Supporting sustainable enterprise and entrepreneurial activity in rural areas is vital to support Ireland’s recovery post-Covid, as this will underpin sustainable community development.

ACORNS, which is a highly successful development initiative for female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland, actively contributes to this objective.

The call is now open for women with new businesses or well-developed ideas to join the new cycle of the free programme — ACORNS 6. The initiative will also continue to support participants from previous cycles through further development phases.

The call for applications follows the launch of the programme today by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dara Calleary, T.D.

Minister Calleary stated, “I am committed to supporting sustainable enterprise and entrepreneurial activity in rural areas, as this will underpin sustainable community development. I also wish to see the economic potential of women harnessed to the greatest extent possible. Against this background, I am delighted that my Department, through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund, will continue to support the ACORNS initiative. ACORNS provides valuable peer support to early stage female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland, who have recently started or are about to start a business. In the challenging circumstances that we find ourselves, this support is needed now more than ever. I encourage early stage female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland to apply without delay”.

A total of 50 new participants are being sought for ACORNS 6. The programme will run over six months from October 2020 to April 2021. The deadline for application for this year’s cycle is 21 September 2020.

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 download an application form at There is no charge for participation. (Eligibility criteria in notes below)

Fitzsimons Consulting, specialising in entrepreneurship and growth, developed the initiative. Paula Fitzsimons said “ACORNS is a real grassroots movement, illustrating the strength of peer support, with entrepreneurs supporting one another. Psychological isolation is reduced, confidence is increased, and new networks are formed. Over the next six months, we will have more than 200 female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland being actively supported through ACORNS. 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 starting and 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 ACORNS Lead Entrepreneurs are: Anne Reilly, Paycheck Plus, Louth; Caroline McEnery, The HR Suite, Kerry, Eimer Hannon, Eimer Hannon Travel, Meath; Larissa Feeney, Accountant Online, Mary B. Walsh, Ire Wel Pallets, Wexford; and Triona MacGiolla Rí, Aró Digital Strategies, Galway.

Past participants of ACORNS are also invited to take part in a further development phase, attend topic-based workshops and to join the ACORNS Community, so they can continue to build their support network of valuable connections. For those committed to growing their businesses, they are offered the opportunity to join growth oriented round tables – ACORNS Plus and ACORNS Plus Review.

The latter part of the previous cycle – ACORNS 5 — coincided with the nationwide restrictions to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. These had a severely negative impact on businesses across Ireland and the participants were not immune to their effects. ACORNS immediately moved online, and the final round table sessions and workshops were held remotely.

Supported by their Lead Entrepreneurs and their group, 75% of participants pivoted their business to take account of the changed circumstances and 27% reported a positive impact on their business.

Notwithstanding the challenges that they faced the ACORNS 5 participants were very positive in their feedback in terms of their experience of the initiative:

  • 88% reported that they made a decision for their business during the round table sessions.
  • 79% said that their participation brought about practical change within their business.
  • 92% felt nearer to achieving their ambitions.
  • 98% would recommend participating in ACORNS to others.
  • 100% would welcome a means of staying in contact with the ACORNS Community and continue to be supported.


ACORNS stands for Accelerating the Creation Of Rural Nascent Start-ups. ACORNS was a runner up in the 2018 European Enterprise Promotion Awards, Investing in Entrepreneurial Skills.

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 1st January 2018; 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 first round table session on 23th October 2020. This will take place either in person or remotely, depending on prevailing circumstances and government guidelines.
  • They must expect to become an employer within three years.

Testimonials from previous participants on ACORNS

Below is a sample of testimonials from previous participants on ACORNS.

ACORNS did exactly what it says – ‘accelerates’ you and your business. I am so thrilled I got a chance to take part.

  • Aisling Kelly, WB’s Café and Sligo Oyster experience, Sligo (ACORNS 2 and ACORNS Plus)

ACORNS has been a truly rewarding experience for me. 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 Entrepreneurs.

  • Anne Marie Feighery, Feighery’s Farm Beetroot Juice, Co Offaly (ACORNS 5)

The ACORNS programme was a great way of learning from others’ experiences, meeting like-minded people and supporting each other through setting up a successful business.

  • Maeve Sheridan, Western Herd Brewing, Co Clare (ACORNS Pilot and ACORNS Plus)

Further testimonials are available at

About Fitzsimons Consulting

Fitzsimons Consulting specialises in areas related to entrepreneurship and growth, with a particular focus on designing and delivering entrepreneurial development programmes based on peer support – entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs.  Its founder and Managing Director is Paula Fitzsimons, a recognised expert on entrepreneurship.   Paula has been the national coordinator for the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) for Ireland since 2000, and has developed and implements the award-winning Going for Growth ( as well as Back for Business (, an initiative to support early stage entrepreneurs among returned Irish emigrants.

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