As the final deadline for ACORNS 8 approaches we look at the recent alumni from every corner of rural Ireland flying the flag for women entrepreneurs.
Women in rural Ireland with new businesses or at least with well-developed ideas are being invited to join next phase of the programme ACORNS 8. 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 8 and 50 female entrepreneurs from across the country will be selected to participate. Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the midnight tonight (23 September) deadline for ACORNS 8 should register their interest here
Here are some of the most recent alumni from ACORNS 7 and their stories:
Accelerate Accounting Solutions
It wasn’t until Edel Hayes saw the struggles of the entrepreneurs among her circle of friends that the certified chartered accountant realised where a business of her own could add value.
“I had worked as a financial controller in various companies and in that time a lot of my friends became entrepreneurs. I could see they were having difficulty with their accounts and from that I knew I was going to move into this space,” she says.
The result is Accelerate Accounting Solutions, a virtual accountancy service for SMEs operating out of Edel’s home in Kildare town.
She explains that most businesses require support with their accounts, tax and finances, but are too small to engage an accountant on an ongoing basis. “This often leads to financial mismanagement and, sadly, business failure.
“Accelerate Accounting helps avert disaster and bridge the knowledge gap for entrepreneurs who pay to retain the company’s services for a set number of hours in a given period.”
The company has achieved remarkable success in its first three years, recording a 30% increase in revenue since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Edel attributes the growth figure to businesses being forced to embrace virtual services due to the closure of in-person offices during the public health emergency.
Edel is a full-time employee of Accelerate Accounting and is supported by three part-time staff who work across accounts and administration. She hopes to grow the staff to between five and ten people in the near future.
The firm’s founder hails the influence of ACORNS on her success. “The Lead Entrepreneurs were so knowledgeable and really set the standard for our group sessions which had a variety of voices offering high-level feedback.”
Achill Island Film Festival
Emily O’Callaghan, who is originally from Dublin but is now living on Achill Island in Co Mayo, moved west in September 2021, after she decided to combine her love of films, Achill and event organising by starting the Achill Island Film Festival.
Emily had worked in the film industry in various roles for many years, as well as organising events, such as comedy nights, gigs, mini festivals and stages at Electric Picnic.
Her decision to move to her family’s ancestral homeplace of Achill, where she had often holidayed as a child, was prompted by the opportunity she had to think about what she wanted from life during the pandemic, and by a sense that Dublin was becoming more of a rat race.
A keen fan of film festivals, Emily saw a gap in the market as there was no existing film festival in Achill.
“Indeed, the island does not even have a cinema. But I believed it would be a beautiful place for film industry professionals from all over the world to visit, meet and network with each other.”
After a hectic year of planning, the inaugural Achill Island Film Festival was held in May 2022. 370 people attended the event, which screened 115 films across five venues. Plans are already underway for next year’s event, and Emily, who works from home, is hoping to get office space and hire a production assistant for next year.
“The festival simply would not have been the success it was without the support and structure provided by ACORNS, which helped me to prepare, focus and share my worries.”
The Arty Fox
Feena McBride, from the village of Kilmacrennan in Co Donegal, found inspiration from the Covid-19 pandemic to start her business The Arty Fox in November 2020.
A primary school teacher and mother of four children, Feena creates craft boxes for children of primary school age that encourage them to use their own imagination and create art of which they can be proud.
Feena says that her experience as a teacher and mother came together with her love of art when she saw an opportunity to create a way for parents to entertain their children during lockdowns.
Now on a career break from teaching, Feena started The Arty Fox with a Facebook page and a website that she built herself. She launched it with two products – a Christmas Card Box and a Get Crafty Box.
Feena has since created a number of seasonal and holiday-related craft products. She has also added workshops to the brand after seeing a demand for them.
As well as Feena, The Arty Fox has two part-time employees. Her biggest business milestone to date was getting the opportunity for The Arty Fox to be featured on the Late Late Toy Show in 2021.
“This gave validation to the brand and opened up a whole new set of customers.
“The supportive atmosphere in ACORNS created by Lead Entrepreneur, Larissa Feeney of Accountant Online, helped the participants to navigate the highs and lows of running a business,” she explained.
“I plan to be exporting to the UK and Europe within 18 months,” she added.
