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Creed Announces "Significant Opportunity for New Female Entrepreneurs in Rural Areas"


       Deadline for applications is Thursday 22 September

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed TD welcomed the launch of the second year of “ACORNS”, a six month part time development programme for aspiring rural female entrepreneurs. 

Minister Creed said, “I am pleased to announce the second year of this very effective programme. Job creation is a priority for this Government and an important focus of Foodwise 2025.  The success of last year’s programme shows what a difference mentoring and peer learning can make to rural women in developing their new business ideas.

Fully funded under the Department’s CEDRA Rural Development and Innovation Fund, the initiative is focused on developing the potential of female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland who have recently started a business or who have taken concrete steps towards setting up a business. There is no charge for successful applicants.

A core element of the ACORNS initiative is the involvement of ‘Lead Entrepreneurs’, who have already started and successfully grown businesses in rural Ireland. These business women, on a voluntary basis, facilitate the interactive round table sessions, act as role models and mentor the successful applicants.

Last year 44 entrepreneurs completed the pilot ACORNS programme, with all participants reporting that participation in ACORNS was of value to their business.

  • Eight businesses began to trade for the first time during the pilot
  • Of the 35 trading, 86% increased their combined sales by 43% during the pilot
  • 10 participants made export sales during the pilot, including five for the first time
  • Participants increased their total number of employees by 13%

The pilot participants expect to achieve significant further growth in sales, employment and in the number of exporters by the end of 2016. They are being offered the opportunity of further ACORNS support to assist them to achieve their ambitious targets.

Paula Fitzsimons is the founder of Fitzsimons Consulting, the company awarded the contract to design, develop and implement the latest phase of the ACORNS programme, following its successful implementation of the ACORNS pilot.

She said, “The objective of ACORNS is to equip these early stage entrepreneurs with the appropriate knowledge, confidence and networks to successfully start and develop sustainable businesses. The ACORNS approach provides a safe, supportive, challenging, informative and highly collaborative environment where entrepreneurs help entrepreneurs, learn from each other, and benefit from positive peer pressure. In addition to being of benefit to the individuals concerned, the knock on impact of the ACORNS programme for local communities and the wider Irish economy is very significant.

Thanks to the increased funding being provided by CEDRA through the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, we are delighted to be in a position to offer more places on the programme and to further support the development of those who participated in the ACORNS pilot.”

The deadline for application for this year’s ACORNS programme is Thursday 22 September 2016. Interested female entrepreneurs can access information and register their interest at

Note for Editors:


To be considered for this ACORNS scheme, applicants must:

  • have set up a new business (no earlier than the 29th of June 2014), which they either own or part-own, or who are actively planning a new venture and have a clear idea of what they want to achieve. Indicators of actively planning a business would include organising the start-up team, sourcing equipment / facilities, money saved for the start-up, writing the business plan, etc.
  • live in rural areas as defined by CEDRA – all areas outside the administrative city boundaries of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford and who commit to attending the developmental fora over two days in October 2016 and in April 2017 , the monthly meetings from November 2016 to February 2017 and to give the required personal commitment to advancing their business ideas over the 6-month programme duration.

As the number of applicants will exceed the number of available places, there will be a competitive selection process based on the application forms received.  There are no restrictions on the sector in which the new business is focused.

See for further information.

Lead Entrepeneurs

The ACORNS Lead Entrepreneurs include:

  • Alison Ritchie, Polar Ice, Laois
  • Anne Cusack, Critical Healthcare, Westmeath
  • Anne Reilly, Paycheck Plus, Louth
  • Caroline McEnery, The HR Suite, Kerry
  • Deirdre McGlone, Harvey’s Point, Donegal
  • Mary B Walsh, Ire Wel Pallets, Wexford
  • Triona MacGiolla Rí, Aró Digital Strategy, Galway

As past participants of another female entrepreneurship initiative – the Going for Growth programme – all of the ‘ACORNS Lead Entrepreneurs’ have first-hand experience of the round table peer learning approach and of its benefits.

ACORNS - Accelerating the Creation Of Rural Nascent Start-ups – is the programme developed and operated by Fitzsimons Consulting to seek out and assist up to 56 start-up female entrepreneurs living in rural areas as defined by CEDRA.  Fitzsimons Consulting was awarded this contract in July following a competitive tender process.

CEDRA is the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas and its report is being implemented by the Dept. of the Environment, Community and Local Government.  However, €1.5 million of current expenditure has been provided by DAFM in 2016 under the CEDRA Rural Development and Innovation Fund for innovative projects which progress the potential identified by the CEDRA process. Initiatives rolled out in 2016 to date are:

(a) Female Rural Entrepreneurs, (see above) 

(b) Social Farming (A Request for Tender was published on in July with a deadline of 31 August)


To view Press Release as a PDF click here: DAFMPR 91/2016 (pdf 413Kb) 

Added 24.08.16

Picture shows ( l to r  ) Mary B Walsh, Ire Wel Pallets, Anne Cusack, Critical Healthcare, Alison Ritchie, Polar Ice, Minister Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Geraldine Byrne, Mediskin and Paula Fitzsimons, ACORNS.

Added 24.08.16

ACORNS: Accelerating the Creation of Rural Nascent Start-ups

Date Released: 24 August 2016