Women in business: From Acorns, mighty forests grow

A unique initiative offers support to female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland
Women in business: From Acorns, mighty forests grow

The initiative is open to women with a new business idea based in rural Ireland or a well-developed plan to get a new venture off the ground. File picture: Pexel

A woman who grew up in Australia is now selling pasture-range eggs laid by nearly 1,000 hens on a farm in Tipperary, while another has renovated an old farm outhouse near the Cliffs of Moher in Clare and converted it into a crafts and gifts shop, where visitors can also enjoy a coffee.

They are among 250 female entrepreneurs who have taken part over the past six years in the Government-back initiative, Acorns, which offers support for female entrepreneurs in rural areas.

It stands for Accelerating the Creation of Rural Nascent Start-up and was a runner up in the 2018 European Enterprise Promotion Awards.

Monday marks another important milestone in the programme as it is the deadline for applications to take part in the next cycle. A total of 50 new entrepreneurs will be selected from those who apply.

There is no charge to those chosen to take part in the initiative, which is open to any woman with a new business idea based in rural Ireland or a well-developed idea for a new venture they want to get off the ground.

If selected, applicants must be available to attend the virtual launch on the morning of October 22, and the first round-table session the next morning. This will take place either in person or remotely, depending on prevailing circumstances and Government guidelines.

The cycle, which will be run on a part-time basis over six months from October to next April, is based on peer support and collaborative learning.

Each participant is given the opportunity to learn from successful female entrepreneurs across rural Ireland. 

Kylie Magner: Launched her own pasture-raised egg business in Fethard.
Kylie Magner: Launched her own pasture-raised egg business in Fethard.

One of those women is Kylie Magner, who started her own pasture-raised egg business in Fethard three years ago and has a story that can only inspire future entrepreneurs.

She is a full-time farmer who grew up on a mixed farming enterprise in the central west of New South Wales. After studying for a Bachelor of Business in Agricultural Commerce at Sydney University, she undertook work in various marketing and equestrian roles from Australia to Japan before arriving in Fethard in 1998 to work with Coolmore Stud.

During this time, she met her future husband Billy and in 2009, they moved back to Australia where Kylie set up her own advertising agency.

After seven years, the couple felt the pull back to Ireland. And, in 2016, with their four children, they moved to a former dairy farm in Fethard.

Since launching her pasture range egg business, Kylie has diversified with a chicken bone broth, which won the coveted Chef’s Choice in the 2018 Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards and a Gold Star at Great Taste (UK) last year.

As her happy hens continue to roam the organic pastures of Magner’s Farm and lay healthy eggs, Kylie is keen to keep expanding the business, with plans to incorporate a self-designed mobile hen house that will increase numbers and boost soil fertility.

Meanwhile, the views across the Clare countryside and Liscannor Bay continues to convince Caitriona Considine she couldn’t have picked a better spot for the location of her gift and co­ffee shop. It is located at St Brigid’s Well, beside the Cli­ffs of Moher.

Moher Cottage was originally a shed on her husband’s family farm. She had studied engineering and has an MBA but longed for a change from long work commutes to work. Her husband Kevin already had a business running the family farm and Considine’s Bar, a small pub in his family since 1868.

Taking advantage of their location on one of Ireland’s busiest tourist trails, Caitriona and Kevin renovated the farm shed and started a shop with an outdoor terrace. Moher Cottage opened in March 2017, where Caitriona sells unique crafts and gifts, as well as her own artisan fudge.

Soon after opening, Caitriona’s cof­fee was voted the best in Ireland by listeners to Today FM’s Saturday Breakfast programme with Alison Curtis. Moher Cottage was also shortlisted as only one of two in Munster in the creative retail category in the Bank of Ireland’s 2017 Start-up Awards 2017. Her gift shop is also online. Now her mission is to have the best little shop in Ireland.

Caitriona Considine: Sells arts and crafts as well as her own artisan fudge.
Caitriona Considine: Sells arts and crafts as well as her own artisan fudge.

Each participant in the new Acorns cycle will have the opportunity to learn from successful rural businesswomen, who act in a voluntary capacity. These lead entrepreneurs share their insights and experiences with the participants to address the issues and challenges they face when starting and growing a business.

Applicants must have set up a new business that has generated sales no earlier than January 1, 2018, be actively planning a new venture, and have made good progress towards getting it off the ground.

They must own or part-own a business located in a rural area defined as outside the administrative city boundaries of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford. And they must expect to become an employer within three years.

Paula Fitzsimons, founder and managing director of Fitzsimons Consulting, which developed the initiative, said Acorns is a real grassroots movement.

It illustrates the strength of peer support, with entrepreneurs supporting one another. Psychological isolation is reduced, confidence is increased, and new networks are formed.

“This initiative has never been more vital than in the current climate and I am delighted the programme continues to be offered thanks to the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine and the contribution of the voluntary lead entrepreneurs,” she said.

Each year, participants praise the role the programme played in supporting them to start and develop their own business. “From little acorns mighty forests grow,” a perceptive old saying, is obviously more relevant than ever in these difficult times.

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