Feena also wants to increase the number of retail outlets in Ireland that stock her products, to work on the sustainability of the range, and to form a collaboration with a charity or children’s hospital.
A pandemic lockdown project across two continents led Niamh Dooley, from Athlone, Co Westmeath, and her brother Ruairi, to create BiaSol, a business that upcycles spent grain from breweries into healthy food products.
Niamh and Ruairi, who was then based in Melbourne, founded the company in October 2020, after investigating the possibilities of a sustainable, nutritious food product as a way of keeping in touch over Zoom, when they were both experiencing the limitations of lockdowns.
Niamh, who had graduated with a degree in Food Science from University of Limerick in 2016, had been working on Food Dudes, Bord Bia’s healthy eating programme for primary schools, but was let go due to the pandemic.
After securing a time-share in a test kitchen, BiaSol succeeded in getting €50,000 from EI’s Competitive Start Fund, which enabled them to set up their own premises in Tullamore, Co Offaly.
BiaSol provides wholesale products to the food service industry and a retail health food product, Super Milled Grains, which is available in 75 health food stores across Ireland. The products are attractive to consumers and food industry professionals because they boost flavour and are very high in fibre.
The company currently employs Niamh and Ruairi, another full-time employee and two interns. Niamh expects to add a part-time production employee in the immediate future, as well as sales and marketing roles.
Niamh says key highlights for the business so far have been launching their retail product and winning the Irish Times Innovation Award for Manufacturing and Design in 2021.
She found that taking part in ACORNS gave her confidence as a woman in business, and the programme was a great opportunity to learn from other business owners.
Niamh expects to launch more retail products in the near future and to begin exporting into the UK.
The Burren Butcher
The arrival of budget supermarket Aldi to a nearby town in 2017 spelled the end of Neil and Paula Hawes’ retail butcher shop in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare.
Despite being founder members of the Burren Food Trail and winner of Ireland’s Best Rural Butcher in 2016, awarded by the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland, the couple shuttered their shop and retreated to rethink their approach.
Firm in their commitment to the trade, and backed by local customers hungry for more upmarket fare, the Hawes pivoted and returned to the market in June 2020 with The Burren Butcher, a new brand identity with a limited range of award-winning beef products traceable to farmers in the Burren hinterland.
Paula and Neil tested their products at local farmer’s markets, before fully reconstructing the garage of their home to fit a state-of-the-art production unit. The facility passed the HSE’s certification tests and was soon fulfilling online orders for quality cuts of meat delivered to your door.
The pair grow onions and herbs in a polytunnel on the grounds of their home, where they have also hosted a pop-up market featuring other local producers and growers.
Supported by Neil’s 30 years’ experience in the meat industry, and Paula’s 20-year career in marketing, the business has grown since then and now has eight retail and hospitality accounts around Clare. Last year their Artisan 6oz Burren Burger won gold at the Blas na hÉireann awards.
With three children under the age of four, Paula credits ACORNS with helping her focus on the task of getting her business up and running. “I needed the support structure of women who understood what it was like to start a business, especially in the food industry,” she says.
Care Box Collection
Klara O’Leary started her company, Care Box Collection, at just 23, from her home in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, during 2020.
Care Box Collection is a wellness-focused gift company which creates unique, meaningful and affordable gifts for yourself, a loved one, your company, clients or team and delivers them directly across Ireland, the UK and EU.
Klara was working in the events department of a large corporate firm when she started her company, after struggling to find an appropriate gift for a friend, who was going through a difficult time.
“Essentially, what I wanted to gift my friend either wasn’t on the market or was prohibitively expensive. I also noticed that a trend towards wellness among Irish people was not reflected in the gifts that were available.”
Klara launched Care Box Collection with three gift box options and a website she built herself in October 2020 and within months the company had moved to a premises in Bray and Klara resigned from her corporate role. She now has three employees, over 40 pre-curated boxes, 150 products, and a bespoke corporate gifting range.
She has been recognised in the Sunday Independent’s 30 under 30 list, shortlisted in the Image PwC Businesswoman of the Year awards and recently won the Network Ireland Emerging Wicklow Businesswoman of the Year award.
“ACORNS encouraged participants to focus on the fundamentals of their businesses and it was hugely beneficial to network with other businesswomen.”
