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Top 10 Irish Female Entrepreneurs

🕒: 11 minutes

All around the globe, women are playing a more active role in the world of work. In today's political and social climate, issues such as gender equality and pay equity are at the forefront of our consciousness. Women's participation in the economy has been proven to be vital to continued growth, development and stability. The rate of entrepreneurship for women in Ireland is among the highest in Europe and schemes are in place to promote female entrepreneurship and women in business. National Women's Enterprise Day, an event organised annually by local enterprise offices, promotes female empowerment in business and Enterprise Ireland provides funding through its 'Competitive Start Fund for Female Entrepreneurs' programme, as well as peer support and mentoring through the 'Going for Growth' scheme. In no particular order, the following women have demonstrated the tenacity, courage and motivation required to run their own businesses and are paving the way for future generations of female entrepreneurs.

1. Darina Allen

Darina Allen

A household name in Irish cooking, Darina Allen is the owner of Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Co. Cork, as well as a newspaper columnist, cookbook author and television presenter. Ireland's most famous cooking dynasty, the Allen family's prominence began with Darina's mother-in-law, the late Myrtle Allen, and has been continued by Darina's daughter-in-law, Rachel, who is an established entrepreneur in her own right. The Ballymaloe Cookery School is situated on an organically run farm and is a leader in advocating for organic, sustainable agriculture and cookery. Allen graduated with a degree in Hotel Management from the Dublin Institute of Technology and is a member of the TASTE Council of the Irish Food Board, the Food Safety Consultative Council of Ireland, chair of the Artisan Food Forum of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, trustee of the Irish Organic Centre and patron of Irish Seedsavers. Allen remains an integral part of the Irish food scene and has been a trailblazer for female entrepreneurs throughout the country. Visit the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

2. Simone Rocha

Simone Rocha was destined for a life in fashion. The daughter of prominent designer John Rocha, Simone graduated with a BA in Fashion from the National College of Art and Design in 2008 and debuted her first collection at London Fashion Week just two years later. Her clothes are sold internationally through prestigious retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue and have featured in numerous high-profile publications, including Vogue, Interview Magazine and CR Fashion Book. Rocha has received multiple awards, including 'British Womenswear Designer' at the 2016 Fashion Awards and Harper's Bazaar's 2016 'Designer of the Year'. Rocha's contribution to the fashion industry has been recognised by Hollywood and she served as a special wardrobe designer on the 2018 release, Ocean's 8. Rocha's designs have been celebrated for their strong, modern, feminine aesthetic and the mix of Irish and Chinese cultural references in her designs is unique, demonstrating how her proud heritage has influenced her craft. Rocha credits her experience of becoming a mother as pushing her to develop her work further and valuing her contribution to women's wardrobes even more. Visit Simone Rocha.

3. Peaches and Domini Kemp

Peaches and Domini Kemp
barry mc call

The Kemp sisters are key players on the Irish food scene. Having established themselves in the restaurant and catering world, their empire began in 1999 with the opening of the first itsa... Bagel store in Dublin. Initially, bagels were imported from New York and topped with a variety of delicious, locally sourced fillings to ensure Irish customers were receiving an authentic experience. Multiple itsa... stores followed and the Itsa Ltd. Group now incorporates multiple brands across 14 locations around Ireland: Hatch & Sons Irish Kitchen, Alchemy Juice Co., Feast Catering & Events, Joe's Speciality Coffee and Kemp Sisters at IMMA. Each distinct brand cleverly appeals to a different aspect of Irish food culture, offering tastes as varied as bone broth, gourmet sandwiches, artisan-roasted coffee and high-class wedding meals using the best Irish ingredients. Domini has also established herself as a food writer, contributing regularly to the Irish Times, and has published a number of cook books. With a focus on quality ingredients, good cooking techniques and plenty of passion, the Kemp sisters maintain an active role in the many different facets of their business. Domini and Peaches have been praised for ushering in a food culture revolution in Dublin, which has continued to spread throughout the rest of the island. Their role as pioneers in the food industry, as well as entrepreneurs who have had a significant impact on the Irish economy, should not be underestimated. Visit the Itsa Group.

