‘Award is proof that I’m on the right track’ says winner of Cork Businesswoman of the Year award

We catch up with some of the winners of the Network Cork Businesswoman of the Year Awards
‘Award is proof that I’m on the right track’ says winner of Cork Businesswoman of the Year award

Award Winner Noella Carroll-Pinnaklo. Pictures: Gerard McCarthy



AFTER a 25-year career working in senior financial roles for multinationals like EMC and Gilead, Noella Carroll took the plunge and set up her own business.

Her motivation was not to have to travel so much so she could spend more time at home with her family – husband David and three teenage daughters.

With that in mind, she launched Pinnaklo, a financial mentoring company, in January 2020 completely oblivious to the imminent global pandemic which threw all her carefully made plans entirely out the window.

“I was still very much in the start-up phase when Covid hit, but I was all ready to build on the clients I had. Of course everything changed overnight,” she said.

Two years on, and having just won the Emerging Business category at the Network awards, Noella has obviously turned the corner.

But she admits the journey hasn’t been without a few bumps and twists on the way.

“There were many, many times I doubted myself,” said Noella, from Carrigrohane.

But she persevered and now employs a team of two, and credits her mum Kathleen for her steely determination.

“My mother ran the first hair salon in Bandon. My dad died suddenly, he had a massive heart attack, 43 years ago, and she had four children to bring up, and a living to earn too.

“Just a few months ago I found myself struggling and I knew she was the only person who would really get what I was going through, and she just told me to keep ploughing on, that another door would always open, and she’s right, it does. She always gives me that great strength.”

Minister Michael McGrath TD guest speaker and his wife Sarah pictured with Maria Desmond President Network Cork and Gina London, MC and speaker at the Network Cork Annual Dinner and Businesswoman of the Year Awards at Fota Island Resort. Picture: Gerard McCarthy
Minister Michael McGrath TD guest speaker and his wife Sarah pictured with Maria Desmond President Network Cork and Gina London, MC and speaker at the Network Cork Annual Dinner and Businesswoman of the Year Awards at Fota Island Resort. Picture: Gerard McCarthy

Noella also credits her ‘amazing husband,’ and siblings for their support along the way.

Her daughters are aged 18, 16 and 14 and she’s clearly a hugely positive role model for them. The other day her youngest daughter had to write a school essay about someone who inspires her, and she chose her mum. If that’s not positive endorsement, we don’t know what is.

Noella’s advice to anyone thinking of going it alone in business is to believe in themselves.

“It’s not for everyone, and you do have to know what you’re doing, but ultimately you must have that self-belief, the confidence to go for it.”

Award Winner Aoife Behan.
Award Winner Aoife Behan.



HIGHLY qualified with a Masters, and ready to hit the ground running, Aoife Behan found herself back living at home in Waterford and without a job, thanks to the pandemic.

But the resourceful young woman turned things around for herself pretty fast by using the time to upskill in some key areas, before being recruited virtually for an exciting new position.

That was as digital marketing manager with the Montenotte Hotel. She joined the team in April 2021 and worked remotely for first two months before relocating to join the team in Cork city.

She’s motivated in her role to really get into ‘the consumer mindset’ and says there are exciting times ahead for the hotel which is striving to become the country’s leading independent urban resort.

Aoife is looking forward to playing a key role in that ‘huge evolution’ which will see woodland suites, nests and cantilever units, along with a concept restaurant, open next May.

She lives in Rochestown, and in her spare time she enjoys the city’s social life and plays football with St Michael’s in Blackrock.

She is super conscious of maintaining digital boundaries, and digital down-time, as not only is her day job online, but she’s also part of Network Cork’s social media volunteer team, and that’s before her own consumption.

“It could get overwhelming but I do make a conscious effort to switch off.”

Being part of Network Cork is something she’s passionate about, and she was genuinely shocked to win this year’s Rising Star category.

“I was so surprised. I hadn’t put myself into contention at all and it was just so lovely to get that recognition from such an established group of people.