Klara intends to build her team to at least five employees and to expand market share across Ireland, the UK and EU.
“I hope these achievements will encourage other young women to develop and pursue their business idea.”
The Culinary Celt
Cathy Fitzgibbon was concerned that the rising rates of obesity in Ireland are starting to mirror those in the United States and elsewhere.
Indeed, her fears about the growing health emergency and the malign influence of advertising on people’s food choices go back to May 2018 when she began writing under the pseudonym The Culinary Celt while studying for an MBS in Marketing at Munster Technological University.
An experienced media professional with a background in marketing, Cathy has turned her passion for food education into a career.
Now, The Culinary Celt amplifies the voice of Irish food producers and actively promotes the areas of wellbeing and sustainability through her food writing and published academic research work.
“Educating people is critically important. I have knowledge I want to impart to people based on years of experience in the marketing space. My unique selling point is that I help cut through the multitude of conflicting advice in this area, enabling people to make their own decisions to enhance their overall wellbeing,” she says.
A native of North Cork, Cathy’s recently released book, Eat with the Seasons, highlights the environmental and physical benefits of eating foods during the seasons they are grown. She also has plans in place to host wellness retreats for people interested in exploring the concept of mindful eating.
Recently crowned the Network Cork Solo Businesswoman of the Year, Cathy is grateful to the ACORNS Programme for connecting her with a network of likeminded business professionals.
“We could exchange ideas and speak freely about the challenges and opportunities we encountered during the regular course of running our own businesses.”
Sara Ross had been working as a lawyer when her daughter was diagnosed with a serious illness in 2018. After some time off – the end of which saw her daughter given a clean bill of health – Sara decided that life was too short for dispassionate pursuits.
“I’d always made jewellery as a hobby. I never thought to sell any of it but when I came to set up the business, I found there was a real appetite for my kind of aesthetics,” she says.
Sara is from the North East of England but lives in her husband’s home county of Kerry, in the village of Kilflynn between Listowel and Tralee. She operates her jewellery firm, FiorSó, from her studio where she makes statement jewellery inspired by the Art Deco and Art Nouveau influences in London, Paris and Shanghai – where Sara lived and worked for many years.
FiorSó now exports to markets in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States where FiorSó jewellery is stocked in stores in Chicago and South Carolina. The company was also recently selected to be stocked in Brown Thomas on Dublin’s Grafton Street over the summer months.
This year, Sara saw her profile raised even further after country music star Lainey Wilson wore a pair of FiorSó earrings at the Country Music Awards in Nashville.
“Her stylist contacted me after having seen my pieces online. It was a real thrill to see her with something I’d made,” says Sara, who was this year named Contemporary Jewellery Shop of the Year at the Corporate Livewire Innovation and Excellence Awards.
Sara hails ACORNS for putting her in touch with a network of female entrepreneurs facing similar challenges. “It can be quite lonely setting up a business, especially with a family and trying to juggle responsibilities. Having other women as a sounding board was invaluable,” she says.
Lakeland Digital & Print
Sarah Fitzpatrick, from Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath, was working remotely as a social media manager for a UK company when she and her business partner, Anita Loughlin, who worked for the same UK company, decided to branch out on their own with Lakeland Digital & Print in June 2021.
Lakeland Digital & Print is a boutique digital marketing partnership that helps business owners grow in the online space through the power of social media, branding, imagery, blogging and copywriting.
“We spotted a gap in the market when we realised that a lot of Irish companies were too busy to address their digital marketing and social media needs, whereas UK companies were already outsourcing them to agencies.”
The partners wanted greater flexibility and control over their own time as both have young families.
“We also wanted to go down a completely tailored route with their business, where we would get to know our clients’ companies inside out and create bespoke marketing plans for their needs and budgets.
“After trading for a few months and acquiring clients from a number of sectors, the company was in a position to add print services to the business, and now offers design and printing of personalised business merchandise, including business cards, posters and other printed promotional material to support and strengthen the digital side of marketing.”
Sarah has found since participating in ACORNS that she has gained more confidence in herself. She also found that her group were incredibly supportive, always helping each other to progress their businesses.
Sarah and Anita’s next priority is to secure a premises to set up and expand their print shop. They also aim to hire an inhouse team as their client list grows.
