Kilkenny business women urged to take advantage of development programme

Sian Moloughney


Sian Moloughney


Kilkenny K Kajoux Jewels

Kay Lyng of K Kajoux Jewels in Kilkenny

There has been an increase in early-stage female entrepreneurs in Ireland over the past year and the call is now open for those with new businesses – or well-developed ideas – to join ACORNS 5.

And female entrepreneurs from  Kilkenny who have previously participated on the programme are urging their fellow business owners to apply before the September 20 deadline. There is no charge for successful applicants.

ACORNS is the highly-successful development initiative to support female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland, who wish to start and develop new businesses or have recently started a business. 

Previous business owners from Kilkenny who have participated on a cycle of the programme include Claire Molloy of Sweet Living and Kay Lyng of K Kajoux Jewels.

“The ACORNS network is a key necessity for any female entrepreneur that wants to achieve growth in a strategic way. The network gives access to a wealth of expertise in a multitude of disciplines.” Said Kay Lyng of K Kajoux Jewels.

The call for applications follows the launch of the programme by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed TD. ACORNS is funded under the Department’s Rural Innovation and Development Fund.

Over 200 female entrepreneurs have taken part in ACORNS to date and 50 new participants are being sought for ACORNS 5. The programme will run over six months from October 2019 to April 2020. The deadline for application for this year’s cycle is 20th September 2019.

Above: Aishling Cronin DAFM and Claire Molloy Sweet Living

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 get more information and register their interest at  There is no charge for participation. (Eligibility criteria in notes below)

Michael Creed TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, launching the call for applicants, said: “The ACORNS programme is a tremendous opportunity for early stage female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland to help them realise their ambitions. I would urge those who have recently started or are about to start a new business to apply to participate in this exciting initiative, as it is an opportunity not to be missed. Each year, the participants give an overwhelming endorsement of the role ACORNS has played in supporting them to start and develop their businesses.  I am delighted to continue to provide support to this initiative through my Department’s Rural Innovation and Development Fund.”


Paula Fitzsimons, founder and Managing Director of Fitzsimons Consulting, the company that developed the ACORNS initiative said that the rate of early-stage entrepreneurial activity increased among women in Ireland in 2018, while remaining stable for men. The rate of nascent female entrepreneurs in Ireland is now ranked 5th across Europe.

“In most countries more men than women are early-stage entrepreneurs. This is also true in Ireland. However, the ratio in Ireland continues to narrow and now stands at 1.6:1 (men to women early stage entrepreneurs) as more women plan and start new businesses. The ACORNS programme is critical to assist this growing body of female entrepreneurs to get their businesses off the ground and on the road to success. I am delighted that the opportunity is being offered once again thanks to the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the contribution of the voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs.”

ACORNS is based on peer support and collaborative learning. Each participant will have the opportunity to learn from successful female entrepreneurs - “Lead Entrepreneurs”.

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 progressing their businesses.  They also act as role models, illustrating by their actions that it is possible to start and grow a successful business in rural Ireland.

This year, the Lead Entrepreneurs are: Alison Ritchie, Polar Ice, Laois; Anne Cusack, Critical Healthcare, Westmeath; Anne Reilly, Paycheck Plus, Louth; Caroline McEnery, The HR Suite, Kerry, Deirdre McGlone, formerly Harvey’s Point Hotel, Donegal; Eimer Hannon, Eimer Hannon Travel, Meath; Mary B. Walsh, Ire Wel Pallets, Wexford; Triona MacGiolla Rí, Aró Digital Strategies, Galway.


In addition, Monica Flood, formerly Olas IT – a Going for Growth Lead Entrepreneur – will facilitate an ACORNS Plus round table for previous participants, who are committed to growing their businesses. 


Many past participants of ACORNS report increased exports and job creation. Progress made by the 46 participants that completed ACORNS 4 (the last cycle), which ran from October 2018 to April 2019, demonstrates these encouraging outcomes:

Combined turnover for participants is €2.3m – an increase of 43% over the six-month programme cycle;
Thirteen participants became exporters for the first time;
19 additional part-time employees were hired during the cycle, with 26 companies planning to hire additional staff this year;
86% said ACORNS brought about practical change within their business; 95% felt nearer to achieving their ambitions and 100% would recommend participating in ACORNS to others.

Past participants of ACORNS are also invited to participate in a further development phase and to join the ACORNS Community, so they can continue to build their support network of valuable connections.