International Women's Day

10 Irish female innovators shaking up the global scene

From those in the highest ranks of US corporate law to those building robots and securing outer space, these are the Irish women innovators forging unique and powerful paths to success in their industries

Irish Tatler’s rundown of ten Irish female innovators shaking up the global scene

Nothing moves quite as quickly as the world of fashion and luxury. However, the exception may come in the form of NYC-based Irish executive Alice Delahunt, the founder and chief executive of SYKY.

With a resume that’s a little hard to believe, Delahunt has scaled not one industry, but two simultaneously: the worlds of Big Fashion and Big Tech. This includes serving as chief digital and chief content officer for American luxury brand Ralph Lauren and director of digital marketing at fashion house Burberry.

Today, Delahunt’s start-up, SYKY, has raised $10 million from top global investors to transform the future of fashion, and her Web-3 platform will enable designers to showcase their digital-only works for purchase. Oh, and when she’s not being named on the Vogue Business 100 Innovators list, she’s busy as a non-executive director on the board of Soho House and Trinity Business School, as well as being a Retail & Creative Council advisory member at Google and Snapchat.

It’s hard to know what will come next for the Trinity alumna, but after succeeding in fashion and business for other brands, it looks like for the foreseeable future she’ll be using her endless energy to scale her new platform .

Karen Cryan, sommelier, Olive Oil International

Karen Cryan, Ireland’s first and only olive oil sommelier

Nearly everybody has come across, met, or even dreamed of being a wine sommelier. However, Karen Cryan’s sommelier journey had nothing to do with grapes and everything to do with olives.

As Ireland’s first, and only, olive oil sommelier, Cryan is one of the leading experts in anything and everything to do with the thousands of different types of olive oil that are found globally. Niche? Yes. An incredible skill for mixing with food and wine? Also yes.

Having trained in London under the famous Judy Ridgeway, the author of over 60 books on olive oil (yes, 60), as well as in Italy and Spain, Cryan travels the world helping the foremost oil producers with their harvest, teaching her craft, and being a professional taster.

She is the only Irish member of the Savantes International Olive Oil Organisation and, just to showcase her global leadership in the food industry, she is a judge at international olive oil competitions in Italy and further afield, where she may taste hundreds of different olive oils in a single competition. While Ireland is known for its food and drinks, Cryan is pushing the boundary of Irish influence in global food affairs.

Dr Helen McBreen, partner, Atlantic Bridge

Dr Helen McBreen: her work links deep tech and life sciences technology with investing and venture capital

Dr Helen McBreen is one of the few people in the world who crosses the complex technical world of deep tech and life sciences technology with the finance world of investing and venture capital. Based in Dublin, she is an investment partner at Atlantic Bridge, one of Ireland’s largest growth equity investment firms with over €1 billion of assets.

With over 15 years in the field, McBreen's track record speaks volumes. From sourcing to financing, she’s navigated the realms of software, hardware and life sciences, backing IP-rich ventures that redefine industry standards.

A Kauffman Fellow and VP of TechTour Deep Tech (software), McBreen’s influence extends far beyond the boardroom, sitting on multiple company boards and even advising organisations like UCD VentureLaunch.

Before becoming a top investor, McBreen was at the top of her field in engineering, with an electronic engineering degree from UCD and a PhD in artificial intelligence from the University of Edinburgh. There are very few people who will be outsmarting this Irish investor.

Eileen Treanor, chief financial officer, LeoLabs

Eileen Treanor, global chief finance officer of LeoLabs: her expertise lies at the intersection of satellites, rocket science and finance

One of the most pressing issues in global space and defence is the problem of “space trash” in orbit. With 60,000 satellites due to be launched into space by 2030, figuring out how to keep the satellites and the International Space Station safe and collision-free is no easy task.

Enter Dublin woman Eileen Treanor, whose expertise lies at the intersection of satellites, rocket science and finance. Based in San Francisco, at least in theory when she is not travelling, she is the global chief finance officer of LeoLabs. Here, she is helping to build the world’s leading platform for mapping and securing outer space.

Going from strength to strength, Treanor has overseen the growth of LeoLabs through more than $120 million of venture capital financing, which has been partly used to build and own some of the world’s largest infrastructure for space in the most remote places in the world, scattered over four continents.

Treanor’s path from Monaghan to overseeing the fastest-growing space company in the world came via completing her MBA at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and she is now a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Ireland and a member of the Institute of Taxation of Ireland.

Joan Mulloy, offshore sailor

Joan Mulloy, who was was the first ever Irish female competitor in the gruelling 2,000-mile La Solitaire du Figaro race

There’s no easy way to describe Joan Mulloy – businesswoman, explorer, mother, role model and legendary solo ocean sailor.

Mulloy, from Mayo, has over 30,000 miles of offshore sailing experience after launching her solo sailing career in 2018. She competed in the competitive Figaro circuit in France, the Monaco Globe Series, and was the first ever Irish female competitor in the gruelling 2,000-mile La Solitaire du Figaro race.

Boundaries mean nothing for this die-hard athlete. She is currently in Antigua getting ready to compete in the first all-female transatlantic race on a 70-foot yacht in the style of the America’s Cup. More impressively, she is training to try for the prestigious Jules Verne Trophy – a prize for the fastest circumnavigation of the world by any type of vessel – with the female team the Famous Project, alongside Irish offshore sailor Pamela Lee.

When she’s not offshore, she lives with her two young children and runs her family oyster business. There is nothing this woman cannot do.