Let’s Get Digital
Barbara O’Flaherty, from Bunnanadden, Co Sligo, has over 17 years marketing experience in sectors such as retail, tourism, hospitality, entertainment, industrial, and services. This gave her a solid foundation to launch her own agency Let’s Get Digital in July 2019.
For years, Barbara observed the dramatic shift in marketing towards digital marketing. She studied the trends closely and continued to gain knowledge and experience until she was ready to strike out on her own.
Let’s Get Digital helps Irish and UK businesses to increase sales online through a combination of paid search, SEO, paid social media, display advertising and email marketing. On average, the company has increased client online revenue by 25%.
Barbara initially worked from home before moving to an office in Swinford, Co Mayo. At the beginning, she identified any areas she needed more knowledge on or training in and immersed herself in the different aspects of digital marketing.
She also made a point of attending business events to expand her contacts and get to know the business climate. Through this, she began to get asked to talk at events, and give workshops and mentoring for government agencies and businesses in her specialised fields, which helped to build her client base.
Let’s Get Digital currently has one employee. It has a range of clients, from insurance to skincare and from government organisations to small businesses.
“ACORNS gave me the confidence to reach higher and to never give up. The interaction with other participants was a lovely sounding board for new ideas and different ways to do things.”
Barbara intends to grow her team in the next year and to grow revenue by 35% by 2023. She also plans to expand her client base, particularly by acquiring more international clients.
It wasn’t until Fiona Young started investigating the process of candle making that she realised just how much toxic material is in a standard scented candle.
From paraffin wax to synthetic fragrance oils, Fiona knew from her 20-year career as an oncology nurse the dangers these products posed to people’s health and moved to create a limited range of candles that were vegan, sustainably sourced and carbon free. The success of that experiment inspired her to set up her own company, Milis, in March 2020.
The launch of Milis may have coincided with retail closures in response to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland, but Fiona believes the increased time that house-bound consumers spent on social media and shopping online actually boosted sales in the early days.
Having started the business from her kitchen, Fiona recently completed work on her own candle-making workshop at her home in Dunmore East, Co. Waterford. It is the biggest investment she has made in the business to date and stands as something of a monument to its progress over the past two years.
Milis products bear the Guaranteed Irish mark and are now on sale in counties across Munster, Connacht and Leinster, while Fiona directly services orders received through the company website.
“ACORNS taught me how to take an objective view of the business’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as helping me to connect with female entrepreneurs from a range of industries and backgrounds.”
Recently she has been working to create a themed candle as part of a Waterford Local Radio competition in which listeners suggest scents that are synonymous with Waterford.
“The result is Farraige, a sea-scented candle that also contains notes of gorse flower. The candle will be available to buy online in the coming weeks,” she says.
Nourished in Nature Ireland
Originally from Yorkshire in the north of England, Lucianne Hare was working as an adventure consultant for a travel company in Sligo when she was made redundant because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Treating this setback as an opportunity, Lucianne founded her own adventure travel company, Nourished in Nature Ireland, in her adopted home of Strandhill, Co Sligo, in June 2021.
Nourished in Nature Ireland offers one-to-five-day wellness and adventure retreats which combine wellness activities such as yoga and meditation with adventurous pursuits such as hiking and surfing. Separate to the retreats, it also offers full-day hikes and farm and foraging tours at its base on Knocknarea Farm.
The company is focused on domestic tourism for Irish people and visitors from the UK. Its mission is to enable those who may be unfamiliar with nature to feel more comfortable in the wilderness.
Lucianne says that getting the business started was primarily a question of going for it and that each trip that sells out is a business milestone.
She says that setting up a business on your own can be a very lonely experience, and she found people in a similar situation among the participants on the ACORNS programme. Lucianne says people were very open and everyone shared their highs and lows together. She also says the programme itself was invaluable in helping with all aspects of running a business.
Lucianne hires people with relevant expertise to help her with the activities for each event. As the business evolves, she hopes to take on more employees and a business partner. She also hopes to develop her own retreat centre in the longer term and to offer the opportunity of adventure to children from deprived backgrounds.
Originally from Roscrea in Co Tipperary, Georgia Quealy and her boyfriend/business partner, Daniel Linehan set up their company, Praliné Chocolatiers, in his home town of Athlone, Co Westmeath, in October 2020.
