These women mean business
National Women’s Enterprise Day is tomorrow and here, five Irish women entrepreneurs share the business wisdom they learned on their way to the top
‘Stop being afraid. That will stop you from achieving anything
JOAN FREEMAN is a psychologist and founder of Pieta House, a crisis centre for the prevention of suicide and self-harm
TEN YEARS ago I closed down my private counselling practice to research suicide and self-harm. I wanted to create a space that would help bring people through a time of crisis, an environment that would be non-clinical, compassionate and respectful.
Pieta House opened in 2006. By the end of this year, our turnover will be about €2 million, and we will have seen about 2,400 people. We have great people fundraising for us because there is a belief in what we do. We now employ more than 100 people, and are opening four more centres in the next 12 months in Roscrea, Galway, Cork and Kerry.
Being a female social entrepreneur has its advantages and its drawbacks. I think we have to accept and embrace that women have an innate radar that can look out for and care for people in trouble. No matter how successful women are in business, we shouldn’t forget that talent we have.
Being a woman has been difficult sometimes, however, especially in the early days when I was trying to set up something that had never been seen before in Ireland. It was a struggle at times to be taken seriously, to get the point across that I didn’t just want to set up a new service, it was about social change, about talking openly about suicide and self-harm in society. But I persisted and that paid off. Ten years ago, suicide was not only under the carpet but down in the basement. We have progressed from that point.
To other budding social entrepreneurs, I would say, have a vision and believe in it. Don’t let things like money get in your way. If you truly believe in what you are doing, and what you are doing is helping people, then your idea has to succeed. You have to stop being afraid, because that will stop you from achieving anything. You need to be fearless in whatever you do.
‘Don’t abandon a good idea because you don’t have money’
MARY ANN O’BRIEN began making chocolates from her kitchen in Kildare in 1992. Her chocolate and dessert company now employs more than 100 people. She is co-founder of the Jack and Jill Foundation and a Senator
TO SET up a business you need to have an incredible work ethic. You need tenacity and a desire to succeed, a huge sense of humour and a passion for what you are doing, or else you’d be better off just getting a job somewhere and working for someone else. Creating a successful business is a long road, but it is a wonderful road.
I have always been an ambitious and enterprising person. Even as a child I used to sell lemonade at the side of the road. I believed in my business idea, and thought big from the beginning. I always believed in export too, and the trade shows I did abroad in the early years of Lily O’Briens were instrumental in its success. Goals are very powerful things.
The recession nearly crippled the business and we were scared for a while, but now I realise it is the best thing that could have happened. We went right back to every recipe to make it the very best it could be, and built a dessert factory that has given us a whole new lease of life since it opened last May. The experience has proved how important it is to be adaptable.
It can be difficult starting a business at any time, especially in a recession, but I would advise people not to shy away from a good idea because they don’t have enough money or they think the banks won’t lend. There are some excellent agencies out there, such as Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland, that will hand-hold young entrepreneurs now. Take advantage of them.