How Ireland’s LEO network is supporting women entrepreneurs

29 Sep 2021

Image: © BullRun/

The chair of National Women’s Enterprise Day discusses the challenges that women entrepreneurs face and how these can be addressed.

Women entrepreneurs have often faced an uphill battle when it comes to receiving funding and investment.

According to Crunchbase, global VC funding to women-founded companies fell significantly in 2020 to 2.3pc, compared to 2.8pc in 2019. In the first half of this year, Irish tech start-ups raised a record €932m, but funding for companies with women founders declined from 11pc of the total to just 6pc.

In May last year, a survey from early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator 500 Startups also found that two-thirds of women founders believed they would be disproportionately affected by Covid-19 compared to male peers.

However, there are initiatives in place to help tackle this problem. Serial entrepreneur and Roscommon native Mary Carty spoke to earlier this year about AwakenHub, a new community for women entrepreneurs.

State agency Enterprise Ireland launched its Action Plan for Women in Business in January 2020, which included plans to increase the number of women in strategic management positions, and this week Visa announced a new grant programme for women-owned small businesses in Ireland.

Next week (7 October) will see the 15th annual National Women’s Enterprise Day take place, a free online event that aims to inspire more women entrepreneurs on the next stages of their business journeys.

Vibeke Delahunt is the head of enterprise at the Local Enterprise Office (LEO) in Wicklow and chair of the National Women’s Enterprise Day.

She told the event will centre around showcasing successful women entrepreneurs as well covering topics on how to help women entrepreneurs in Ireland sustain and develop their businesses and ideas going into the future.

“We encourage female entrepreneurs, founders and women in senior management levels to attend in order to learn from their peers, find out about LEO supports, be inspired and also to forge new linkages by availing of the networking opportunities.”

Challenges for women entrepreneurs

Delahunt said that while Covid-19 has posed challenges for the entire start-up community, female entrepreneurs have an extra set of barriers to consider.

“Challenges facing female entrepreneurs are interrelated and complex, ranging from under-representation of women both as founders and as business leaders in certain industry sectors, such as manufacturing, ICT, engineering and construction, to childcare issues and accessing finance options,” she said.

“By offering a support structure through female entrepreneurial network opportunities, showcasing success stories, influencing and working together, LEOs are aiming to address the factors contributing to the under-representation of women starting, leading and growing enterprises.”

According to figures released by the LEO network, the number of women engaging in entrepreneurship and business supports continues to rise. In 2020, more than 47,000 women engaged in training and upskilling with their LEO, more than double the number in 2019.

And figures from TechIreland earlier this year showed that women-founded start-ups and scale-ups in Ireland raised a record €105m in funding in 2020.

Delahunt said her top advice for women entrepreneurs would be to focus on their USP and listen to the market through solid market validation.

“Reach out to your Local Enterprise Office and attend their female entrepreneur network meetings, be open to learn from others and avail of the wide range of supports that the LEOs offer female entrepreneurs.”

National Women’s Enterprise Day is a free all-day event and takes place online on 7 October.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic