WELSH woman Sian Horn is a tour de force when it comes to empowering Cork women in business.
Not that she’d admit that herself – she’s far too busy organising her next event or Zoom call to indulge in any such ‘notions’. But the regard she’s held in by women in business for themselves here is immense, and that’s mainly down to two clever innovations of hers.
One is her Women in Business Expo, which is taking place for the second year in a row at the Marina Market next month.
Designed for both retailers and services to showcase what they’re all about and to engage with others, the Expo was born out of another initiative of hers called The Club.
This is a new style of network exclusively for women in business, which she launched at the end of 2020, and which members say is akin to having invisible arms wrapped around you, egging you on every step of the way.
It’s different to other networks, explains Sian, because as well as the support element, there’s also a huge emphasis on learning.
“It goes back to that whole thing of giving someone fish, or teaching them to fish for themselves. I want to teach people how to fish,” she said.
“Collaboration is key for me, so it’s more about a support system than a network.”
At the end of last year, with the country in a very different place and with very little taking place, Sian decided to organise the first Women in Business Expo which was a tremendous success with over 65 stands taking part. This year it’s back and it’s strategically scheduled around International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day.
“It’s a day where you’re surrounded by other empowered women, by camaraderie, friendship and collaboration. To anyone thinking about stepping forward, this is the week to do it,” insists Sian.
The Expo takes place on the weekend of March 12 and 13.
Here’s what last year’s exhibitors have to say ….
Janna Mullaney, Sleepy Chicken
Janna Mullaney says that starting an online business can sometimes feel like shouting into a void.
But she said being part of last year’s women’s business expo gave her a wonderful launch pad.
Janna is originally from Cork city and now lives in Midleton. She crafted her online business, designed to give a platform to female-led brands who create products for modern women and their family, during maternity leave.
Called Sleepy Chicken, she had only been up and running a few weeks when she took the plunge and took part in the expo last November.
Sleepy Chicken at its core is about women empowering women, she explains, so it was a no-brainer for her to get involved.
And she feels really lucky to have had such a positive experience, so early in her entrepreneurial journey.
“Every exhibitor was so supportive and friendly. As a solo entrepreneur it was great to get a ‘team’ feeling from what can be an overwhelming experience,” she remembers.
Mum to Matilda, who she calls the ‘original Sleepy Chicken’, she said: “I knew I wanted to present the whole collection together in person to give people the feel for the brand. The expo was perfect, a supportive space built by a businesswoman I admire, Sian.”
She’d encourage anyone to be part of the event – both as an exhibitor and a customer.
“For any woman new to business it’s a perfect opportunity to network, market your business and make those sales,” she said.
“The overall vibe of the event was so infectious that I had to join The Club, a networking club for female founders.”
Debbie Ford, Citrus and Sage
Debbie Ford and Sian Horn both grew up near one another in Wales, but the two never crossed paths until they were both Leeside!
Debbie, who set up her online interiors business, Citrus and Sage, in the middle of the pandemic, starting trading in November, 2020, describes her fellow Welsh woman as incredibly “encouraging and motivating”.
“The Club is like a little sisterhood of women from all different backgrounds who would otherwise be working on their own,” said Debbie.
Herself and her rugby coach husband moved to Cork in 2001 when their daughter Rosie was six months old. She’s now 21, and they also have sons aged 17 and 14.
Debbie, who has extensive interiors and merchandising experience, had been toying with the idea of opening her own bricks and mortar shop when the pandemic hit.
But after advice from the Local Enterprise Office to ‘dabble first with an online presence’ she built a website, set up from a cabin in her garden, and hasn’t looked back since.
But she said joining Sian’s Club in June and being part of the business expo have been invaluable to her on the journey.
“Everyone just gets everyone completely. I’ve made some fantastic friendships. It’s like having a network of invisible arms around you,” said Debbie.
Veronica Stack, Veronica’s Closet
Being passionate about fashion and helping people proved a winning combination for Veronica Stack.
She offers a private shopping experience from her Douglas home, for women who don’t like shopping in the traditional way.
She launched two years ago this summer, and joked she had been offering the service for years without even realising it when she’d automatically help women in various changing rooms around the city!
Working in retail all her life, it’s what comes naturally to her, but there were some aspects of the business she admits she found more challenging than others.
“Scrolling online, I found The Club and it’s the best thing ever! I joined last July, mainly looking for help with social media skills, and I found it great in that regard, as well as being incredibly supportive.
“It sounds like a cliché, but it’s like a network of friends all rooting for each other in a very genuine way.
"And added to that is the real learning opportunity that it affords. It’s a real no brainer for me to be part of both the club and the expo.”
Alison Desmond, Desmond
Alison Desmond says she has a vivid memory, like so many other entrepreneurs from around January, 2021, when the pandemic was raging, of how bleak things looked.
But being part of The Club offered invaluable reassurance when it was needed most.
Like Sian, Alison, who runs her own marketing business, is a big believer in collaboration, which is what The Club is all about.
“It can be lonely owning your own business so it’s great to have a chance to be surrounded by like-minded women.”
As a service provider, she points out there aren’t that many spaces to showcase what you do.
“The expo is a really unique concept in that it brings together both retailers and services. I found it was a great asset to my business, it was great for brand awareness and it translated into concrete business which was a real bonus.”
She described the club as a “safe and supported space”.
“You really couldn’t imagine the benefits until you’re in it. We’re all learning and educating each other. Being part of it has been the biggest aspect of my business growth.”
For more on the expo, email firstname.lastname@example.org