The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr Michael Creed TD, has today launched the latest cycle of ACORNS, the highly successful female entrepreneurship development initiative.
Launching the call for applicants, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed TD, said:
‘I am delighted to continue to provide support to this initiative through my Department’s Rural Innovation and Development Fund. This is a tremendous opportunity for rural based female entrepreneurs and I urge them to apply to participate in this exciting initiative. Each year, the participants give an overwhelming endorsement of the role ACORNS has played in supporting them to grow their business. Once again, female entrepreneurs have the opportunity to avail of ACORNS and all that it has to offer to help them realise their ambitions. This is an opportunity not to be missed’.
ACORNS is now in its fourth cycle. The ACORNS programme is focussed on developing the potential of female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland, who wish to start and develop new businesses or have recently started a business. The programme will run over six months from October 2018 to April 2019. The deadline for application for this year’s cycle is 21st September. Those interested can get more information and register their interest in receiving an application form at www.acorns.ie. Places will be offered to fifty early stage female entrepreneurs. There is no charge for successful applicants.
Entrepreneurs learn best from each other. Accordingly, ACORNS is based on peer support and collaborative learning. Participants work in interactive round table sessions that are facilitated by successful female entrepreneurs who have started and grown businesses in rural Ireland. Acting in a voluntary capacity, these ‘Lead Entrepreneurs’ share their insights and experience with the group and support the participants to examine and address the issues and challenges they face in progressing their businesses.
Over 150 female entrepreneurs have taken part in ACORNS to date. Many report increased sales, exports and job creation. Progress made by participants on the last programme, which ran from October 2017 to April 2018, demonstrates these encouraging outcomes:
Participants reported an increase in annualised sales of 97% over the six months of the cycle.
There were nine participants that became exporters for the first time, representing an increase of 112%.
There were 13 additional fulltime employees and 19 additional part-time employees hired during the period.
Past participants of ACORNS are also offered the opportunity to participate in a further development phase and to join the ACORNS Community, to ensure they continue to reap the benefits of the programme and of the valuable connections they have made through broadening their support network.
ACORNS has been selected to represent Ireland in the European Enterprise Awards 2018, investing in entrepreneurial skills.
Paula Fitzsimons, founder and Managing Director of Fitzsimons Consulting, the company awarded the contract to run the ACORNS programme, said: ‘The female entrepreneurs that I have met on previous cycles of ACORNS have shown tremendous commitment and drive. This programme is about helping such women to realise their entrepreneurial ambitions. I am delighted that this opportunity is being offered once again to other female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland. The support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the contribution of the voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs is greatly welcomed and is critical to making this happen’.
Eligibility Criteria for participation on ACORNS
To be considered for ACORNS, applicants must
· Have set up a new business, which has generated sales no earlier than the 27th of June 2016; or
· Be actively planning a new venture and have made good progress towards getting the new venture off the ground. 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.
· They must own or part-own the business which must be located in a rural area, that is in an area outside the administrative city boundaries of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford;
· They must commit to attending the Launch Forum over two days in October 2018 (15th/16th); the ACORNS Community Forum in April 2019 (date to be confirmed); the monthly meetings from November 2018 to March 2019; and give the required personal commitment to advancing their business ideas over the six-month programme duration; and
· They must expect to become an employer within three years.
Rural Innovation and Development Fund
€1.5 million is being provided by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in 2018 under the Rural Innovation and Development Fund to finance current expenditure on innovative projects in rural areas. The funding will support the following initiatives:
(a) Female Rural Entrepreneurs, (see above)
(b) Social Farming
(c) Agri-Food Tourism
(d) Food Waste Reduction Project
Previous participants on ACORNS have said
“The advice and encouragement I received on ACORNS has been incredibly valuable to my business. We have big ambitions for Bó Rua Farm Cheese and aim for it to become one of Ireland’s leading farmhouse cheese brands.”
- Norma Dineen, Bó Rua Farm Cheese participant on the Pilot programme
“The ACORNS support has helped me move a dream into a reality and achieve more than I could have thought possible.”
- Lisa Larkin, Durrow Mills, participant on the Pilot programme and ACORNS Plus
“The ACORNS Programme was an invaluable opportunity for me to meet and now work with amazing, talented women. They continue to inspire and motivate me leading to an acceleration of the development and growth of my business.”
- Joanne Browne, Jo Browne, participant on ACORNS 2
“Starting a business can be a lonely, isolating experience, especially as a female entrepreneur living in rural Ireland. ACORNS was instrumental in helping me network with fellow women business owners but also in helping me successfully grow and scale my business.”
- Cori Calvert, GES Energy, participant on ACORNS 3