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ACORNS program for rural female entrepreneurs open for application

Taken at the launch of the ACORNS 6 program.

A total of 50 new participants are being sought for ACORNS 6. The programme will run over six months from October 2020 to April 2021.



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12 August 2020

Supporting sustainable enterprise and entrepreneurial activity in rural areas is vital to support Ireland’s recovery post-Covid, as this will underpin sustainable community development.

ACORNS is a highly successful development initiative for female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland which actively contributes to this objective.

The call is now open for women with new businesses or well-developed ideas to join the new cycle of the free programme — ACORNS 6. The initiative will also continue to support participants from previous cycles through further development phases.

The call for applications follows the launch of the programme by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dara Calleary.

“I am committed to supporting sustainable enterprise and entrepreneurial activity in rural areas, as this will underpin sustainable community development.”, said Minister Calleary.

Minister Calleary continued: “I also wish to see the economic potential of women harnessed to the greatest extent possible. Against this background, I am delighted that my department, through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund, will continue to support the ACORNS initiative. ACORNS provides valuable peer support to early stage female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland, who have recently started or are about to start a business. In the challenging circumstances that we find ourselves, this support is needed now more than ever. I encourage early stage female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland to apply without delay”.

A total of 50 new participants are being sought for ACORNS 6. The programme will run over six months from October 2020 to April 2021. The deadline for application for this year’s cycle is September 21, 2020.

Any woman with a new business based in rural Ireland — or an idea for a new venture they want to get off the ground — can get more information and download an application form at There is no charge for participation.

Fitzsimons Consulting, specialising in entrepreneurship and growth, developed the initiative. Paula Fitzsimons said “ACORNS is a real grassroots movement, illustrating the strength of peer support, with entrepreneurs supporting one another. Psychological isolation is reduced, confidence is increased, and new networks are formed. Over the next six months, we will have more than 200 female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland being actively supported through ACORNS. I am delighted that the opportunity is being offered once again thanks to the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the contribution of the voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs.”

ACORNS is based on peer support and collaborative learning. Each participant will have the opportunity to learn from successful female entrepreneurs – Lead Entrepreneurs.

Acting in a voluntary capacity, these Lead Entrepreneurs will share their insights and experience with the group and help the participants to address the issues and challenges they face in starting and progressing their businesses. They also act as role models, illustrating by their actions that it is possible to start and grow a successful business in rural Ireland.

This year, the ACORNS Lead Entrepreneurs are: Anne Reilly, Paycheck Plus, County Louth; Caroline McEnery, The HR Suite, County Kerry; Eimer Hannon, Eimer Hannon Travel, County Meath; Larissa Feeney, Accountant Online; Mary B. Walsh, Ire Wel Pallets, County Wexford; and Triona MacGiolla Rí, Aró Digital Strategies; Galway.

Past participants of ACORNS are also invited to take part in a further development phase, attend topic-based workshops and to join the ACORNS Community, so they can continue to build their support network of valuable connections. For those committed to growing their businesses, they are offered the opportunity to join growth oriented round tables – ACORNS Plus and ACORNS Plus Review.

The latter part of the previous cycle – ACORNS 5 — coincided with the nationwide restrictions to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. These had a severely negative impact on businesses across Ireland and the participants were not immune to their effects. ACORNS immediately moved online, and the final round table sessions and workshops were held remotely.

Supported by their Lead Entrepreneurs and their group, 75% of participants pivoted their business to take account of the changed circumstances and 27% reported a positive impact on their business.

Notwithstanding the challenges that they faced; the ACORNS 5 participants were very positive in their feedback in terms of their experience of the initiative:

  • 88% reported that they made a decision for their business during the round table sessions.
  • 79% said that their participation brought about practical change within their business.
  • 92% felt nearer to achieving their ambitions.
  • 98% would recommend participating in ACORNS to others.
  • 100% would welcome a means of staying in contact with the ACORNS Community and continue to be supported.

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