Meet some of Cork's budding female entrepreneurs

Pesto made from West Cork seaweed, a natural deodorant and environmentally friendly period products and underwear... these are just some of the new female start-up businesses on show this evening in County Hall as part of the Exxcel Programme
Meet some of Cork's budding female entrepreneurs
Valerie Finnegan Cahill, IKON Hair Cork, Valerie Sheehan, Tony the Turtle Books, Justyna Strzeszynska, Tempo, Lena Ní Mhurchú, Wanderfull, Aoife McCabe, Bridge Cubed, Olivia Norman, Naivilo Deodrant, Cathriona Tobin, Teaspaí and Susan O’Flahert, RetroKit at the 2019 Exxcel Female Entrepreneurship Showcase at the Vertigo, County Hall.  Picture: Darragh Kane

NINE female entrepreneurs have just completed the Exxcel Programme at the Rubicon Centre in Cork Institute of Technology and are showcasing their work at in Vertigo, County Hall this evening.

Now in its fifth year, the six month, part-time Exxcel Programme is the only programme in Ireland supported by Enterprise Ireland that is dedicated to supporting STEM female entrepreneurs.

The programme is designed to work around the participants’ daily demands as they balance very busy personal and professional lives.

Programme Manager, Lucy O’Donoghue said: “For the past six months they have attended training modules and worked closely with the Rubicon Centre and our team of trainers and mentors, guiding them through the complex process of validating their business ideas, completing investor ready business plans, and learning how to professionally pitch their ideas to potential backers.

“They are a highly skilled, resilient, hard-working, confident and motivated group of entrepreneurs who took a leap of faith in themselves and pursed their dream of starting a new business. We wish them every success as they move forward”.

Applications for the next Exxcel programme from January to June 2020 are now open.

Those interested in learning more about the programme should visit and register their interest or call Lucy O’Donoghue at 021-4928903. Here we meet the participants...

Valerie Sheehan of Tony the Turtle Book series.
Valerie Sheehan of Tony the Turtle Book series.

Valerie Sheehan, writer of Tony the Turtle Books series

I am from Blackrock, Cork, and am a special needs teacher working in Scoil Eanna in Montenotte. I started writing the books five years ago when I saw the lack of resources available to parents whose children struggled with everyday situations due to sensory difficulties, language delay, autism, or any kind of anxiety.

Through my own experience as a tutor for children on the spectrum, I wrote the books offering helpful tips and strategies to empower parents/teachers to help the child themselves and make everyday activities, like shopping or getting a haircut, easier for everyone.

Tony the turtle is a character that children can easily relate to as he goes into his shell when the outside world becomes too overwhelming.

The books teach both adult and child simultaneously and they open up conversations with siblings and peers that it is OK to be different.

There are nine books in the series so far with Ebooks currently in production, to be available by Christmas. The books are selling globally from my website and from several other outlets, including Waterstones in Cork.

I took part in the Exxcel course, as to be honest I didn’t know much about the business side of running a business. I have learned so much in the last six months, especially on how to get Tony out to a wider audience, who will all benefit from him. Thanks to the Exxcel course, it’s not only Tony who is coming out of his shell but me as well.

Olivia Norman of Naivilo

I live in Nohoval in south Cork with my husband and three children. I have a degree in biomedical science and a special interest in clean natural cosmetics.

Originally from Galway, I moved to Cork to finish my degree and worked in a Cork city hospital lab.

I was disappointed with the effect of chemical based deodorants on my body and wanted to find a more effective natural deodorant.

Using my scientific experience, I applied it to formulating an effective natural deodorant cream with no nasty chemicals. I knew, given the current demand for more ecological and natural products, that there was an opportunity to offer customers a healthier and more natural way of deodorising their body.

Naivilo offers a 3 in 1 gentle natural deodorant cream which nourishes the skin, aids detoxification and allows the body to perspire naturally while eliminating body odours.

Unlike other current natural cream deodorant products on the market, Naivilo deodorants don’t contain any baking soda (a skin irritant) or coconut oil (may block sweat pores), making them suitable for everyone, including pre-teens like her own children.