4. Roz Purcell

Roz Purcell began her career by winning Miss Universe Ireland in 2010, representing Ireland at the Miss Universe pageant in the same year. After several years as a successful model, Purcell moved into television work and became a fixture on the media circuit. Purcell began her blog, Natural Born Feeder, in 2013 to document her love of cooking and share the recipes she had developed. Focused on healthy eating, a book of the same title was published in 2016 and went on to become a bestseller. Her second book, Half Hour Hero, was released in 2017 and was nominated for 'Cookbook of the Year' at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards. Purcell is also qualified as a personal trainer and launched a skincare brand, Ripe by Roz, in 2016. Purcell's entrepreneurial exploits and positive approach to a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing have garnered her a huge social media following; she has almost 73,000 followers on Twitter and 227,000 followers on Instagram. An Instagram account dedicated to her blog has almost 93,000 followers alone. Purcell has achieved great success as an entrepreneur in a few short years and with a third cookbook already in the works, there is little doubt that she is one to watch. Visit Natural Born Feeder.

5. Sonia Deasy

Sonia Deasy

Sonia Deasy founded skincare brand Pestle & Mortar in 2014, after witnessing the skin issues that many of her photographer husband's subjects displayed. Deasy saw a gap in the market for simple yet highly effective skincare products with a streamlined aesthetic. As a working mother, Deasy's approach to her own beauty regime has always been 'less-is-more' and she was keen for Pestle & Mortar to reflect this ethos, allowing women to look and feel their best with minimal fuss. Deasy credits her Indian parents for instilling the importance of education and a positive work ethic in her from a young age. American shopping network QVC began selling Pestle & Mortar in 2017 and the brand has expanded to Australia, Belgium, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Bermuda, Germany, Singapore, Italy, Spain and the UK. Pestle & Mortar's products have also featured in influential publications such as the New York Times, Vogue and Vanity Fair. A mother to five children, Deasy has stated how important it is to her that they witness the amount of hard work and effort she has invested in her business in order to make it a success. Visit Pestle & Mortar.

6. Mary Ann O'Brien

Mary Ann O'Brien is responsible for founding Lily O'Brien’s, one of Ireland's most iconic chocolate brands. Lily O’Brien's, named after Mary Ann's daughter, began its life in 1992 in the family kitchen. Recovering from debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome, O'Brien decided to turn her lifelong passion for chocolate into a career. She began experimenting with innovative flavour combinations, having honed her skills by working among chefs and chocolatiers in South Africa and across Europe. The Lily O'Brien's factory in Kildare produces approximately 1,200 tonnes of chocolate each year. Sales of Lily O'Brien's chocolate have surpassed €30 million and the brand is sold in more than 16 countries worldwide, exporting over 80% of its products. O'Brien received the inaugural IMAGE Magazine 'Businesswoman of the Year' award in 2007 and is an ambassador for National Women's Enterprise Day. In 2018, O'Brien sold Lily O'Brien's for €40 million, while retaining her role as director and company consultant. Not content with restricting herself to the world of confectionery, O'Brien also became a member of the Seanad in 2011 and established the Jack and Jill Children's Foundation in 1997 with her husband, in response to the tragic death of their infant son. The Jack and Jill Foundation funds home nursing care for severely ill children and is one of Ireland's most recognisable charitable bodies. O'Brien's legacy, marked by overcoming personal challenges to build an internationally recognised business and influential charity, along with her contributions to the Irish economy and society, is admirable. Visit Lily O'Brien's.

