In Ireland’s County Donegal, only 12 percent of the businesses supported by the county Local Enterprise Office (LEO) are led by women.
That, says Brenda Hegarty, assistant head of enterprise for LEO, is common not just throughout Donegal and Ireland, but worldwide. Her organization, together with NDRC, formerly the National Digital Research Centre, is trying to increase that percentage—not just within Donegal, but throughout the worldwide Donegal diaspora.
They’re doing so through a program called “Ambition,” a new pre-accelerator program focusing on early-stage female entrepreneurs, with a suitably ambitious goal.
According to the program’s website, Ambition “focuses on early-stage female entrepreneurs and promotes the skills and resilience needed to develop globally scalable ventures, attract investment and create jobs.”
What does that mean in non-business speak?
“This program is designed to stimulate more women who consider entrepreneurship as a career option,” says Hegarty. “This might be a stimulus to encourage them and get their ideas out and examine that through a six-week pre-accelerator program. Experts will guide them on applying entrepreneurial techniques to their ideas and decide whether it’s a go or a stop. Either way, they will get entrepreneurial skills and gain self-confidence. And if they aren’t able to open up this time, it might encourage them at a future time to go down that road.”
So we’re not talking about a corner bakery here. We’re talking about raising the sights of women who want to create businesses with the potential for global reach, a highly profitable bottom line and the prospect of creating significant employment.
Here’s one example of the kind of business Hegarty is talking about: Larissa Feeney, CEO of County Donegal-based accountantonline.ie.
“During the last recession, Larissa was an accountant and she lost her job,” Hegarty explains. “She didn’t want to be commuting to Dublin three hours. She had a young family. So she had an idea around starting her own business, being able to do a lot more on an online platform. So she digitalized that process. Now people are on board through her platform and she employs 30 people now. The impetus for her was losing her job and then going on to become a successful enterprise.”
Of those applications that are received, 10 or 12 will be chosen to participate in the six-week program. At the end, the female entrepreneur with the best idea will receive €10,000—a pretty tidy little boost. So far, there are about 20 applications.
The fact that the entire program is conducted online makes it much easier to reach out to prospective candidates beyond Ireland’s borders, to women who may live here in Philly but who have a Donegal relationship.
“Our enterprise office is part of Donegal County Council, and we manage the Donegal diaspora project. We have an affinity and an association with the Donegal diaspora,” Hegarty says. “In these COVID times, one of the opportunities we have is being able to move all our training and learning online. That gives us the opportunity to offer the program worldwide. We don’t mind as long as there is a Donegal link that has the opportunity to create economic wealth. And maybe sometime if a business sets up, for example, in Philadelphia, they will have an affinity with Donegal, because hopefully we will have encouraged them to go down this way.”
The program launched September 25. The deadline for applications is October 11. If you’re a Philly-area female entrepreneur with big dreams and a Donegal connection, you can apply. For details, visit: https://www.localenterprise.ie/Donegal.