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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Call for rural female entrepreneurs to apply for 9th year of ACORNS

Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, has today (Monday, August 14th, 2023), launched the opening of the call for applications for ACORNS 9 with a deadline of midnight on September 22nd, 2023.

ACORNS is a free development programme for early-stage female entrepreneurs based in rural Ireland and funded through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM).

It is based on the belief that early-stage entrepreneurs learn best from their peers and offers 50 places under ACRONS 9.

How it works 

Participants interact with each other in the monthly round table sessions, which are facilitated by a lead entrepreneur, who has first-hand experience of starting and successfully growing a business in rural Ireland.

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.

As ACORNS receives many more applications than there are places available, selection is on a competitive basis.

ACORNS 9 will run from October 2022 to April 2023 and will include six monthly round table sessions, a workshop on understanding financials, a briefing by various development agencies and an end-of-cycle celebration.

There will be no charge for those selected to participate in ACORNS 9, due to the continuing support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the voluntary contribution of time by the Lead Entrepreneurs.

Each of the lead entrepreneurs give their time to the programme on a voluntary basis, as they believe in the philosophy of ‘entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs’.

This year’s voluntary lead entrepreneurs are:

  • Anne Reilly, formerly Paycheck Plus;
  • Caroline Reidy, The HR Suite;
  • Deirdre McGlone, Hospitality & Tourism Advisor;
  • Eimer Hannon, Hannon Travel;
  • Larissa Feeney, Accountant Online;
  • Mary B Walsh, Ire Wel Pallets;
  • Triona MacGiolla Rí, Aró Digital Strategies.

In addition, Monica Flood, and Geraldine Kelly, Going for Growth Lead Entrepreneurs, have agreed to facilitate ACORNS Plus round tables for previous participants, who are committed to continuing driving forward the development of their businesses.

Who can apply?

To be considered for ACORNS, applicants must:

  • Have set up a new business which has generated sales no earlier than the end of June 2020 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 launch Forum and first round table session on October 23rd and 24th, 2023;
  • They must expect to become an employer within three years.


ACORNS, stands for Accelerating the Creation Of Rural Nascent Start-ups, and was developed by Fitzsimons Consulting.

In a survey carried out at the end of the eighth cycle of the programme in April, 100% of participants said they would recommend the programme to others. The 46 entrepreneurs in ACORNS 8 also reported significant growth in their new businesses. Their combined turnover, which doubled in the six months to April 2023 – from €1.9m to €3.6m.

Participants in ACORNS 8 employed 96 (55 full-time, 41 part-time) staff at the end of the cycle, an increase of 16. There were also five new exporters over the cycle.

A total of 96% of the participants said that they felt closer to achieving their ambitions after having completed ACORNS.  While 89% said that their participation brought about a practical change within their business.

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