International Women’s Day on March 8 is a chance to highlight the challenges and opportunities of women entrepreneurs in Ireland.
While women account for only one-fifth of entrepreneurs but the numbers are growing thanks to initiatives such as Acorns for rural-based early-stage female entrepreneurs and other State-backed programmes that focus on encouraging female business leaders.
However, women entrepreneurs still struggle to access venture capital funding.
A recent report from Enterprise Ireland found that less than 10% of venture capital funding is secured by companies with women founders.
The 2020 Action Plan for Women in Business also found that only 3% of angel investors are women.
That represents a drawback for women entrepreneurs who are pitching for funds for their start-up businesses.
Vanessa Tierney, who founded Abodoo with husband Ben Wainwright, says although she hasn’t experienced discrimination because she’s a woman, she recognises that there is a different style of pitching.
“You realise you probably really need to up your confidence and your projections and be a bit bolder,” she says.
Abodoo, a technology platform that matches workers with companies that support smart ways of working, has worked with companies such as Shopify, Vodafone, Citibank, Automattic, and Deloitte.
It has also expanded its services, partnering with the public sector to map talent across the country.
To date, Abodoo has raised a total of €1.1m.
It has drawn support from the Local Enterprise Office in Wexford, Enterprise Ireland High Potential Start-Up funding and angel investment, as well as a hugely successful Crowdcube campaign in October 2019.
Ms Tierney says that Abodoo was the first female-led technology company from Ireland to tap Crowdcube in London.
Hitting its goal of €100,000 in 48 hours, by the end of the campaign they had got the backing of more than 400 investors.
Meanwhile, food entrepreneurs Eliza and Evie Ward tapped the power of sisterhood in their own food business.
Eliza Ward sees International Women’s Day as an opportunity for women entrepreneurs to get together and support one another.
The sisters have found a strong element of community across all types of businesses in Ireland with fellow female entrepreneurs offering advice and support.
Their company Nutshed is an all-female team.
It has a production unit at Stafford Street Enterprise Centre in Nenagh in Co Tipperary and runs a Saturday stall at the Milk Market in Limerick.
Ms Ward says the business run by an all-female team came about by chance and was not based on a conscious decision.
She appreciates the collaborative energy in the team which involves everyone pitching in.
“There’s a strong element of teamwork and of respecting one another. There’s no particular hierarchy,” she says.
The sisters grew up helping out at the family business, called Country Choice in Nenagh.
Nutshed evolved from a festival food stall, and the sisters have recently expanded their premises and have launched a new website and an online shop.
“Our parents have a speciality food shop in Nenagh since 1982, so we’ve been around makers and producers and business owners our whole life. I’ve looked up to and admired both men and women in the sector who are doing interesting things,” she says.
Commenting on how the food business has changed, she says it’s always attracted both women and men, but she thinks that there are now more women in farming and producing agri-produce.
There have always been “incredible producers, bakers, jam makers and cheesemakers”, involving men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, she says.
Nutshed’s butters are handmade with peanuts roasted on-site and the product range which comprises plant-based treats, raw energy balls.
Its products are sold at coffee shops and independent specialty shops around the country and through the Nutshed website.
As a mother of three children, Ms Tierney recognises the unique challenges of juggling a business with parenting.
However, she disagrees with the view that having a family can be a disadvantage to setting up in business.
“I think when you’re at the point of having a family, a lot of people think you can’t start a company. I feel the opposite. Yes, there’s the stress to make sure it works. But equally, it just gives you so much flexibility to be with them when needed,” she says.