7. Orla Kiely

Orla Kiely
Nicole Nodland

Orla Kiely is one Ireland's most prolific fashion designers and has steadily built up a global empire since her eponymous label was founded in 1995. Kiely studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and worked as a childrenswear print designer for five years, before becoming a freelance print designer for Marks & Spencer and Habitat in London. The Orla Kiely brand received its first retail order from high-end institution Harrods. Beginning with a collection of hats and handbags, the Orla Kiely range now incorporates clothing, umbrellas, sunglasses, luggage, jewellery, stationary, bedlinen, kitchenware and garden accessories and is sold internationally. Orla Kiely products feature a distinctive leaf print – 'stem' – which has become recognisable all over the world. Her first book, Pattern was published in 2010, and combined autobiographical elements with Kiely's creative process and imagery. Two more books, Home and A Life in Pattern soon followed. Kiely has been a judge at the UK Graduate Fashion Week Industry and Media Awards and was honoured with the title of Visiting Professor of Textiles at the Royal College of Art, where she previously studied. She was awarded an OBE for services to fashion and business in 2011 and was made an Honorary Fellow of the British Institute of Design in 2015. Kiely's designs have been worn by numerous celebrities and royal figures and Ireland celebrated her by including her in a list of six contemporary designers who featured on a special set of postage stamps, issued by An Post. Nicknamed "the Queen of Prints" by The Guardian, Kiely's prominence on the international design scene is truly remarkable. Visit Orla Kiely.

8. Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O'Brien

Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O'Brien
Naoise Culhane

Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O'Brien came up with the idea for FoodCloud – an app that connects businesses with surplus food to local charities who need it – in 2013, when they realised how much excess food was being routinely disposed of by supermarkets. An early partnership with supermarket giant Tesco allowed FoodCloud's concept to spread throughout Ireland. Ward and O'Brien have already received numerous awards and accolades. In 2014 they were recipients of an 'Impact Award' from Social Enterprise Ireland and in 2016 they won the Newstalk Women Mean Business 'Social Entrepreneurs of the Year' award. Ward was included on Forbes' '30 Under 30 European Class of 2017' and Time Magazine identified her as one of their 'Next Generation Leaders'. FoodCloud launched in Britain in 2016 and the start-up recently won a place on the renowned BlackBox Connect accelerator programme in Silicon Valley, sponsored by Google. Over 5,000 charities have already benefitted from the 35 million meals redistributed through FoodCloud's endeavours and Ward and O'Brien are determined to stamp out hunger altogether – no small feat, but their entrepreneurial efforts have demonstrated that these women are a force to be reckoned with. Visit FoodCloud.

9. Caroline Keeling

Keelings is a family-owned Irish fruit producer. Starting in the 1920s with rhubarb and apples, the company has expanded to incorporate the growth and distribution of berries, tomatoes, pears and cherries. Caroline Keeling grew up picking rhubarb on the family farm and joined the business in 1994 as technical manager, taking over the brand in 2006. Keeling is an ambassador for The Women's Fund for Ireland, as well as a board member of Bord Bia, and is passionate about women's involvement in business and entrepreneurship. Since becoming CEO, Keeling has doubled the family company's turnover, increasing sales to over €350 million, and has extended the brand's presence beyond Ireland to the UK, Europe and Asia. Keeling values the opportunity she has to build on her family's success and has been determined to use the particular skillset of her own generation to continue the prominence of the Keeling brand. Visit Keelings.

10. Ramona Nicholas

Ramona Nicholas

Ramona Nicholas is the founder of Cara Group, one of Ireland's leading retailers. Cara Group began as a pharmacy in Donegal, which Nicholas opened in 2002. A qualified pharmacist, she spotted a gap in the market for a pharmacy chain that sold luxury goods as well as traditional medicines, all while providing outstanding customer service. The Cara Group of pharmacies has displayed tremendous growth over the last number of years and now has a turnover of more than €25 million. Through the Cara Group, Nicholas has also been involved in a number of charitable initiatives, raising over €150,000 for local and national charities. She was also the only female investor on the popular Irish television programme Dragon's Den between 2013 and 2014. Nicholas was the recipient of the Women's Executive Network 'Entrepreneurs Award' in 2018, recognising women who actively manage the daily affairs of their company as a top executive. Nicholas has managed to maintain a highly successful career, all while juggling a busy family life and the Cara Group has even further expansion on the horizon. Visit Cara Pharmacy.

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