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. The ACORNS initiative developed by Fitzsimons Consulting was selected as most suitable to achieve the stated objectives
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 centred 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.
Working with a group of up to eight participants each, the Lead Entrepreneurs facilitate round table meetings, addressing enterprise challenges and supporting participants to consider how best to start, develop and position their businesses for sustainability and growth. 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 under the CEDRA Rural Innovation and Development Fund (CEDRA – Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas) through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.