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Two Wicklow women benefit from entrepreneur programme that helped females double income

Ann Teehan and Kate Beckett were part of a programme for female entrepreneurs that doubled income for participants to €3.1m in six months. Reporter Simon Bourke finds out how as applications open for 2022

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Ann Teehan.

Ann Teehan.

Kate Beckett.

Kate Beckett.

The call for applications from early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural areas to join the ACORNS programme was opened today (August 8th) by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D. This is the 8th year of the successful initiative, which is funded through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Closing date for applications is Friday, September 23rd and there is no charge for participants. Pictured are (l-r): Larissa Feeney, founder and CEO of Accountant Online and one of this year’s voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs; Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D.; and former ACORNS participants Feena McBride of The Arty Fox and Niamh Dooley of BioSol. Photo: James Connolly 25JUL22

The call for applications from early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural areas to join the ACORNS programme was opened today (August 8th) by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D. This is the 8th year of the successful initiative, which is funded through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Closing date for applications is Friday, September 23rd and there is no charge for participants. Pictured are (l-r): Larissa Feeney, founder and CEO of Accountant Online and one of this year’s voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs; Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D.; and former ACORNS participants Feena McBride of The Arty Fox and Niamh Dooley of BioSol. Photo: James Connolly 25JUL22

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Ann Teehan.

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Enrolling in a programme designed specifically for early-stage female entrepreneurs has enabled two Wicklow women to boost their turnover and learn to balance business and family. Kate Beckett and Ann Teehan were both chosen to participate in the ACORNS programme last year and became part of a successful group whose income doubled to €3.1m in just six months.

The scheme is open to women based in rural Ireland who are at an advanced stage of starting a new business or who want to develop a recently-established existing venture. The intention of the programme is to provide them with the knowledge, support and networking opportunities to meet and exceed their current aspirations.

Participants learn from each other’s experiences through monthly roundtable discussions facilitated by lead entrepreneurs who are all female business people with first-hand experience of owning and managing a successful business in rural Ireland.

Kate, from Newcastle, is a speech and language professional and the founder of Optima Speech Therapy. She is bringing a full range of custom-made resources to the speech therapy market including the first child speech sound avatar DARA (Digitised Automated Realistic Articulator) on her YouTube channel.

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Launched in June 2021, Optima Speech Therapy’s success is underpinned by Kate’s YouTube channel, on which she posts instructional videos for parents and children on how to work on language activities and how to produce specific speech sounds. Alongside Kate, the star of these videos, DARA, teaches children how to use their tongue and lips to make a targeted sound.

Kate said she found great support from her ACORNS group and found it particularly helpful to have a group of strong women to bounce ideas off while learning to balance both business and family.

Ann, who is from Greystones, first became inspired to set up a business offering eco-friendly baby products back in 2012 when one of her children had severe eczema – she was also conscious of the high volume of nappies being disposed of in bins. Ann, who was originally a nurse and who still works part-time in nursing, subsequently took a break after her fourth child was born, but she relaunched AnniePooh, her zero-waste shop, in November 2019.

AnniePooh traded throughout the pandemic, even adding a shop in Greystones to her online presence. However, the cost of living crisis that immediately followed the pandemic had a dramatic effect on footfall, so Ann decided to close the shop, move the business back to her home and focus on online only. No longer having the overheads associated with the shop is allowing Ann to increase sales by investing in making her website more visible.

As well as a wide range of eco nappies, AnniePooh also offers reusable sanitary pads and period pants, which have consistently proven to be best sellers.

Ann found that being an ACORNS participant helped her to focus and to make plans and stick to them. She said it was very beneficial to make connections with other women in business as being an entrepreneur can be a lonely experience, and the group of participants continue to support each other.

The combined turnover for the 48 companies who completed ACORNS 7 increased over the cycle from €1.5m in October 2021 to €3.1m by April 2022. The firms involved also increased their combined workforce over the cycle from 94 to 116 (19%), an increase of 22 new jobs in rural Ireland.

Applications for the latest cycle ACORNS are now being accepted and the deadline is midnight on Friday, September 23.. From the applications, up to 50 new early stage female entrepreneurs living in rural areas will be selected for the six-month programme which will run from October 2022 to April 2023. ACORNS receives well over 240 completed applications each year for the fifty places available, so those who apply will be selected on a competitive basis.

Charlie McConalogue T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, said, “I am delighted, along with my Department, to support ACORNS which is a successful and progressive initiative. Now in its eighth year, and going from strength to strength, ACORNS continues to support early stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland. This innovative programme is funded through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund.

“Over 350 female entrepreneurs have taken part in ACORNS to date and a significant proportion of these are still actively involved. The progress made by participants in previous years has been remarkable, with many reporting increased sales, exports and job creation. This is an incredible opportunity and a wonderful support for rural-based female entrepreneurs, particularly in the current environment. I encourage those who have recently started or are about to start a new business to apply to participate in this very exciting initiative.”

Larissa Feeney, founder and CEO of Accountant Online and one of this year’s ACORNS Lead Entrepreneurs, says: “Starting a new business may seem like a lonely road. It is so important to realise that you are not alone in the challenges that you are facing as an early stage entrepreneur and that your problems are not unique. The ACORNS round tables really help here in building confidence, motivation and sharing insights. While the businesses are all different, the issues that they encounter are often similar.”


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