Other Naivilo products include a detoxifying armpit paste and a pit-mitt to provide a full armpit cleansing and deodorising solution.

It was an inspiring experience working with the Exxcel team of mentors, who provided domain expertise in a variety of different areas of business.

Additionally, the support of the other participants fostered a unique supportive and encouraging environment that assisted the foundation of Naivilo.

Naivilo’s mission is to change how we deodorise our bodies, one armpit at a time!

Naivilo will be officially launching with sales available through and selected retailers later this year.

Claire O'Sullivan of WASi Seaweed Pestos.
Claire O'Sullivan of WASi Seaweed Pestos.

Claire O’Sullivan of WASi Seaweed Pestos

Growing up in Bantry, I’ve always felt an affinity to the sea. For years I worked on ships travelling the world and when I returned I had terrible trouble settling into an office environment.

My days now consist of a morning walk with my dog by the sea, a swim and a big breakfast surrounded by family.

Starting my own business was probably the best thing I ever did, the scariest but the best. I love it and would advise any woman considering doing the same to go for it, it’s the things we don’t do in life that we end up regretting!

I’ve always been quite health conscious so worked hard to incorporate seaweed into my diet for its many health benefits. I’ve been making seaweed pesto for years for myself, my family and friends so when the time came to start my own business I felt this was the way to go. I created WASi which stands for Wild Atlantic Seaweed Ireland. At the moment we are producing a range of three different seaweed pestos but are working on expanding this line to introduce new products next year.

Our vision for the future is to expand into European markets in 2020 so we are speaking to distributors and retailers to make this happen.

I can’t speak highly enough of the Exxcel programme, just being surrounded by like-minded women going through the same stresses and pressures as myself has been a breath of fresh air. The encouragement, belief and mentoring has given me the support and confidence to keep moving forward.

Aoife McCabe, of Bridge Cubed.
Aoife McCabe, of Bridge Cubed.

Aoife McCabe of Bridge Cubed

I live with my two incredible children in our beautiful home in Midleton. I qualified from the University of Limerick in 2000 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, following that I completed my Graduate Diploma in Chemical Engineering (also in U.L.). Since then I have worked with numerous engineering design consultancies (PM Group, Jacobs Engineering & DPS Engineering) delivering projects for the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

It is thanks to my good friend Allana that I learned about the Exxcel Programme and the amazing work going on in The Rubicon Centre.

“Following my application and interview in March, I was delighted when I was offered a place. The programme mentors were second to none, always available to help and advise.

“Lucy, the programme manager, was outstanding, she provided invaluable support and guidance while (somehow!) also arranging the programme sessions as well as our many 1:1 mentoring sessions.

“After 20 years designing process equipment and delivering projects for pharmaceutical companies, I know that delivering a project on time and within budget is paramount.

“My company, Bridge Cubed, will work with leading pharmaceutical companies to provide 24/7 access to the most appropriate process equipment suppliers. We will also provide details of supplier performance, equipment costs, lead time and delivery. Bridge Cubed can connect pharmaceutical companies to high quality suppliers reducing their project’s risk and cost.

“Thanks to an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher, I am currently developing the Bridge Cubed software platform in partnership with the Nimbus Research Centre in CIT.

“The Exxcel Programme has re-ignited my passion for innovation and creativity, it has genuinely exceeded all my expectations. I have also met so many truly amazing and inspiring ladies on the programme, I have no doubt we will stay in touch for a long time to come.”

Valerie Finnegan Cahill of Max your Salon.
Valerie Finnegan Cahill of Max your Salon.

Valerie Finnegan Cahill of Max your Salon

“I’m married to Declan and have two sons, Finn, 19, and Jack, 13. I am a native of Cork.

“I’m in business for 22 years and my salon Ikon Hair Cork is a multi-award winning company with a reputation for excellence.

“Max your salon offers salon owners an on-line framework which shows them how to build a strong business — a template for success and profitability.

“The salon business is tough, it’s not just about skill and creativity. It’s about developing the right culture, retaining a strong team and delighting your customer.

