The report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) contained a recommendation that a Rural Innovation and Development Fund should be developed to support “innovative, small scale pilot initiatives that explore the diverse range of potential identified through the CEDRA process”. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine provided for the setting up of this Fund in his 2015 budget allocation.

In June 2015, a request for tenders was made, through a public procurement competition. The ACORNS initiative developed by Fitzsimons Consulting was selected as most suitable to achieve the stated objectives. It is designed to unleash the potential of female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland, who have recently started a business or who have taken concrete steps towards starting a business. The objective is to equip these early stage entrepreneurs with the appropriate knowledge, confidence and networks to successfully start and develop sustainable businesses.

The name ACORNS was put forward by Fitzsimons Consulting after careful consideration, not only for its rural connotations and symbolic significance but because, as an acronym, ACORNS sums up what the initiative is designed to achieve – Accelerating the Creation of Rural Nascent Start-ups.

Based on a belief that entrepreneurs learn best from each other, the ACORNS initiative was designed to be centered on interactive round table sessions that would be facilitated by female entrepreneurs who have started and successfully grown businesses in rural Ireland. These would be known as ACORNS Lead Entrepreneurs.

Over 300 early stage entrepreneurs have participated in the programme, which is now in its seventh year. Many report increased sales, exports and job creation.  Since the pilot, the programme has also developed to offer on-going support to those that successfully complete the initiative, in the form of group meetings, topic based workshops and annual events.

For more information, please visit the website here.

Awards and Recognition

Several of the ACORNS Leads achieved further accolades:
• Alison Ritchie was named WMB Entrepreneur of the Year and was also named Accountant of the Year – Practise/Industry by ACCA,
• Deirdre McGlone’s Harvey’s Point was named Georgina Campbell’s Hotel of the Year
• and Caroline McEnery published a book on HR.
Many of the participants have gained recognition as well. For example:
• Lisa Marie Clinton, Avail Support, Mila Kahoka, Baked with Love, Siobhan Quinn Ballyboy Design, Geraldine Byrne, Mediskin, Nikki Hoyne, My Shining Armour and Maeve Sheridan, Western Herd Brewing all featured in the Sunday Business Post 100 Hot Start-ups published in April 2017
• Collette McGowan, Stripe Marketing won the Enterprise Ireland Fueling Ambition pitching competition in Sligo in May
• Antoinette Butler and Geraldine Byrne have been named as finalists in the 2017 National Enterprise Awards and will be representing their counties Kerry and Tipperary respectively
• Joanna Browne, Jo Browne, won gold in the BOI Start Ups of the Year, while Clare Colohon, The Galway Food Company, won silver.
• Moher Cottage, which Caitriona Considine opened in March 2017, has just been named as having the best coffee in Ireland by Today FM.

This innovative programme is funded through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.