Irish women bosses can lead the Brexit charge

September 21, 2017

Pictured at the launch of the Fuelling Ambition Roadshows being organised jointly by Network Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, which will be touring the country from May to July are Deirdre Waldron, President, Network Ireland; Julie Sinnamon, CEO Enterprise Ireland; Siobhan Byrne Learat, Adams & Butler, and Ciara Carolan, ADN Materials. Photography: Conor Healy Photography

Enterprise Ireland wants to break the glass ceiling for Irish exporters to the UK

With Brexit just eighteen months away, Ireland is investing heavily in female-led companies to break the glass ceiling here in the UK.

Enterprise Ireland clients export over €550m a month to the UK, while trade between the UK and Ireland directly supports 400,000 jobs, approximately half of which are in the UK. It wants to ensure that the dwindling value of sterling does not see UK companies turn its back on working with Irish businesses.

Enterprise Ireland has invested over €20m (£17.6 million) over the last five years to accelerate the UK growth of female-led start-up companies.

Three quarters of Enterprise Ireland’s women-led clients already target the UK export market.

It is clear that industry professionals here are soon going to be negotiating with a lot more women in their business ventures.

The FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) says only 20 per cent of single-person businesses are owned and run by women. This is despite findings by RBS that female entrepreneurship could deliver as much as a £60 billion extra to the UK economy.

If women started businesses at the same rate as men, it is said, then global GDP would be $28 trillion better off by 2028. Ireland recognises that investing in female-led start-ups – and helping female entrepreneurs launch into the UK through funding and specialist support – is vital to both the UK and Irish economies.

Enterprise Ireland has made over 240 investments in female led companies since 2012, across a wide range of sectors including Internet, Games, Apps, Mobile, SaaS, Cloud Computing, Enterprise Software, Life Sciences, Food, Clean Tech and Industrial Products. The majority of investments go to Software startups.

Irish women bosses can lead Brexit charge
Enterprise Ireland International Women’s Day event (in association with DCU and Bank of Ireland). From left to right: Sarita Johnston, Female Entrepreneurship Manager at Enterprise Ireland; Gina O’Reilly, COO Nitro; Niamh Bushnell, CEO Tech Ireland; Nora Casey, Harmonia Publications and former Dragon on Dragons Den Ireland

“When we analysed our figures in 2012, we noticed that only seven per cent of the start-up companies we invested in were female- led,” says Sarita Johnston, Female Entrepreneurship Manager at Enterprise Ireland.

“This was something we wanted to address, and after five years that figure has now been raised to 20 per cent.”

Enterprise Ireland is the third largest seed investor in Europe and every year seeks out viable start-up companies every year with a view to investing invest in €200,000 to €250,000 in them to get them going.

Last year Enterprise Ireland invested €32m in 229 start-up companies – the highest level on record in Europe. Its €8.7m Competitive Start Fund (CSF) and the ‘Female High Fliers Accelerator’ programme aims to accelerate the growth of woman-led start-ups that have the potential to employ more than 10 people and achieve €1 million in export sales within three years.

Irish women bosses can lead Brexit charge

On average, it equates to a pre-seed investment of €50,000 for 10 per cent equity. Since 2011 its High Potential female-led start-ups exporting to the UK have received approximately €14.4m in investmen, an equity investment on a matched funding basis. But there are many reasons why Irish women stay away from entrepreneur roles, lack of confidence high among them.

Says Ms Johnston: “What we were seeing was even in applications for funding female entrepreneurs would never go for the highest amount available to them. That rarely happened with men.

“There is an issue with confidence. It needs to be addressed in third level institutions, but also at primary school level and in the home, that there is a culture where women can be expected to run their own companies.

“I think we have moved on as a country where once a female has decided to go into business that there will not be challenges faced within the industry because of her gender. It is just getting these women to take the first steps that is our challenge.”

“The research commissioned in 2016 indicates that lack of role models, low self-confidence, lack of technical expertise, lower levels of risk-taking and limited access to appropriate networking opportunities continue to be the main challenges facing female entrepreneurs in 2017.

“Increased collaboration is key in tacking these issues. We will continue to help and support female entrepreneurs who currently export or plan to export to the UK, which is a first-point trade partner for us and the majority of small businesses we support.”

“We have 32 offices worldwide, but obviously the UK is traditionally our biggest market. So we have people involved there to help our Irish-based companies, it is all about support.”

Enterprise Ireland says it has more than 400 mentors available to clients and on-the-ground UK personnel and several leading investor- ready training programmes are currently available including Going for Growth, and ‘Female High Fliers Accelerator” programme, in association with the Dublin City University Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs.

Irish women bosses can lead Brexit charge
Pick up your copy of The Irish World this week for profiles of leading women in business, including Breege O’Donoghue of Primark

It runs an Innovate Programme with DBIC (Dublin Business Innovation Centre), providing intensive 12-week training, development, peer-to-peer and shared working space to help female- led CSF companies get investment ready faster. It also works with the Dublin Business Innovation Centre and the Cork Institute of Technology.

“One of the biggest benefits from these programmes are the networking opportunities. It is our experience that women use contacts better than men, they are more likely to give back.

“In my personal experience that is true, I know I can rely on female business owners I have met to help out with these projects and be mentors or role models.”

Ireland is not turning its back on male-led start-ups, she stresses.

“It is all about gender diversity. Men and women have different skill sets, and it has been shown that men can be more spontaneous in their decision making, while women make more calculated decisions.

“When these strings are fused and there is gender diverse management the benefits to a company are huge, boosting profitability by anywhere over 15 per cent.”

For more information, please visit

Pick up your copy of this week’s The Irish World for profiles on Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, and Breege O’Donoghue, formerly of Penneys and Primark. 

You may also be interested in:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


15 − five =