5 women leading the charge at Connected Hubs across Ireland

12 October 2022 Leah Fairman By Leah Fairman

Designed to promote, encourage and stimulate female entrepreneurship across Ireland, Thursday October 13th is National Women’s Enterprise Day 2022. 

A welcome opportunity to highlight the importance of female participation in business and enterprise, this full-day programme of events also addresses the challenges, rewards and realities faced by female entrepreneurs and encourages any would-be innovators to make that first leap.

With so many of our Connected Hubs led by smart, resourceful women with years of entrepreneurial experience to their names, we’ve asked a few of them for their unique insights and for some words of wisdom to other women thinking of starting a business of their own.

Seek out supports

Manager of the digital and tech-focused Cavan Digital Hub, Leanne Connell is hugely passionate about stimulating the tech sector in her native county. With a deep understanding of the obstacles women can often face, Leanne highly recommends connecting with peers for that much-needed support. 

“Self-belief and can-do are the main hurdles, so seek out the supports. Contact your Local Enterprise Office (LEO), do a ‘start your own business’ course, look into Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers Programme or join a network.  

What I’ve learned from Cavan Digital Hub is that leaning on a peer network is invaluable. Identify a mentor who has been there, done that and work with them – use them as a guide.”

While there are a host of superb female entrepreneurs in the Cavan region, Leanne acknowledges the lack of female engagement in the tech sector. This is something Cavan Digital Hub is hoping to tackle by developing an initiative aimed at women in tech in 2023.

Leanne also cites fellow entrepreneurs Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward, founders of the hugely successful social enterprise FoodCloud, as role models she admires. “From concept through to the supports they have tapped into, their journey is fascinating. They credit the support and mentorship from female networks with their success.”

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The power of your network

Home to 50% female-owned or led organisations – a statistic they intend to maintain at a minimum – the Connected Hub at SPADE Enterprise Centre, Dublin 7, is led by CEO Bernie Everard. 

A not for profit organisation with charity status, SPADE supports pre start-ups and early stage companies with their inclusive and collaborative incubation environment. 

“We have a focus on food entrepreneurs at SPADE” says Bernie, “we’re very lucky to have a very impressive group of female entrepreneurs within this client base, including Aisling Cullen – Thanks Plants; Ciara Troy – Oishii Sushi; Charlotte Leonard – Scéal Bakery; Grace Reddin – Gorditas Bakes; and Shirley O’Rourke – Delicious Food Company.”

For women thinking of becoming entrepreneurs, Bernie primarily recommends surrounding yourself with like-minded people. “Never underestimate the power of your network, especially the informal networks. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. When the curveballs and road blocks appear, the support of your network will be invaluable and will get you through the challenging times.”

And the quality Bernie believes the best female enterprise role models share? Empathy, something she values as the most important leadership skill. “When you can connect and have empathy with your customer, staff and stakeholders, the rest will follow.”

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Agility and innovation

Business Development Manager at Offaly’s big data and research-centred Connected Hub streamBIRR, Caitriona Montgomery believes that a core necessity of being an entrepreneur is to be an innovator too. A pioneer of new learning and business technologies, Caitriona has worked with an array of inspirational women throughout her tech career and credits one such woman with some of the best business advice she’s ever gotten. 

“The late Maggie Bowen of SitesToGo InternetLab was an innovator, a driver of change, and a beacon of female light at a time when tech was evolving rapidly and very much a male-dominated profession. Throughout my time working alongside Maggie, I learned many valuable things and considered myself privileged to have been able to share her insights and put them into practice. 

One such nugget was this: ‘take one part of your business and improve it a little bit, then go around on all of your business and do the same. When all aspects have been improved – start again!’ 

This approach means you are continually adding value to your business, building in agility from the inside out. It embraces innovation and means there is never a day where your business can stand still. Clients will respect it, your business will flourish from it, and you will continually relish the challenge.”
A thriving hub that facilitates remote workers, researchers, start-ups and growing businesses, one of streamBIRR’s female clients, Tanika Salvidge and her fitness business Body by G, has found the dedicated work space a massive asset to her enterprise.
“Working from the hub in Birr is a great space for me to focus. To any female entrepreneurs just starting out, if the thoughts of leaving your safe 9-5 are daunting, let it go! The new focus you can put into your business will help you grow and succeed, there will be tough moments but just hold tight, it's always dark right before your big breakthrough.”

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It pays to persevere

With 12 years’ worth of entrepreneurial experience under her belt, Helen Nolan, co-founder and CEO of Donegal’s Spraoi agus Spórt Connected Hub knows a thing or two about making a dream a reality. 

Helen and the team recognised the need for remote working facilities in Donegal a number of years ago and within the Spraoi agus Spórt enterprise created an invaluable co-working hub. This bustling Carndonagh hub boasts state-of-the-art co-working amenities and a Digital Creative Lab for remote workers.

Helen’s words of wisdom to would-be entrepreneurs is to “always listen to your service users and make every effort to respond to their needs. They will thank you for it. And if you truly believe in something, never give up. My personal experience has been that it pays to persevere.” 
Someone Helen rates as an enterprise exemplar is Karen Leigh, CEO and founder of Sensational Kids, a multi award-winning social enterprise. 

“Karen has built an innovative and impactful social enterprise from the ground up which has changed the lives of thousands of children.” says Helen. “She has successfully scaled her business to four locations and has raised almost €10 million towards building a National Child Development Centre. I hope to emulate her success in raising money to develop our flagship Child and Family Hub.”

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Courage and a clear vision 

Manager of GTeic@AnDromaid, a remote working hub within a social enterprise in the South-West Kerry Gaeltacht, Eimear Ní Mhurchú believes that courage and self-belief are essential factors in entrepreneurship – particularly for women.

“Women in business must be resilient” says Eimear, “you must be very clear in your vision yet be open to adapting new angles to that vision. People will always have lots of advice for you, listen to it and be open but remain clear as to what your own goals are. Your practices must always be respectful and of integrity, I think that this in particular, is very important.”

Part of a wider community-based enterprise called Forbairt na Dromoda Teo, clients of GTeic@AnDromaid benefit from its many interconnected facilities like a community hall, a hostel, a child care facility with crèche, preschool and after-school services, to name but a few. These invaluable services benefit female clients in particular, especially mothers, as Eimear explains:

“One of the main initiatives that we have in our hub is primarily geared towards supporting mothers in the workplace. We have an amazing child care facility on-site and the knowledge that one can go to work and have their children in a safe, fun and loving space on the same campus is a huge advantage. 

We all know that the workplace can often pose challenges for working mothers, but we feel here at GTeic@AnDromaid that this is a great means of providing practical assistance. One can be at work in the hub and in a matter of 20 minutes have collected their child and be on one of five Blue Flag beaches in the area, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Ready to start your remote working journey? Try it out by booking up to three free co-working days in participating hubs with the National Connected Hubs Voucher Scheme.

Register for the National Connected Hubs Voucher Scheme here.