Meath female entrepreneurs encourage others to apply for free business development programme

Meath female entrepreneurs are encouraging others from the county to join the latest cycle of ACORNS - a highly-successful free development initiative to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland.

The call for applications for the 9th cycle of ACORNS was recently launched by Charlie McConalogue T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine. ACORNS is funded through the Department’s Rural Innovation and Development Fund.

The programme comes highly recommended by previous participants, with 100% of those surveyed at the end of the 8th cycle saying they would recommend the programme to others. The 46 entrepreneurs in ACORNS 8 made significant progress over the six months of their involvement, reporting significant growth in their new businesses. Their combined turnover almost 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.

There are 50 places available for ACORNS 9 which will run from October 2023 to April 2024. Those wishing to receive an application form for ACORNS 9 should register on the website (

The deadline for applications is midnight, September 22.

Past participants from Meath include Eimear Reynolds of Bakealicious ( ) and Jan Carroll of Fortify Institute (

Eimear Reynolds opened Bakealicious, a café and bakery in the heart of Navan, in December 2016. Her signature bakes, from salted caramel brownies to lemon bars, have been a hit and since opening, Bakealicious has grown into a retail business, both brick and mortar and online, with cake delivery nationwide. Bakealicious also provides occasion cakes for birthdays and weddings. Eimear was a participant on ACORNS 5 and has also completed ACORNS Plus, a further development cycle.

Eimear says: “ACORNS is that support group you dream about being a part of come true. Like minded, business focused women who are there to support you and give you the advice that you need. I would recommend it to any female entrepreneur who feels slightly lost and looking for clarity…this is the place you’ll find your voice and get a clear vision of what you set out to achieve with your business.”

A desire for greater professional flexibility prompted cybersecurity expert, Jan Carroll, to set up Fortify Institute, a cybersecurity training company offering on-demand and live courses for individuals and companies across Ireland, in February 2022. Jan was a participant on ACORNS 8 and says: “I cannot express enough how grateful I am to have found ACORNS, to support me as a women growing a business in rural Ireland. My Lead Entrepreneur and the entire group were absolutely amazing, providing me with the guidance, encouragement, and friendship that I needed to help my business grow and thrive. Thanks to ACORNS, my business is now on the right track, and I feel more confident and capable than ever before. It’s truly amazing to be surrounded by such positive and supportive women who understand the unique challenges and opportunities of women in business. I would highly recommend ACORNS to any women who are looking for a supportive and empowering community to help them grow their businesses.”

ACORNS is based on the belief that early-stage entrepreneurs learn best from their peers. 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. 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’.

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.

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

While 46 participants completed ACORNS 8, the initiative also provided continued support to more than 200 past participants through the ACORNS Community, which provided past participants with the opportunity to take part in workshops, roundtables, and other networking events.

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; and Triona MacGiolla Rí, Aró Digital Strategies.

Speaking at the launch, Minister McConalogue said:

“While there are many rewards to being an entrepreneur, it can be a lonely journey with many challenges. To provide support in dealing with these challenges, I am pleased to be able to provide further funding to female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland through the 9th ACORNS Programme. This programme will not only help develop businesses, but will provide networking opportunities to participants that may not be as available in rural parts of the country.

“To date through the ACORNS programme, I have been able to support over 400 female entrepreneurs to realise their business ambitions, while contributing to society in a meaningful way. The impact of this support has been overwhelmingly positive, with participants reporting both increased sales and the creation of additional jobs.

“Considering the wide-ranging benefits accrued, I am delighted that we are in a position to continue to support a further 50 participants for this year’s initiative which is funded under the Rural Innovation and Development Fund".