Both classically trained chefs with Michelin star experience, they had plans to move to Dublin to work as pastry chefs when the pandemic hit. Having always talked about setting up a business together, they began to experiment in the kitchen of Daniel’s parents’ café in Athlone.
“Praliné Chocolatiers produces luxury hand-painted, hand-crafted chocolates made from the finest ingredients and showcasing many Irish producers,” she explained.
Georgia likes to create a journey of the senses for customers, starting out with the opening of the bespoke packaging to find the edible works of art, full of unique flavours and textures.
“The pandemic created a gap in the market for the company because gifting handmade, heartfelt gifts became a big aspect of people’s lives.
“Praliné Chocolatiers began selling our product on Instagram in October 2020 after receiving support and mentorship through LEO Westmeath. We launched our own website in February 2021 and moved into their own production kitchen in November 2021.”
Their main range of chocolates is available throughout the year, and they produce limited edition seasonal collections every couple of months.
“Participating in ACORNS was invaluable to the business. The most beneficial aspect was being given the skills to confidently run a business to its full potential while benefiting from the expert experience of our group’s Lead Entrepreneur Eimer Hannon of Hannon Travel. I am very grateful to be part of the ACORNS community.
“The main plan for the year ahead is to continue to build the brand and expand the product range, we are also looking into B2B marketing to hotels and corporate gifting.”
The Roots of Ireland
Caroline Cullen and her husband Steve always had a yearning to set up a business conducive to family life and to their shared love of nature.
That yearning was fulfilled in January 2020, when Caroline, who is originally from Cork but based in her husband’s home town of Leixlip, Co Kildare, set up The Roots of Ireland, which produces contemporary handcrafted sterling silver jewellery.
The couple, who have two small children, wanted to create jewellery that would be a tangible reminder of our connection to nature.
“Our jewellery is based on elements of nature taken from across Ireland. To create our designs, we take twigs or leaves and other organic matter, and cover them with up to 13 layers of silver paste before placing them in a kiln, which burns away the original organic matter – leaving a silver representation of the original piece.”
The Irish Native Woodland Trust, which is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Ireland’s ancient woodlands, receives donations for jewellery sold from The Roots of Ireland’s ‘Woodlands Collection’.
Their collection is now available through Blarney Woollen Mills, Bunratty Woollen Mills and other Irish retailers as well as through their own online shop. They export to customers around the world and have recently formed relationships with retailers in the United States.
“I found that being an ACORNS participant helped to make me accountable for business developments, and having support and feedback from fellow entrepreneurs, and Lead Entrepreneur Eimer Hannon, was invaluable.
“Our plans for the future include growing exports to those abroad with a connection to and love of Ireland and developing their collections of Irish nature-inspired jewellery beginning with a men’s range and a contemporary wedding collection.”
Second Street Bakeshop
Claire Keane, founder of Second Street Bakeshop in Carrigaline in Cork, first started cooking and selling her homemade caramel squares to fellow students in secondary school, as a means of raising funds for summer trips to visit the United States.
With a Master’s degree in Environmental Science, Claire emigrated to the US in 1999, with the intention of pursuing a career in the environmental area. After growing disillusioned, however, by the poor response with which wider society was meeting the climate emergency, she found herself craving the creativity that comes from being in the kitchen.
Following a couple of years of fine-tuning her culinary skills, Claire set up an artisanal shortbread, caramel and chocolate company called Clairesquares in San Francisco in 2006. The success of the firm surprised even Claire, with Haagen-Dazs choosing to turn one of her cookies into a flavour of its world-famous ice cream in 2015.
Claire sold the company in 2019 before moving back to her native Cork.
“The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic restricted me to the kitchen, where I once again set about experimenting with toffee and shortbread.”
Encouraged by the feedback from friends, and noticing an opening in the Irish market for American-style sweet treats, Claire set up Second Street Bakeshop in September 2021.
From her base at Cork Incubator Kitchens in Carrigaline, Claire produces Second Street’s toffee-heavy brittle, which she sells both online and at Neighbourfood markets.
“I hope to break into the retail market and grow my workforce beyond the support I receive from my sister in the kitchen and my father who helps with deliveries.”
