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Hincks Hosts Rural Femmes Project Multiplier Event

Hincks Hosts Rural Femmes Project Multiplier Event

01 April, 2022

The Hincks Centre were delighted to host the Rural Femmes Project Multiplier Event which took place online, Thursday, March 31st, 2022 as part of MTU's Innovation and Enterprise Month.

Colleagues from Ireland presented and shared the Erasmus+ KA2 funded project pedagogical approaches, outputs, feedback and plans for the future during the event. Led by Dr Niall O’Leary, Research Fellow with the Hincks Centre, the event discussed the intellectual outputs from the project with a wider audience.


Dr. Helen McGuirk, Head of the Hincks Centre, opened the event. An overview of MTU in numbers was given which highlighted that there are currently over 18,000 students and 1,400 staff, over 6 campuses including the Maritime College, Cork School of Music, Crawford College of Art and Design, MTU Bishopstown campus, and MTU Kerry campuses in Dromtacker and Clash.Helen also highlighted the expertise and the activities of the Hincks Centre which is housed within the School of Business in MTU Cork. The centre’s main activities consist of research, education and training at regional, national and international levels and there are over 15 individual expert people on the team including lecturers, researchers, interns and an administrator, who have helped to contribute to over 75 events, 11 awards, over 4 million in funding and establishing relationships with 105 international partners and 31 national partners.


Dr Niall O’Leary introduced the session with an overview of the self-employment environment in Ireland in terms of gender, highlighting that women are half as likely to be self-employed than men and that this gap is one of the highest gaps that can be found in the OECD. Niall spoke about how we could investigate ways of elevating the barriers to rural entrepreneurship and how the Rural Femmes project goes some way in tackling this, especially for females in regional areas, and by conducting this course online. This method of delivery proved very successful in Ireland due to Irelands internet connectivity and taking into account the problem of travel and accessibility for people in remote locations and for Covid-19. The outputs of the initial report included a survey that gave way to the main goals which were to develop the women’s basic transversal skills and to address their specific technical needs. Niall delivered the Entrepreneurial content for the Rural Femmes training course where participants were asked to consider thinking of an entrepreneurial venture in order to make the training content applicable in context to their idea. Participants applied their ideas to the business model canvas and also applied research questions to their business idea to determine if their business idea was worth pursuing or not. Finance, further supports and the European Green Deal were also covered during this module.


Dr. Ana Cruz Garcia, Marketing & International Business, MTU, and Researcher with the Hincks Centre, delivered the Rural Tourism module. Ana focused on creating opportunities in rural tourism and especially on idea generation for different types of accommodation and activities. Ana also provided training on marketing especially when it came to rural tourism, highlighted the need for networking and community development and where participants could find various funding opportunities which is key to developing the business in rural locations. Ana felt that the webinar case studies from the Teagasc website worked well when giving examples of rural tourism marketing, and the question and answer session after the webinar was very insightful for the participants. Ana invited a guest speaker from Sustainable Tourism Ireland to highlight the things that can be achieved from a sustainable tourism point of view and dispel myths associated with having a sustainable business. Going forward, Ana would like to explore the gender perspective when it comes to rural businesses / farms as there were some interesting discussions about the limitations that rural women experience. Ana would also like to explore the idea of the inclusion of men if future courses were to go ahead for participants to learn from each other.


Rebecca Robinson, Researcher with the Hincks Centre, highlighted the importance of an online and digital presence in today’s world and the challenges that are posed by having only a physical presence, especially for individuals in regional areas. The importance of developing these digital skills is vital for communicating their business activities and their unique selling points, and can gather sales from a wider audience by embracing a virtual presence. Rebecca gauged the direction in which the participants wanted to go and was happy to go “off-topic” at times to discuss things like how to set your price for your product, how to place margin and mark-up on your product and also what is involved in setting up as a sole-trader, partnership or limited company in Ireland. Rebecca also delivered the content on data protection and online safety. This was the module that participants were least interested in before the programme started and this also reflected in engagement levels during the course. Rebecca highlighted the importance of this module but perhaps changes would be made to shorten this module and that elements of the social media skills module could be optional, based on the level of experience of some of the participants being more expert than others.


Following on, Niall spoke about some of the results of the survey conducted on the programme. In the Rural Tourism section participants felt the information was “very useful”, “really interesting”, “broad” and it was one participant’s “favourite module”. One participant said “having completed this course, while I may not know exactly how to develop a Rural Tourism idea, I know for certain that there is a wealth of information and support available if you just seek it”. The feedback from the Entrepreneurship module was that it provided “a clear and logical approach” which was “enjoyable” where they could “apply knowledge” to their own idea. The module provided “focus” and “action” and was the “most interesting section” for one of the participants. The “relevant information” really built one participant’s “confidence” in the area of entrepreneurship. The participants gave feedback on the digital skills section whereby the sessions were, “enjoyable”, “interesting and informative” with “a lot of different themes” discussed. The sessions “removed some nerves” a participant had around using Social Media platforms and even though a participant who is online a lot, said “none of the information was new but I know it is definitely useful and how to protect yourself online”. One participant felt that “design skills” could be incorporated into a session and that was valuable feedback to potentially incorporate going forward. A reoccurring theme that strongly emerged from the post-programme feedback was how much the participants loved the discussions, the sense of security and the trusted network that they had developed among themselves where they learned, not only from the trainers, but from each other.

