Meet the five entrepreneurs levelling up their businesses with the help of Visa’s She’s Next programme
Introducing the entrepreneurs of the Visa She’s Next class of 2023 who each qualify for a €10,000 grant and a year of mentorship
It's the third consecutive year for She's Next, the exceptional female founders grant programme empowered by Visa.
Created to support female-led small businesses, and particularly early-stage female entrepreneurs, since March of 2020 the She's Next programme has awarded over €2.5 million in grants, coaching and scholarships globally.
In Ireland, She's Next is growing at an impressive pace, with hundreds of applications this year and more than double the entries received in 2022.
The animating spirit of She's Next is found in sustainable support. Not only do the winners of She's Next in Ireland each receive €10,000 towards their entrepreneurial ambitions, the winning founders will each benefit from a whole year's worth of mentoring through iFundWomen. The combined power of these supports make for the support, and the means, to help these brilliant business owners reach the next level.
This year, the She's Next judging panel identified five wonderful winners, ranging from agricultural innovation to inclusive media and children's shoes. They are united by their ingenuity, as Mandy Lamb, managing director of UK and Ireland for Visa, comments: “Pure grit and determination is required to shine through in business, and we saw that in the applications for the 2023 She's Next programme.
“Our judges managed to select five businesses led by five incredibly passionate women, and we hope that the support from Visa’s She's Next will make a real difference to their stories.”
Irish Tatler was once again delighted to partner with Visa to spotlight the She's Next Class of 2023, continuing our commitment to platforming visionary Irish women. For Visa, supporting small business owners is the constant mission.
“Women business leaders are absolutely integral to the future of entrepreneurship, and while important progress has been made, there’s still more to be done to address the challenges and obstacles that women-led businesses face,” Lamb told Irish Tatler.
“That’s why we are taking action, and through the She’s Next programme we are pleased that we can play a part in helping female entrepreneurs take their business to the next level.
“We’ve already seen the positive impact of the programme on our previous winners in Ireland and I’m excited to see what’s next for the 2023 She’s Next winners. Having met all five, they are the most amazing and inspiring group of women whose energy and ambition know no bounds.”
So, let's meet the small business owners who are ready to take on the world:
Micro Business: Suraya Rahman, Little Eden Terrariums
Bringing a piece of nature into our homes in the most thoughtful way possible is the ambition behind Little Eden Terrariums. Launched last year by Suraya Rahman, the business offers handmade miniature ecosystems encased in glass that make for elegant home decor pieces.
For the green-fingered, Rahman offers group workshops to create bespoke terrariums using recycled, hand-blown glassware, home-cultivated plants and moss, and recycled materials. “I'm not someone who comes from a business background. I studied psychology and went into consultancy, so the mentorship coupled with the funding from She’s Next felt like really good ingredients to help grow the business at this early stage,” Rahman told Irish Tatler.
In particular, Rahman hopes to focus her efforts on marketing and brand awareness: “Key to unlocking the potential of my business will be making connections with the types of retailer that I could see my products in. I don’t have a brick-and-mortar business, so developing brand awareness will be hugely beneficial.”
As for the future of Little Eden Terrariums, Rahman hopes to expand the brand with a wider range of botanic home decor and workshops. “Success to me is if someone was to ask their friends or family, ‘have you heard of Little Eden Terrariums?’ And the answer would be ‘yes, I love what they do’. That's where I'd like to see myself in a few years’ time.” littleedenterrariums.com
Early-Stage Business: Alison McGrath, My First Steps
Alison McGrath’s mission is to change the landscape of children’s foot health in Ireland. With a survey from the Royal College of Podiatry indicating that up to 30 per cent of children are wearing the wrong shoe size, her business My First Steps aims to inspire confidence in parents with friendly, informative, and expert-led advice when it comes to finding the perfect fit.
With two retail stores (one in Ennis and the other in Galway city) McGrath and her team assist parents with measuring and selecting podiatrist-approved footwear. She recognises the need for an online service for those unable to make the journey west, something the She’s Next programme will assist with: “Developing a website that offers the same expertise, measuring tools, and is consultation-led is the next stage for us. We’re trying to develop technology that will allow us to do that, so the injection of capital will be a major help.”
