All businesses start somewhere – and local foundations and local communities are at the heart of so many Donegal enterprises.
The Donegal Women in Business Network (DWBN) placed a special focus on the value of local networks as they marked International Women’s Day. The conference, held as part of Enterprise Week 2020, brought local female entrepreneurs together at the CoLab Letterkenny for talks, networking and a celebratory dinner.
The four keynote speakers came from a range of industries, but they all share a drive for connecting their business to their communities. The speakers all expanded their businesses through local connections and were keen to share the value of those collaborations.
Network President Deirdre McGlone had a warm welcome for all 60 guests, encouraging everyone to take the day to see how far they have come in business.
One businesswoman who has made giant leaps in the past year is Meg O’Gara from Glencolmbkille. A graphic artist and web designer, Meg spoke of how she was a bundle of nerves when she attended last year’s International Women’s Day conference. Her start-up business was named under an alias, and she had few connections in Donegal.
The magic happened when Meg found the courage to make a financial and emotional investment in her business and join the DWBN.
‘Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.’
Meg explained how she had the ‘Just Syndrome’ – a lack of confidence in her many roles. She said she felt as though she was ‘just a mum, just a wife, just a carer, just after leaving her job in the HSE and just launching an online business’.
The change came after Meg set out to tell people, with confidence, that she is a woman in business and wants to connect. On foot of collaborations with DWBN PRO Evelyn Mc Glynn, she has since revamped her branding to ‘Megnificent Creative’ and they co-launched ‘The Mammy Handbook’ which is sold in 16 countries.
“When you show up, make a connection and foster that connection, you never know what might happen,” Meg said.
As Meg grows and nurtures her business from a passion for creative design, Gortahork woman Joanne Butler is enjoying a different kind of growth at OURganic Gardens.
Joanne’s business connects local food, local community and local business in a sustainable way. She laid the roots for her community gardening and environmental education business over 10 years ago and launched OURganic Gardens from her home in 2017.
Joanne’s community led social enterprise empowers people to ‘get their hands dirty’ and begin their own gardens. Local people and local produce are the key ingredients of the business, and Joanne’s workshops and courses are continually branching into new territories.
Pauline Sugrue brought her infectious passion into her talk about the beginnings of Wild Garlic Table. The Ramelton Cookery School is listed as one of the ‘Top 100 Things to do in Ireland’ and always champions local produce.
Pauline recounted her business journey from Sydney to Ramelton, to Ballymaloe and back to her beautiful home on the banks of the Lennon. Her dreams of opening a ‘little cookery school’ were realised in 2017. She regaled warm stories about the rewards that hard work can bring and shared a unique outlook on what business growth means to her.
‘Every accomplishment starts with a decision to try‘
Leah Fairman looked that the many rewards that working locally can bring to many people. Local actions which directly impact people can brighten someone’s day and make the world a better place, she said.
As the Manager of Ballybofey and Stranorlar Integrated Community Company Ltd (BASICC) and the BASE Enterprise Centre, Leah loves to make an impact in her town.
Leah highlighted the value of local networks for any business. Every start-up has early adopters – the first people who will champion you. They are often family and friends, but Leah encouraged her fellow entrepreneurs to think smart about their ‘lighthouse customers’ and scale their business around them.
On an inspirational note, Leah also pointed out that Donegal’s job opportunities of tomorrow are reliant on today’s business owners. With International Women’s Day taking place on Sunday, Leah urged women in business to be role models for the future generation so that they can pursue their dreams and have ample opportunities should they want to stay locally.
Head of Local Enterprise Michael Tunney joined the event to discuss the many messages of Enterprise Week 2020. He encouraged business owners to also think beyond local and “take what you have, and drive it forward”.
The conference also welcomed Maria Staunton from GMIT, who invited members to join the EMPOWER Programme for female entrepreneurs in the West.
The programme is being rolled out to Donegal (LYIT), Sligo and Leitrim in 2020.
The innovative course has been designed to provide specific mentoring and networking opportunities for start-up entrepreneurs and established businesswomen. For application details check out: www.empowerher.ie
The energised event ended on a celebratory note, with a delicious dinner by Yes Chef Catering, prizes and more of what the DWBN do best – networking!
The Donegal Women in Business Network is a non-profit, peer support network for women in business in the county of Donegal. Find out more about joining up on donegalwomeninbusiness.com