Kath White, owner of FineOaks Alpacas near Millstreet, with Annamarie McNally of the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine at ACORNS 8 Residential Forum 2023. Photo: Orla Murray /Coalesce

Sewing the seeds of business

A call has gone out for applications to a free development initiative to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland.

ACORNS, now in its 9th cycle, is open for applications until 22 September and comes highly recommended by previous participants.

There are 50 places available for ACORNS 9 which will run from this October 2023 until April 2024.

The 46 entrepreneurs in ACORNS 8 made significant progress over the six months of their involvement, reporting substantial growth in their new businesses.

Their combined turnover almost doubled in the six months to April 2023, from €1.9m to €3.6m.

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

There will be 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.

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.

Those wishing to receive an application form for ACORNS 9 should register on acorns.ie before 22 September.

Past participants

Claire Keane set up her first company, a successful artisanal shortbread, caramel, and chocolate company, in San Francisco in 2006. She sold the company in 2019 and moved back to her native Cork. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic restricted her to the kitchen where she once again set about experimenting with toffee and shortbread. Encouraged by the feedback from friends and noticing an opening in the Irish market for American-style sweet treats, Claire set up Second Street Bakeshop in September 2021.

Claire, who was a participant in ACORNS 7, said: “When I joined ACORNS, I found my tribe. The environment is supportive, and the collective energy is positively contagious.”

Kath White is the passionate owner of FineOaks Alpacas, nestled on a charming five-and-a-half-acre smallholding near Millstreet, Co Cork. Originally from London, Kath’s love lies in breeding top-quality alpacas and training them to provide wonderful experiences for people. Kath was a participant on ACORNS 8.

Kath says ACORNS 8 was a hugely pivotal point for her and her business, bringing her from “having an idea for a few years” to actually buying some alpacas and starting her business. “Before joining the ACORNS family, I had some, but not a lot of confidence in myself and my business idea. I didn’t know where to start.

“I did a start your own business course, which was great, but leaving that felt like I was on my own again, out at sea.

“Then, I was accepted onto the ACORNS programme and my whole world changed. Now I have an ACORNS family. People who understand my business, understand my ideas, understand my challenges, and are there throughout all the self-doubt, hardships, and the wins.

“I would highly recommend this programme to anybody. It is fantastic and well worth applying.”