McGrath hopes to couple this online expansion with the long-term goal of adding more stores across Ireland. “When we’re at the five-year mark, we’d love to have at least four retail stores and a thriving established website.” For now, though, she will be doubling down on a marketing strategy with a She’s Next mentor and enjoying the sense of accomplishment. “For someone to see your vision and the potential of your business is really humbling, but incredibly empowering too.” myfirststeps.ie
Innovation and Technology: Marion Cantillon, PitSeal
PitSeal’s goal is to transform agricultural practices with a sustainable solution for covering silage pits. The innovation is courtesy of Limerick-native Marion Cantillon, who has created a biofilm made of seaweed and nutrients that offers an alternative to the traditional plastic covering.
It’s designed to be less slippery than plastic (therefore reducing farm accidents), its ingredients assist in reducing methane emissions, and it can be consumed by livestock as part of their winter fodder.
With just over two years in business, Cantillon told Irish Tatler the touchpoints she hopes to focus on with the assistance of the She’s Next funding and mentorship: “I want to grow the business’ network and leverage the fundraising and brand awareness elements to match that. I’ve done a lot of the groundwork myself, but hearing the advice from the mentors, specifically on targeting a sector like agriculture, will be fantastic.”
Being in a male-dominated industry, Cantillon doesn’t shy away from its obstacles: “I definitely face stereotyping; that I couldn’t be the person running this business. But my best advice is to establish your credibility. That’s one thing that can’t be challenged. I’m lucky that I’m doing my PhD in the same area as my business, so being able to bring my academic credibility to the industry is key.”
Next for Cantillon is entering markets in New Zealand and Australia: “We’ve made farm contacts there, and hopefully in the next two to three years we’ll get our product out to those markets. It’s a big goal, but I’m excited about the future.” pit-seal.com
General Small Business: Rachel Hennessy, Happy Days
There’s much to love about making a luxury purchase for a fraction of the usual price tag. Add sustainability to the mix and it’s a no-brainer. Such is the sentiment behind Rachel Hennessy’s Dublin-based fashion rental platform Happy Days.
Launched in 2021, the fashion rental service makes luxury occasionwear accessible for all sizes, ages, and budgets. And though Happy Days has scaled quickly since its launch, Hennessy – who has a background in accounting – says that doubling down on a marketing and branding strategy with the aid of a She’s Next mentor is invaluable: “Developing a marketing strategy will allow us to reach new markets and audiences and then convert them into customers. So far, we have only had the capacity for organic growth in these areas so the funding will be a major assistance too,” Hennessy told Irish Tatler.
Another key area the funding will assist with is physical pop-up shops: “What I have really identified over the last few months is the opportunity to expand our reach and offer pop-up shops across the country – but funding has always been the obstacle. I know we have a big cohort of customers in certain counties and offering them the physical shopping experience will be really beneficial to our growth,” she adds.
And so too will the access to a network of like-minded women that the She’s Next programme fosters: “A really nice element of the initiative is that the winners are spread across Ireland – so having a network of female entrepreneurs in the counties that we are interested in entering is really helpful.” happy-days.ie
Changemaker: Mambo Ogoro, GORM Media
Mamobo Ogoro has a mission: to spark a movement of unity across differences. She’s working to achieve it through her social enterprise GORM Media, which she founded in 2020.
GORM provides content and video production; diversity, equity, and inclusion consultancy; and intercultural competence training (a psychologically-informed approach to training people to positively engage across differences) to its business partners across commercial, arts, and media industries.
To scale GORM to the next level, Ogoro says the She’s Next funding is crucial: “Essentially I was facilitating all the training with our partners off the back of my PhD research in social psychology, and if you’re constantly working directly in the organisation, the organisation isn’t growing.
“The funding will allow us to develop training packages to bring other facilitators on board to deliver consultancy and training to our partners. That will give me space to then focus on expanding our services and impact.”
She stresses the importance of the programme’s inclusion of social enterprises, too, given that they “are often forgotten in the conversation” she says. “We're thinking about cash flow like any other business, but our focus is on being a socially-driven enterprise that impacts the world in a positive way.”
Ogoro’s advice for social entrepreneurs to-be? “Never compromise your vision. There will be people who tell you it won’t work. But if you know your vision will add value to the world, don’t compromise it.” gormmedia.com
For more information on the Visa She’s Next programme, visit visa.ie