Claire is grateful to ACORNS for providing a support network for women. “It’s a valuable organisation that helps women elevate their businesses,” she adds.
Helena Golden Willow Woman
Helena Golden had been working in management roles in the food industry and in community and rural development before she decided to branch out on her own with her basket making business.
That came about gradually as Helena, a native of Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim, whose business is based in Leitrim Village, was keen to pursue her interest in a more sustainable lifestyle and achieve a greater work life/family life balance.
By reducing her work responsibilities, Helena had the opportunity to do the first of many basket making courses, which ultimately led to her weaving a range of baskets and commencing trading at a craft market in Sligo, where she found that many customers were keen to be taught basket making.
So, she took a career break and founded her company, Helena Golden Willow Woman, in February 2020.
Helena now travels around the country delivering classes on the ancient and traditional craft of basket making with a modern twist. She also has a range of basketry items available for sale, including make-at-home willow craft kits, and she delivers classes to community groups, day care centres, schools and women’s groups as well as doing live online training.
Helena says that the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown was paramount to the success of the business because within a few weeks of the initial lockdown, she was delivering live basket making classes over Zoom. The publicity and feedback generated by that led to the business going from strength to strength.
She says the really supportive nature of ACORNS and the opportunity to take time out from the business and share ideas and network with likeminded people was very helpful.
Helena currently employs an administrative assistant, and she is planning to employ basket makers to help expand the business while also expanding her product range.
The Holding Pond
When Linda-Gene Byrne learned that Irish consumers were spending €5bn a year with online retailers, of which €3bn was leaving the country to non-indigenous companies, she felt compelled to try reverse the trend.
The former sales director with Green Isle Foods set up her company The Holding Pond, an outlet for Irish-made crafts, pottery, homewares, jewellery and more, on Valentine’s Day 2020, shortly after moving her family to her husband’s homeplace on the Hook peninsula in Co. Wexford.
“I’ve always loved buying Irish-made goods and I saw there was a gap in the market for a one-stop shop for indigenous products. Irish shoppers are spending billions online every year and a large proportion of that is leaving the country. I thought, ‘Let’s bring these sales home’,” she says.
While the initial offering was strictly online, Linda-Gene has since set up a number of pop-up shops in the South East. This summer, she set up a pop-up shop in a corrugated tin shed near the family home on the Hook where she will be selling her Irish-made products until the end of August.
Linda-Gene meticulously researches each of the product makers, ensuring that those featured by the Holding Pond come from all across the island of Ireland.
“We work with around 40 Irish makers, which is something we’re really proud of. And we want to go further in the future by establishing a greater online presence. We have great corporate customers, and we’ll need more of them if we’re to scale up,” she says.
Linda-Gene is thankful to ACORNS for helping her forge relationships with other female entrepreneurs from an eclectic mix of industries.
“Whether they were involved in education, medical or the clothing industry, it was great to have people there as a sounding board and build connections,” she says.
Originally from Holycross, Co Tipperary, Laura Stakelum spent 15 years living and working in Dublin, where she trained as a chartered accountant specialising in corporate finance, before spending six months in Tipperary working from home during the pandemic.
Laura found that working remotely allowed her to do everything that she had done in the office in Dublin. This, together with a goal to set up her own business prompted her to make the move permanent and to set up Stakelum Consultancy in July 2021.
Stakelum Consultancy provides M&A and transaction advisory services to the renewable energy and property industries in Ireland. Renewable energy is a particular focus for Laura, and she advises clients on the acquisition and disposal of onshore and offshore wind assets.
Laura secured office space in Cashel, Co Tipperary and acquired two clients within months of starting the business. She moved to a larger office this year to accommodate hiring support staff to scale the business.
Laura says getting to the stage where she had onboarded five clients was a huge milestone for Stakelum Consultancy, giving her the confidence and security to build on this progress.
She describes ACORNS as an unbiased and invaluable sounding board, made up of a strong group of female entrepreneurs who understand the challenges of running a business. The programme helped her to understand the difference between the work a business does and the business itself – ensuring that the business functions efficiently and smoothly allows more time to focus on client needs and demands.
In the next two years, Laura hopes to build a team of five to ten employees. This would allow Stakelum Consultancy to onboard more renewable energy clients as the sector ramps up to the delivery of the first offshore windfarms in 2030.
