The first EMPOWER programme ran from 2017-2019, across the counties of Galway, Mayo and Roscommon through the GMIT Galway and Mayo Innovation Hubs and was spearheaded and managed by Maria Staunton. It was funded by the Government of Ireland and the European Social Fund as part of the Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020. Based on the impressive EMPOWER I results, funding was secured to run a second EMPOWER cycle, EMPOWER II between 2019 and September 2022 and was expanded to a six-county region to include Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal. It was delivered through the ATU Innovation Hubs in Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal and managed by Sandra Divilly Nolan.
EMPOWER delivers two distinct programmes. EMPOWER START is designed for those with an idea who are seeking to validate their business concept while EMPOWER GROWTH is for individuals established in business and looking to grow and scale.
Supporting female founders to fast track their business development is a source of economic growth for the West and North West of Ireland. The demand for places on the programmes demonstrates the level of interest in entrepreneurship and the need for support. 170 women applied for 64 places on the EMPOWER I cycle. This increased to over 470 applications for 67 places on the EMPOWER II cycle. Over 320 applications were received for the START programme and 150 for the GROWTH programme. This is indicative of the wealth of talent and innovative thinking in the region. The figures really do speak for themselves. A survey conducted in September 2021 of EMPOWER past participants revealed that, since completing the programme, 48% of the businesses had entered new markets. There was also a 70% increase in the number of products or services provided. Furthermore, EMPOWER businesses have reported growth of 56% in their national customer base and 47% globally. A total of 146 new employees have been hired since programme completion and €1.2 million investment has been collectively secured along with various vouchers, grants and innovation partnerships.
The benefits of the programmes were even more wide-ranging. During the EMPOWER II cycle, 30 ATU students completed work placements and assignments in EMPOWER businesses and some of our founders also gave guest lectures to the ATU students. The Local Enterprise Offices in the region also played a pivotal role, providing additional training, support, and business mentoring to the EMPOWER participants. WDC, Westbic and the women in business networks also collaborated to support these female founders in many different ways and local radio stations and newspapers shared the participants’ stories to inspire and build on the thriving community of female founders in the region. This cross-sectoral support and encouragement was fundamentally important to the writing of the EMPOWER success story and we are very grateful to all who got involved.