“But how do you manage all that? Truth is, many salons don’t! I saw an opportunity to help other salon owners maximize their business and that is what my new company, Max your Salon is all about.

“The EXXCEL programme has helped me immensely in every area of developing my business idea.

“The help, guidance and expertise we received from Lucy and all of our mentors were second to none.

“This is an excellent programme and I feel privileged to have been one of the amazing women who took part.

“I am looking forward to taking my business Max your Salon to the next stage of development and providing the software that supports growth, best practice and team development in our industry.”

Justyna Strzeszynska of Tempo period products.
Justyna Strzeszynska of Tempo period products.

Justyna Strzeszynska of Tempo period products

Originally from Poland, I currently live in Dublin. In 2018, I was looking for a more comfortable period care product for myself and was stunned when I couldn’t find anything suitable on the market.

“After conducting a feasibility study it became clear that there was a big gap in the market. That’s how Tempo was born.

“Tempo is a new start-up company launching new and improved products within the period care market. Tempo’s customers are first time users, millennials and women in meno- and perimenopause.

“The company is currently developing prototypes of its products and is now seeking Intellectual Property protection.

“Tempo’s vision is to accelerate research and investment on female health.”

Winner of the Best Business Opportunity award Lena Ní Mhurchú, Wanderfull at the 2019 Exxcel Female Entrepreneurship Showcase at the Vertigo, County Hall.Pic Darragh Kane
Winner of the Best Business Opportunity award Lena Ní Mhurchú, Wanderfull at the 2019 Exxcel Female Entrepreneurship Showcase at the Vertigo, County Hall.Pic Darragh Kane

Lena Ni Mhurchu of Wanderful

I live in Innishannon with my husband Vincent Angland and we have had two children, Ellie (6) and Tim (3). I work as a software manager in Pilz Ireland, a German Safe Automation Company.

“We create software experiences that help manage workplace machinery safety, ensuring factory workers get home safely to their families every evening.

“I am passionate about my community and have been involved in a number of local community projects including furnishing Innishannon with a local playground.

“Our weekend family time is precious and we go on family ‘adventures’, to get us out and active. However if we go for a walk, the moans ‘Are we there yet?!’ are often heard as we negotiate our way around.

“Through Pilz I am familiar with Augmented Reality, I love orienteering and wondered was there a way to add ‘A sense of magic, to a simple outdoor walk’ by combining both.

“Hence the idea of Wanderful came into my head, but I had neither the know how nor the time to do anything with it. Then, by chance, I came across the Exxcel Program who were seeking ladies with a STEM related idea and had the ability to balance it around work and other life commitments. I applied for a place in the program and six months later I have a clear vision on how to propel Wanderful forward.

“The premise behind Wanderful is to get kids active, outdoors and learning and it’s something for the whole family. Through a simple app on a mobile device, trails come to life and help a child discover the likes of animated fairies in the woods, identify rarely seen native animals, even go on African safari on a local trail. We are also exploring the potential of Wanderful supporting schools with their digital learning objectives.”

Susan O'Flaherty of RetroKit.
Susan O'Flaherty of RetroKit.

Susan O’Flaherty of RetroKit

“I have been living in Clonakilty with my family since 2001. I studied languages and ran my own translation business, having started my career in project management in the non-profit sector. I am currently working as operations manager in XD Consulting, alongside my husband, a consulting engineer in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy. As we all know, climate change is a massive challenge and since housing represents a quarter of all CO2 emissions in Ireland, improving the energy efficiency of our homes is essential.

“So, over the last two and a half years, together with a very talented team of engineers, software developers and designers, and with a research grant from SEAI, we have created RetroKit. This is a software solution designed for engineers and managers in local authorities and housing associations, the people who need to decide on the best way to invest in the energy upgrades of their housing stock.

“I took part in the Exxcel Programme to support me in developing RetroKit as a business and to have access to expert advice through the team of trainers and mentors.

“An added bonus was to meet with the other members of the group of inspiring women.

“As to plans for the future? We are currently working on a pilot project with Cork City Council, who will be trialling RetroKit for us next month.

“By the end of 2019, RetroKit will be available as a digital platform on the cloud.”

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