Lyndsay Considine runs LC Digital, a digital marketing and social media consultancy, management and training company, from her home in Drumlish, Co. Longford.
She moved back to her native county in October 2020 after working in the West of Ireland for nearly a decade, first with Galway Bay FM as a senior broadcast journalist and later the Galway Local Enterprise Office (LEO) as a digital marketing and social media manager.
She had long toyed with the idea of setting up her own agency but the transition to the Faithful County provided the grounding needed to finally kick-start the enterprise.
“I do digital marketing and social media management for SMEs and the public sector, in particular LEOs from the likes of Galway, Kildare and Westmeath. The advantage of having worked in an LEO previously, and doing this type of work, is that I understand the different demands, schemes and offerings,” she says.
Lyndsay, who also works with the tourism agency Visit Westmeath, credits the ACORNS programme with helping her to restructure her business and to be more selective about the contracts she takes on.
“ACORNS helped me evolve the business to go after more public sector clients. This decision also sets me apart from other marketing agencies in my region who tend to work predominantly with private sector clients. It also made me revamp how I structure my week. Now I’m closer to achieving a better work-life balance, something that doesn’t come easy to an entrepreneur with a two-year-old!” she says.
“My revenues are beyond anything I could have imagined when I first started and I’m grateful to ACORNS for making me see the sky really is the limit. The programme has given me the confidence to get to work on registering as a limited company and recruiting freelancers for project work beginning this summer.”
Margaret Coyne Couture
A growing weariness around the commute to her job with a leading designer in Dublin compelled Margaret Coyne to make Dowra, Co. Cavan, a permanent home – not just for herself and her husband, but also her budding dress-making business.
“I launched in August 2021 and I’ve never been busier. There’s real public appetite for this kind of service, particularly in the North West,” says the founder of Margaret Coyne Couture, who uses her skills as a Grafton Academy graduate, and experience of her 20-year career in the fashion industry, to produce once-off, luxurious bridal, evening and occasion wear.
Recently reclassified as a creative space by Cavan County Council, the Old Courthouse building in the heart of Dowra provides the setting in which Margaret creates her designs and hosts fittings.
“Our bridal collection is a big part of our business but a real growth area for us is the mother-of-the-bride outfits. We also do millinery so mums can get their dresses and hats at the same time. Both brides and mums can have their fittings together also, which is a lovely experience for them.”
Margaret, who hopes to launch a ready-to-wear mother-of-the-bride collection in the next 12 months, was recently shortlisted for Newcomer of the Year at the Weddings Online Awards and believes ACORNS was essential to helping her focus on business and finance, rather than just the creative side of her operations.
“ACORNS helped me change my attitude in terms of how I operate. I know all there to know about making dresses but my issue has been around actually thinking like a businesswoman. It was fantastic to be surrounded by women with similar goals. I was inspired by all the fantastic people and their stories,” she adds.
Nikki Curran Career Clinic
After 35 years away, Nikki Curran returned to her native Sligo, having taken 20 years out to raise her family. She had previously worked in the hospitality, corporate, and training sectors in the areas of management, recruitment and training.
Having settled in Sligo town, Nikki, who is originally from Rosses Point, set about returning to the workforce, initially by completing a ‘back-to-work’ course with Rural Skillnet.
Nikki realised there was little or no job search coaching available in the North West, so she set up Nikki Curran Career Clinic in September 2020.
As a job search coach, Nikki brings clarity to the world of job search, helps people to see their true potential and enables them to get the job that they want to get.
Nikki says her role in the process is to give people confidence to believe in themselves, so when they are preparing and reviewing their CV or preparing for interview, they don’t sell themselves short. She works one-to-one with clients and has been very busy since launching her business.
Acting as an advocate for her clients and holding them responsible for doing the work that is required to prepare for the process, Nikki aims to empower them to show their true and authentic selves to their potential employers.
Modern technology and remote working have removed the barriers of location and Nikki currently works with clients locally, nationally, in Europe and Australia. Nikki will also meet clients face-to-face, if preferred.
Nikki says that there was something powerful about the connection between the participants on ACORNS and that they learned a lot from each other. She says they have continued to support each other since completing the cycle.
