GMIT’s Mayo Business Innovation Hub (iHub), through the EMPOWER Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme, will host its annual Spirit of Entrepreneurship event online this year. The webinar will feature established businesswomen who will share their successful start-up experiences on on Tuesday 8 September 2020 from 10am to 1pm.

Speakers include Galway native Lorraine Heskin, founder of Gourmet Food Parlour (2006); Mary McKenna, Donegal-based technology entrepreneur and angel investor who founded the online Learning Pool community; and Niamh McKenna, another Donegal native, and co-founder of ChangeX. Three EMPOWER participants Niamh Ryle (, Asumpta Gallagher ( and Marina Murphy (Babyboss with the Twosie) will also pitch for a prize fund at this session.

A panel discussion will follow on the subject of Digital Marketing and Influencers. Social influencers taking part include Sinead Carroll from Galway, founder of Mini Media who set up the Irish Blogger Agency; Charlene Flanagan from Mayo, founder of Ella and Jo Cosmetics; and Limerick native Aoife McNamara, Irish designer and fashion influencer. Susan Hayes Culleton, “The Positive Economist”, will host the discussion.

Maria Staunton, EMPOWER Coordinator and GMIT iHub Mayo Manager, says: “This is the first year our annual Sprit of Entrepreneurship event is being held online. The challenges of Covid-19 are something we are all facing and speakers will give us an insight on how these times have affected their businesses. Challenges are part of any start up – how we navigate them will determine how we succeed in business.

“In the evening (8 Sept) we are having a online event (invite only) to celebrate completion of GMIT’s first EMPOWER programme. Noeline Blackwell, a human rights lawyer and CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is a guest speaker. Noeline will discuss how women speaking truth to power makes society better for all. She will also touch on some of the challenges and advances in women’s equality, and where women’s voices are heard in that journey. The evening event will also feature Clare Desbonnet, a recipient of two Network Ireland Highly Commended Businesswoman of the Year Awards in 2019 in the STEM and Employee categories. Clare’s work with Multi-National Corporations, and her successful navigation of difficult change management processes will be of great interest. We look forward to many women and men joining us across the West and North West for this event. To book, log onto

About the speakers:
Lorraine Heskin’s Gourmet Food Parlour up to the end of 2019 employed over 300 people across its chain of restaurants and catering and events businesses. Lorraine’s talk will look at the challenges of Covid-19 on the hospitality industry. Lorraine was recently a runner up in the Entrepreneur of The Year category at the Image Women in Business Awards 2019.

Mary McKenna grew her Learning Pool online community (Derry) company to 100 people and 1 million online users and then sold it six years ago so that she could return to working with earlier stage startups and scale ups. Learning Pool was a bootstrapped business from the get-go which made for an interesting and sometimes terrifying entrepreneurial journey. These days Mary works extensively with first time and female entrepreneurs. She has invested as a business angel in eight early stage tech startups to date, four have female founding teams.

Niamh McKenna co-founded ChangeX, a community engagement platform, to make it easy for people to lead impactful projects in their neighbourhoods. The ChangeX team works with social innovators in Ireland and the U.S. to find and open-source proven solutions to environmental, economic and social issues. ChangeX partners with corporations and foundations to support communities with the necessary funding.

Digital Marketing and Influencers speakers:
Galway native Sinead Carroll took a leap of faith in late 2015 and set up her own business, Mini Media, a digital marketing company. Nine months later, she created the Irish Blogger Agency, a dedicated agency for digital influencer marketing, with clear synergies to her marketing business. Sinead hasn’t looked back since. Her agency formed a partnership with Swedish company Mikz Alliance in early 2018 to help develop a new online platform for the business, which made it easier to connect the right influencers with interested brands. She has 692 influencers on the platform, with a global reach of 7.1 million consumers. The plan for the platform is to go global, helping the right Irish influencers connect with brands across the world.

Charlene Flanagan, founder of Ella and Jo Cosmetics, initially started a Facebook page in 2012 which saw a growth of 25,000 followers in the first 3 years. Snapchat was introduced in 2015 which saw an overall viewership of 30,000. In 2017 the growth of Instagram for business began and Charlene has since grown her profile to over 43,000 followers.

Aoife McNamara, Irish Designer and Fashion Influencer, launched her own fashion label through Instagram at the age of 24. Working with some high-profile celebrities Instagram is more than just a pastime for Aoife – it’s a vital tool.

For further information about this event, please contact Maria Staunton, GMIT iHub Mayo 094-9043198 or email

Galway-Mayo IT, IT Sligo and Letterkenny IT working together to become a TU for the West and North-West of Ireland