Participants spoke about their experience of the course. Vanessa Kiely O’Connor spoke about how she didn’t know what she was signing up for but was interested to hear from other rural women. Vanessa was curious to see if there was something else she could do in her current business, what were the potential opportunities with what she had, and how she could involve the family. Vanessa spoke about how the course has given her the confidence to reach out to others, where to find information, and look at ways of pivoting. Sonia Kingston spoke about the potential benefits of doing the course before working on an idea in order to get information on grants, business plans, etc. Sonia also felt the course made her focus on her busines plan where she could see more opportunities to develop. The importance of connecting with other like-minded women was raised again, where Sonia highlighted that her participation in the course made her more aware of the network of women working in rural Ireland. Fiona MacLachlan also highlighted the importance of the network and how the dynamic group helped her think differently due to the other participants’ different experiences and backgrounds. During breakout sessions, the group would help problem solve, brainstorm and share information or contacts that helped Fiona on her journey which she found very valuable. The foundation of the course knowledge with the “wealth of added knowledge from the other participants” made for the perfect storm.


Then we heard from Anne Marie Feighery, the founder of Feighery Farm Beetroot Juice, who spoke about her business and the Acorns training programme. Anne Marie outlined that she founded her business, Feighery’s Homegrown Beetroot Juice, in 2019. Coming from a career in the bloodstock industry, Anne Marie made the big leap into the unknown but she always had an interest in health, nutrition and agriculture. The business came about by “default”, when Anne Marie was looking for an Irish beetroot juice for her father and found it very difficult to find. The question came about as to why this was and, after some discussion at home, Anne Marie reached out to Teagasc with the concept and it developed from there. Funding from Enterprise Ireland helped fund research, and help from Teagasc facilitated the formulation of the recipe. In her first year in business, the juice won various food and taste awards. This lead to the juice getting listings in 6 SuperValu supermarkets and it gave the business huge leverage in finding stockists. The second year saw sales increase and Covid allowed Anne Marie the time to work part-time on the juice while remaining in full-time employment. In late 2021, Anne Marie started to work full time on the juice and is happy that she made this decision. Anne Marie made special mention to the Local Enterprise Offices, Teagasc, Enterprise Ireland, Food Academy and the Acorns programme for helping bring her business to where it is today as she also plans to expand the range.


Mary Walsh, Managing Director of Ire Wel Pallets based in Wexford, spoke next. The pallet producing company was founded in 1990 by Mary and her husband Shay. The company was born out of the lack of pallets, boxes and crates available in Ireland in which to export Irish goods at that time. Exporters couldn’t get the items made to specification or in time and this is where Mary and Shay found the opportunity to fill this need. Mary and Shay had the perfect formula to bring this idea to the next level. Coming from the banking sector, Mary had a strong financial background and Shay, with his experience working in the family business, was expert in hardware and sawmilling, and had established relationships in the industry. The company grew exponentially during the 1990’s and Mary attributes this success to listening to the customers, delivering the spec and delivering on time. As the company wanted to expand by offering its services to the food, drink, medical devices and pharma sector, it was then time to look for more land to build their own manufacturing facility to keep meeting the expectations that their customers had become accustomed to. They built the first new pallet manufacturing facility in the county and production started in 2003. The company now employs 50 people having started out with just 3. Investment in the area of technology, robotics, machinery and upskilling is constant. The company has become more self-sufficient over the years by producing their own heat-treated and kiln dried wood for their product lines rather than buying them in. In 2014, Mary was asked to take part in a management development programme called Going for Growth. The programme, run by Fitzsimons Consulting, was a “game-changer” for the business as, since then, Ire Wel Pallets has doubled its workforce and has made Mary work more “on the business than in the business”. Arising out of this, Mary now enjoys mentoring participants on the Going for Growth programme and has done so for the last 7 years.


Helen McGuirk closed the event and shared a few take-away nuggets. The Hincks Centre has learned that the gender perspective is important to address going forward in any training, keeping the group small and to offer a taster session so participants can gauge what they are signing up to. From the participant point of view, the strength of peer learning was valuable as was the network they created by taking part. What also came through powerfully was that it is vitally important to listen and talk to the customer, know what they want and know where they hang out. Helen finished on a note of encouragement, “Keep improving, keep learning and go for it, take a chance!”

Further information about the Rural Femmes project, the recording of the event and an Expression of Interest for future trainings are available in the Projects section of our website or by clicking here.

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