Childcare issues and personal tax policy decisions influence women returning to the workforce

Figures from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor show that Irish women rank eighth in Europe for early-stage entrepreneurial activity. The rate for Irish men is the fourth highest in Europe. In Ireland, men are nearly twice as likely to be an entrepreneur (nascent entrepreneurs and new business owners) compared to women. There were an estimated 17,000 men and 9,800 women, new business owners, in Ireland in 2017. If women started businesses at the same rate as men, an additional 8,000 more women would have started a business in 2017. As part of a drive to increase the number of female entrepreneurs in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, GMIT Innovation Hubs have commenced a second cycle of their regional programme for women entrepreneurs called “EMPOWER”.

The programme is co-funded by the Irish Government and the European Social Fund as part of the ‘Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020′. It aims to fast track female-led businesses by addressing specific challenges hindering their development.

Feedback reveals that lack of self-belief can be a big deterrent for women staring a business. Whilst Ireland has the right conditions for women-owned businesses to thrive, there is also a problem with motivation and self-belief. Ensuring that business women realise their full business potential is a major priority for EMPOWER. While Ireland has made much better advances in relation to female entrepreneurs over the last number of years and women in the workplace, the rate of women starting their own businesses is still below that of what it could be.

Maria Staunton, Manager of GMIT’s Mayo iHub and the EMPOWER programme, says: “The programme has proven that there is lots of demand from females looking to start their own business. Last year we had 90 women applying for Cycle 1 and 80 women this year for Cycle 2. I really believe female-led businesses are an underexploited source for economic growth and jobs.”

“There are lots of different issues which can influence an individual’s decision to participate in part-time, full-time or self-employment but there are two major issues which are less about choice and more about deterrents. These include childcare issues and personal tax policy decisions which influence a female returning to the workforce.”

“Setting up businesses for women can often be about employing themselves and finding a good work-life balance. Looking for investment is often not the top priority. Women often benefit more from support networks and mentoring which the EMPOWER programme addresses. Through EMPOWER, GMIT aims to further decrease this gap by delivering a valuable programme that will benefit and support female entrepreneurs in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon”.

The EMPOWER programme helps identify market opportunities, build confidence and assess skills to implement ideas or scale businesses. The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) in Mayo, Galway and Roscommon have also been a great support to the Programme.

Some examples of people who have participated on EMPOWER include Lorraine Corcoran, Cosmetic Creations, Niamh Ryle, Homecheck, Mary Corrigan, Noo Chocolates, Elaine Kennedy, Hawthorn Handmade Skincare, Michelle Malone, thatssoshellyfitness, Catherine O’ Grady Power, Glenkeen Farm, Louise Gibbons, Inspire Learning, Anne Byrne, Garden Design, to name a few.

Rachel Dubber who participated in Cycle 1 of EMPOWER Start and has just launched her new line of M’asal Beag Dubh, 100% natural cotton aprons says: “The Empower Programme reawakened my confidence. It gave me a clearer vision in my business and great guidelines to follow in order to improve it, I loved the course and the amazing women on it. The Empower Programme is a great learning and support network. We encourage each other and form lasting friendships. It was an amazing journey learning what others see and think about you and your business, it removes the wool from your eyes if you are willing to listen and learn.”
The GMIT iHubs, established in 2005/6 in the Galway and Mayo campuses, provide entrepreneurs with office space, mentoring, business development supports, and streamlined access to GMIT’s Research and Development capacities – the supportive environment to progress business ideas from concept to commercial success. Over two hundred jobs have been created in the West Region since the iHub in Mayo opened its doors back in 2006. Over €20 million in investment money has been raised by client companies. The iHub is currently 100% occupied over the last number of years.

“Whilst we appreciate that many start-ups fail in the first five years, statistics have demonstrated that those that go through the process of incubation within innovation centres have a much greater chance of growing into sustainable businesses than start-ups so. 72% of iHub start-ups are still in existence after five years”, says Ms Staunton.

“Eighteen companies have moved out of the centre into the wider region which is the ethos of the centre in terms of Incubation and growth. In November 2018, Cloudstrong were acquired by a Dublin Company Arkphire who are a cloud solution provider. Cloudstrong founded in 2011 by Oliver Surdival have been based at iHub Mayo and currently employ 12 people.”

“Events that took place in 2018 included the Digital West event (in conjunction with the GMIT Mayo Campus) and an Artificial Intelligence (AI) event outlining how this transformative technology is going to impact on everything from business to society as a whole. Both events were delivered as part of the iHubs partnership with Digital Marketing in Mayo (DMiM). Both DMiM and the iHub plan to run a number of events in the area of digital and social media throughout the Mayo region in 2019. Tickets are now available for Digital West 2019 at This year’s event is due to take place on Tuesday 29 January 2019 and the theme will be focused on Design. Design thinking, product design, virtual reality, graphical design are just a few of the topic areas to be covered during the day.”

The annual Spirit of Entrepreneurship event also took place, run by EMPOWER, with this year’s focus on female entrepreneurs. The theme of the evening was ‘Discovering your True Passion and Purpose’ with Carol Coleman MC for the evening. Alison Cowzer from East Coast Bakehouse, Vicki O’Toole from JJ O’ Toole and Donna Kennedy, best-selling author and speaker, took to the stage to talk about their own experiences and how they built their businesses. Norah Patten, aeronautical engineer, Aine Mulloy, founder of Crewgirl, and Lorraine Corcoran, Co-Owner of Cosmetic Creations, also shared their start-up experiences on stage. The event was co-funded by the Irish Government and the European Social Fund and the Mayo Local Enterprise Office.

The GMIT iHubs offer office space, desk space, virtual space (for those who want a business address and use of boardroom) and also co-working space (those who want to commute to Dublin but live in the West).