORNS!

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

Pictured at top: I-SPY co-founder Louise Egan

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

Published: 14 September, 2020

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