Nikki’s plan for the future is to simply keep doing what she loves for as long as she can.
Olive Keyes Pilates and Wellness Retreats
Olive Keyes found that wellness retreats both in Ireland and abroad often placed too much focus on Pilates and yoga, and too little on the light entertainment of exploring local history and culture.
“Pilates should be central to the whole experience, but I want other things too,” she says.
A visit to a retreat in Co. Clare proved an inspiration for Olive and after building her own facility on the grounds of her home in Lecarrow, Co. Roscommon, the Athlone native set about offering her own retreats, which included food, cycling and walking tours of conservation areas to connect visitors to the history and heritage of the local area.
“My business, Ireland’s Heartlands Retreats, is an extension of my primary company, which offers Pilates classes in studio and online. We held our first retreat in Lecarrow in October 2021. Since then we’ve been approached by business owners from abroad who want to work with us for their annual away days,” she says.
“I’ve formed relationships with local businesses who can facilitate accommodation and food. This has enriched the experience for my clients, but my aim is to convert outbuildings for guest accommodation and kitchen facilities.”
Olive sees a growing market for wellness in Ireland and hopes to increase her number of retreats over the next 12 months.
She is delighted with the insights gleaned from her participation in the ACORNS programme, particularly in the areas of financial and social media management, as well as the help in sourcing additional supports through the LEADER scheme, which aids rural communities looking to drive development in their area.
“ACORNS is a brilliant programme that connects you with a network of businesswomen with similar issues and concerns, I can’t recommend it enough” she adds.
Optima Speech Therapy
The waiting list for children seeking speech and language services had been extensive before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, it has stretched to more than 30,000 children. And with 700 posts in children’s disability services currently vacant, the wait for many of those children who need vital care is likely to go on for some time.
Kate Beckett, the founder of Optima Speech Therapy, is a speech and language professional working to empower parents to deliver an easy-to-use service for speech therapy at home. This bridges the gap between identifying an issue and receiving face-to-face speech therapy. Kate is also bringing a full range of custom-made resources to the speech therapy market including the first child speech sound avatar DARA (Digitised Automated Realistic Articulator) on her YouTube channel.
When parents make contact, Kate sends them an assessment document containing fun activities to carry out and video their child doing at home. The parents return the videos to Kate who compiles a report in which she advises on the appropriate speech and language programme.
Launched in June 2021, the company’s success is underpinned by the Wicklow based speech therapist’s YouTube channel, on which Kate posts instructional videos for parents and children on how to work on language activities and how to produce specific speech sounds. Alongside Kate, the star of these videos, DARA, teaches children how to use their tongue and lips to make a targeted sound.
She is also working on a book. This follows the setting up of her website, through which she sells resources to other speech and language therapists, teachers and assistants.
Kate has found great support from her ACORNS group. Having launched only just prior to starting ACORNS, she has found it particularly helpful to have a group of strong women to bounce ideas off of and learn the balance of business and family.
Pressed Flowers by Nell
Pressed Flowers by Nell started with founder Nell Stritch making her wares at her kitchen table. But while online sales were strong in those early stages, she knew there was no substitute for high-street footfall.
Now ensconced in her own retail premises on Roches Street in Limerick City Centre, with one full-time staff member and another part-time working alongside her, she feels the firm has established itself on the city’s retail scene, following its opening in October 2019.
The daughter of a florist from Clonlara, Co. Clare, Nell worked in the family business from a young age. Indeed, she first learned to press flowers from her grandmother and noticed a glaring gap in the market after fielding countless calls from customers asking to have flower arrangements pressed and framed.
She now presses flowers for any occasion – the most common request is for bridal bouquets – but has made efforts to expand her offering in recent times to include her own artworks, fine art prints, bookmarks and greeting cards. All of these products are available at her store and online via the website.
She is delighted to have reached a point in which her business serves as an employer and is hopeful that she can add a further two full-time roles in the next 12 months, while also developing plans for a Christmas pop-up shop.
“A major milestone for me was taking part in the ACORNS programme,” she says.
“It was fantastic to meet a network of women similarly focused on where they wanted to go and how they were going to get there. As a creative, you can have a million ideas written down here and there, but it was great to see everything broken down and structured in such a professional and organised way.”