Martina Fitzgerald, chief executive, Scale Ireland

Martina Fitzgerald, author and chief executive of Scale Ireland

As entrepreneurship and tech talent become increasingly important for the Irish economy, Martina Fitzgerald finds herself in an ever more important position: leading the organisation at the very heart and soul of the Irish start-up ecosystem, Scale Ireland, since 2020.

Fitzgerald, however, is not a normal tech boss (if there even is such a thing). She comes from a different industry altogether; one that has been notoriously hesitant to adopt technology: journalism. However, her wide-ranging career as RTÉ’s political correspondent and one of Ireland’s most influential journalists was a gift. As chief executive of Scale Ireland, Fitzgerald’s job, like at the national broadcaster, is about managing complex relationships, changing situations and politically sensitive organisations.

Her success is down to how well she manages the growth of a complex ecosystem, from investors to founders, board members to lawyers and accountants. All while helping hundreds of high-growth start-ups to scale in complex industries.

And as an aside, she’s a best-selling author and visiting fellow at Columbia University in New York, where she continues to shape the narrative on pressing issues of our time.

Lucy Corrigan, lawyer, Ropes and Gray

Lucy Corrigan, lawyer for US private equity group Ropes and Gray

Succession was one of the biggest TV and cultural hits of 2023, but for Manhattan-based Dublin woman Lucy Corrigan, the frantic, larger-than-life mode de vie is more fact than fiction.

Living in downtown Soho, Corrigan is a lawyer who specialises in getting multibillion dollar Logan Roy-ish merger and acquisition deals across the finishing line. Working at one of the most renowned private equity groups in the US, she represents clients who are buying and selling big businesses across all industries and has made a name for herself by outpacing Manhattan’s top lawyers throughout her high-stress, high-drama career. It’s no wonder executives all over the city have her number on speed dial.

How did she get such a coveted position? Well, it helps that this Irish woman, dubbed the “corporate Amal Clooney”, was awarded a Dean’s Scholarship at one of the world’s most prestigious law schools, the University of Pennsylvania Law School, in 2014.

Clare Smyth, chef and owner, Core Restaurant

Clare Smyth, owner of the Michelin three-star Core Restaurant in Notting Hill, London

There is nothing, literally nothing, more on fire this International Women’s Day than anything that Taylor Swift touches. And that includes the work of Northern Irish woman Clare Smyth.

She is the culinary genius and prolific food artist behind some of the world’s most observed dishes and the proud bearer of three Michelin stars for her Notting Hill restaurant, Core. It’s a gruelling industry, but Smyth has carved her way to the top of the gastronomic world, earning accolades and admiration at every turn.

None of this has gone unnoticed. As even Taylor Swift cannot go without her food as she tours the world, she flies Smyth down to Australia to chef for her and her team. The fact that her work can sustain Taylor’s legendary 3.5-hour marathon concerts is proof alone of Smyth’s talent, let alone the cultural and culinary currency her name brings to the Eras Tour.

As the first and only female chef to run a restaurant with three Michelin stars in Britain, Smyth has smashed every barrier in her way, to the Great Barrier Reef and back again. At 16, she left school to study catering at Highbury College, London before working at the famed designer Terence Conran’s restaurant in London, followed by a Gordon Ramsay Restaurant.

Niamh Donnelly, co-founder, Akara Robotics

Niamh Donnelly, engineer and co-founder of Akara Robotics

Elon Musk’s TeslaBot may have popularised robotics in the mainstream, but while Musk is hoping to automate doing squats and boiling eggs, Irish engineer Niamh Donnelly has a much more urgent application in mind for her start-up Akara Robotics: healthcare.

The concept of Akara is as fascinating as Donnelly herself: automating hospital operations. As the global population ages, Akara’s first product Stevie is a social care robot designed to be an assistant in elder care facilities. Another product focuses on automated infection control in hospitals, a niche but impressive $3 billion industry.

Donnelly’s role in Akara, beyond being a co-founder, is as chief robotics officer. She oversees the software, AI and autonomous navigation systems development for the Akara Robot.

So how did she end up founding such a technically challenging start-up? With a lot of help from Enterprise Ireland and Trinity. However, she is an impressive global voice on AI research, speaking all over the world and was recently awarded the prestigious EU Women Innovators Prize by the European Commission. She holds a Master’s degree in AI and machine learning from UCD, as well as being awarded Irish Tatler’s Woman of 2023 for Stem.

Orla de Brí, sculptor

Orla de Brí, one of Ireland’s most successful sculptors

As you walk to the front door of the RTÉ studios, there is a beautiful statue on the grass. “This sculpture features a pensive seated figure with upturned palms. In one hand there is a group of people, a microcosm of humankind. In the other, there is a tree, a symbol of evolution and growth over time."

This statue was sculpted by artist Orla de Brí, in memory of the late Marian Finucane. De Brí, based in Meath, has quietly become one of the country’s most successful sculptors with her pieces being highly sought-after globally. Her work, which often focuses on women, features elegant figures and objects and ranges from desk ornaments to large installations.

De Brí has had six major solo shows and completed 26 site-specific, large-scale public sculpture commissions in Ireland, London and Istanbul. Other collections include the University of Limerick, Bank of Ireland, Aer Rianta, Dublin City University, the Office of Public Works, RTÉ and Brown Thomas.

However, it is her list of private commissions that have seen her name travel far outside of Ireland. This list, while kept secret, includes global celebrities, businesspeople and, as revealed recently, even Archbishop Desmond Tutu.