Call Open for New Cycle of ACORNS Programme – For Early Stage Female Entrepreneurs in Rural Ireland

17th August 2020

High-profile female business leaders are volunteering their time, skills and expertise to support female entrepreneurs in rural locations to start and develop their early stage businesses.

This is the 6th year of the Government-backed ACORNS programme.  New business owners need the support being offered now more than ever in the current challenging times.

The call is now open for the new cycle— ACORNS 6 — which is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, under its Rural Innovation and Development Fund. A total of 50 new entrepreneurs will be selected.

The latest programme was launched last week by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dara Calleary, TD.

Dara Calleary TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, says:  “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.”

There is no charge to those selected to participate. The initiative will be run on a part time basis over six months from October 2020 to April 2021.  The deadline for applications is September 21, 2020.

The highly-successful development initiative is based around the concept of peer-to-peer learning where successful business owners – called ‘Lead Entrepreneurs’ —  give their time free of charge to meet with a group of about eight early stage business owners once a month for six months.

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.

As they are all based in rural Ireland, the Lead Entrepreneurs also act as role models, illustrating by their actions that it is possible to start and grow a successful business in a rural location.

Fitzsimons Consulting, specialising in entrepreneurship and growth, developed the initiative.  Founder Paula Fitzsimons says:

“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. 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.”

One of the voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs for Acorns is Mary B. Walsh, the co-founder and Managing Director of Ire Wel Pallets, which is a packaging and pallets company based in Wexford, celebrating 30 years in business this year.

Over the past three years almost €5m has been invested into IWP to bring new technology and automation on site and give the company more control of its production, quality and stock.

IWP take their corporate social responsibility very seriously as ‘giving back’ has always been part and parcel of this company’s culture.  Being based in rural Ireland, IWP views supporting the ACORNS Program as a vital element of the development, growth and sustainability of the existing Rural Development Plans in all regions across Ireland.

Mary B Walsh says: “It has been an honour and privilege to work alongside my fellow Leads and all the past participants of the programme since 2015. By participating on ACORNS, participants can connect regularly with their peers to brainstorm, network, support one another and share ideas. This rural based ACORNS programme and community has never been as necessary as it is right now in this pandemic. I have seen the participants in all of my previous groups grow both personally and in terms of their businesses and I am certain it will be no different this year.  It is very satisfying to see the ACORNS community grow from strength to strength with the participants supporting, collaborating, and doing business with each other across every corner of rural Ireland”.

The other voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs this year are Anne Reilly of Paycheck Plus, Co Louth; Caroline McEnery of The HR Suite, Co. Kerry; Eimer Hannon of Hannon Travel, Co. Meath; Larissa Feeney of Accountant Online, Co Donegal; and Triona MacGiolla Rí of Aró Digital Strategies, Co Galway.

The latter part of the previous cycle of the programme – ACORNS 5 — coincided with the nationwide restrictions to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. This 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.

However, supported by their Lead Entrepreneurs, 75% of ACORNS 5 participants pivoted their business to take account of the changed circumstances and 27% reported a positive impact on their business.

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 register their interest at  They will be sent a link to the application.  (Eligibility criteria may apply).