Some of the female entrepreneurs who took part in the EMPOWER Virtual Pitch Competition pictured with GMIT iHub staff. [Photo: Michelle Lee, GMIT].

Some of the female entrepreneurs who took part in the EMPOWER Virtual Pitch Competition pictured with GMIT iHub staff. [Photo: Michelle Lee, GMIT].


Twenty women from across the west and north-west took part in an online Dragon’s Den style pitch competition this week marking the completion of the first EMPOWER START II programme delivered through the iHubs in the Connacht-Ulster Alliance (CUA) of GMIT, IT Sligo and Letterkenny IT. Bairbre Meehan from Calry, Co Sligo, was declared the overall winner of the virtual contest. Her start up business, “PAUSE”, delivers measurable mental well-being improvements for large organisations.

Each of the women had a five-minute pitch on their business concept to the judging panel which comprised of Gillian Buckley (WDC), Mary Ryan (WestBIC) and Liam Kiely (Sligo LEO). They faced a virtual audience which included representatives from the European Social Fund, the Department of Justice and Equality, Enterprise Ireland, the Local Enterprise Offices, the CUA and the GMIT. The event was sponsored by the Western Development Commission and was opened by the President of GMIT, Dr Orla Flynn.

The EMPOWER Programme is run by the GMIT Innovation Hubs and aims to fast track female-led businesses based in the west and north-west by offering free training, mentoring, support and peer to peer learning.

At Wednesday’s online pitch, the audience were invited to vote and choose the winner for two prizes ‘Best Story Telling Within The Pitch’ and ‘Best Opening Line’ which were won by Catherine Devine from New Mills, Letterkenny, Co Donegal and Karen McCormick from Greencastle, Co Donegal.

The EMPOWER co-ordinators recognised the commitment and effort of the 14 business trainers by also awarding a ‘Best Trainer Award’ which was won by Claire Scanlon of Canney Futures, Barna, Co Galway. Nine established female entrepreneurs joined the group as guest speakers to share their stories of their entrepreneurship journey and a ‘Best Guest Speaker Award’ was won by Kelly Hoey, author of the book “Build Your Dream Network”, from New York City.

Sandra Divilly Nolan, EMPOWER Programme Manager, says: “These entrepreneurs have great potential. I, along with other State Agencies in the region, look forward to working with them to progress their businesses. The EMPOWER Pitch competition prepares new entrepreneurs to articulate their business purpose and vision, develop their communication skills and build their self-confidence.”

“The enormous response to the EMPOWER Programme highlights the thriving culture of female entrepreneurship in the region: over 130 women applied for the twenty places on this year’s EMPOWER START programme. Overall, during 2020, there was an increase of 118% on applications for the programmes. I thank the Department of Justice and Equality and the ESF for their support, and the Local Enterprise Offices who have offered mentoring to the participants. I would also like to thank the event sponsors the Western Development Commission.”

Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO of the Western Development Commission, says: “The WDC is delighted to support the EMPOWER programme. Recent research from the WDC indicates that women and young women in particular have been disproportionately impacted by COVID, and the EMPOWER programme is both a timely initiative in supporting women to return to the workplace and an opportunity to bring new ideas to life across the region.”

The next recruitment for the EMPOWER START 2021/2022 will be in September 2021. Applications will open in March for the next EMPOWER GROWTH programme. Anyone interested should contact the EMPOWER team at and for further information visit the website All females who are interested, whether they are setting up or established in business, are invited to get involved with the Empower Community through the EMPOWER social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


EMPOWER is funded by the Department of Justice and Equality and the European Social Fund. It has two parts; EMPOWER START for early stage ideas or businesses less than 18 months old and EMPOWER GROWTH for females in business for three years or more. EMPOWER START was delivered online this year taking place two mornings per week from 4th November 2020 to 10th February 2021. The EMPOWER GROWTH which commenced in July 2020 takes place one Saturday a month over an eleven-month period.

EMPOWER START is designed to validate business ideas for market acceptance. This FREE programme is delivered part-time by start-up experts.  This allows participants to balance their family commitments while at the same time planning and developing their new business. Originally open to applicants from Counties Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, EMPOWER II expanded this year to include applicants from Counties Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal. Due to the pandemic the programme was delivered online this year.

For detaiils on the WDC research see: