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Call for female entrepreneurs to apply for 9th year of ACORNS

Call for female entrepreneurs in rural areas to apply for 9th year of ACORNS new business development programme


  • Turnover of 46 entrepreneurs who completed ACORNS 8 almost doubled in 6 months.
  • Window for applications for ACORNS 9 opens today (August 14) and closes at midnight September 22


As the call for applications for the 9th cycle of ACORNS is launched today (August 14), all of the participants who completed ACORNS 8 would encourage others to apply for the programme.

ACORNS is a free development programme for early-stage female entrepreneurs based in rural Ireland and funded through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM).


Charlie McConalogue T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, today launched the opening of the call for applications for ACORNS 9. The deadline for applications is midnight, September 22.


In a survey carried out at the end of the eighth cycle of the programme in April, 100% of participants said they would recommend the programme to others. The 46 entrepreneurs in ACORNS 8 also reported significant growth in their new businesses. Their combined turnover, which doubled in the six months to April 2023 - from €1.9m to €3.6m.

Participants in ACORNS 8 employed 96 (55 full-time, 41 part-time) staff at the end of the cycle, an increase of 16. There were also five new exporters over the cycle.

A total of 96% of the participants said that they felt closer to achieving their ambitions after having completed ACORNS. While 89% said that their participation brought about a practical change within their business.


ACORNS is based on the belief that early-stage entrepreneurs learn best from their peers. Participants interact with each other in the monthly round table sessions, which are facilitated by a Lead Entrepreneur, who has first-hand experience of starting and successfully growing a business in rural Ireland. There are 50 places available for ACORNS 9. Those wishing to receive an application form for ACORNS 9 should register on the website (


Only early-stage female entrepreneurs operating in rural Ireland, and who have had no sales before the end of June 2020, are eligible to apply. As ACORNS receives many more applications than there are places available, selection is on a competitive basis.

ACORNS 9 will run from October 2022 to April 2023 and will include six monthly round table sessions, a workshop on understanding financials, a briefing by various development agencies and an end-of-cycle celebration.

There will no charge for those selected to participate in ACORNS 9, thanks to the continuing support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the voluntary contribution of time by the Lead Entrepreneurs.

While 46 participants completed ACORNS 8, the initiative also provided continued support to more than 200 past participants through the ACORNS Community, which provided past participants with the opportunity to take part in workshops, roundtables, and other networking events.

Each of the Lead Entrepreneurs give their time to the programme on a voluntary basis, as they believe in the philosophy of ‘entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs’.


This year’s voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs are Anne Reilly, formerly Paycheck Plus; Caroline Reidy, The HR Suite; Deirdre McGlone, Hospitality & Tourism Advisor; Eimer Hannon, Hannon Travel; Larissa Feeney, Accountant Online; Mary B Walsh, Ire Wel Pallets; and Triona MacGiolla Rí, Aró Digital Strategies.

In addition, Monica Flood, and Geraldine Kelly, Going for Growth Lead Entrepreneurs, have agreed to facilitate ACORNS Plus round tables for previous participants, who are committed to continuing driving forward the development of their businesses.


Speaking of the launch Minister McConalogue said:

“While there are many rewards to being an entrepreneur, it can be a lonely journey with many challenges. To provide support in dealing with these challenges, I am pleased to be able to provide further funding to female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland through the 9th ACORNS Programme. This programme will not only help develop businesses but will provide networking opportunities to participants that may not be as available in rural parts of the country. 


“To date through the ACORNS program, I have been able to support over 400 female entrepreneurs to realise their business ambitions while contributing to society in a meaningful way. The impact of this support has been overwhelmingly positive, with participants reporting both increased sales and the creation of additional jobs.


“Considering the wide-ranging benefits accrued, I am delighted that we are in a position to continue to support a further 50 participants for this year’s initiative which is funded under the Rural Innovation and Development Fund".


Multi-award winning Niamh Dooley, BiaSol, who participated in ACORNS 7, recommends participation to early-stage female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland: “I highly recommend ACORNS. The sense of community the programme has built is amazing and it is a brilliant way to connect with other women in business.”


Anne-Marie Feighery, of Feighery Farms’ Beetroot Juice, who participated in ACORNS 5 and more recently ACORNS Plus, speaks very highly of the benefits of her experience: “ACORNS has been a truly rewarding experience for me on my entrepreneurial journey to date. To meet such a group of supportive, focused, and positive women was truly inspiring and incredibly motivating, alongside the wealth of knowledge and vast experience offered up by our Lead Entrepreneur. I am very proud to be a member of the ACORNS Community and very grateful for the continuing support.”



Note for Editors:


ACORNS, which stands for Accelerating the Creation Of Rural Nascent Start-ups, is in its 9th year. It is funded through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). ACORNS was a runner up in the 2018 European Enterprise Promotion Awards, Investing in Entrepreneurial Skills. The programme was developed by Fitzsimons Consulting.


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 end of June 2020 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.
  • If selected, applicants must be available to attend the launch Forum and first round table session on October 23 and 24, 2023.
  • They must expect to become an employer within three years.





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