“I honestly feel so lucky to be exposed to such a powerhouse of women,” she said.

Award Winner Orla McAndrew.
Award Winner Orla McAndrew.



“AN emotional wreck.”

That’s how Orla McAndrew described how she felt after winning the Creative category at the Network Awards.

The Echo caught up with her the morning after her win and Orla was already back in work mode catering a wedding, and the news was still sinking in.

Her background is food, but as a stay-at-home mum for six years, Orla says she never quite knew what she wanted to do.

She’s told the story before how it was a chance meeting of a woman in a park four years ago who was due to get married in a few short weeks, but who didn’t have a caterer that sparked her light bulb moment and set her on her current path.

“And this award is proof that I’m on the right path,” she said with real emotion crediting the support from her husband, sister and parents as invaluable.

“I went from being lost and undervalued, to realising that it’s up to me to value myself. You have to tune into your own talents and shine that light on yourself,” she says.

Having said that she admits to still sometimes suffering from ‘imposter syndrome,’ which is why getting validation from her peers means so much.

“I never thought of myself as a business woman to be honest. I’d heard great things about Network Cork but I didn’t think it was for me, but joining the organisation was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” she said.

She launched the business in 2018, and the past two years, she says, have been a huge journey.

“I was just finding my feet when Covid came along. It was hard work. I tried everything to keep it going but I was really true to myself, and did what I felt was right, I didn’t look outwards,” she said.

She loves what she does, and describes her food as an extension of herself.

“I love that I get to share myself with people through the food that I’m offering,” says the mum-of-three from Donoghmore.

And at a time when so many businesses are struggling to recruit and retain staff, she says she’s lucky to have the support of 30 staff at any time.

That pretty much says it all.

Award Winner Cathy Fitzgibbon.
Award Winner Cathy Fitzgibbon.



THE timing of Cathy Fitzgibbon’s business award couldn’t have been better as she’s just announced plans to launch new wellness retreats.

Cathy, aka the Culinary Celt, published her book Eat With The Seasons – Self-Guidance Mindful Eating And Gratitude Journal earlier this year.

Cathy is from a farming background and describes herself as a ‘food educator,’ who wants to help people reconnect with the simple act of eating.

The power of marketing, she feels, has detached people from how they should eat. Taking the example of strawberries, she says that just because they’re in shops all year round, doesn’t mean we should eat them all year round.

“By eating in season you get the best nutrition,” she says.

“You can’t look at food in silos either, you have to look at the bigger picture in that by spending an extra €1 on a head of cabbage, you might save yourself €60 on a doctor’s visit. You have to look at the ripple effect food has on your gut health, your mental health, your quality of life.”

With lots of advice in this area, and lots of it conflicting, Cathy says she ‘cuts through the noise,’ and importantly doesn’t have an agenda.

“I don’t advocate any particular diet, my ethos is sustainability and well-being,” she said.

However she is clear that people are consuming in a way that’s not sustainable: “We need to eat with the cycle of nature and seasons, be that vegan or meat-eating. And if just one person learns one thing based on me channeling that information about going back to basics than it will have been a good day’s work.”

Winning the award was completely unexpected. She first joined Network Cork in 2013 when she was in a different role, and rejoined last November.

“This was my first time winning for myself and it honestly took me a while to process. I had a total delayed reaction and I think it only hit me as I was on the way home! The validation feels really, really good.

The Network Cork Businesswoman of the Year Award winners with Maria Desmond, Network Cork President and Ingrid Seim, Awards Coordinator. Picture: Gerard McCarthy.
The Network Cork Businesswoman of the Year Award winners with Maria Desmond, Network Cork President and Ingrid Seim, Awards Coordinator. Picture: Gerard McCarthy.


Eight winners were chosen from 31 finalists and were announced at the group’s annual black tie dinner at Fota Island Resort. All finalists will now proceed to the national awards ceremony in Galway on October 7. A separate President’s Award was also presented.

The full list of winners were:

Solo Businesswoman sponsored by Ardin Career Development: Cathy Fitzgibbon, The Culinary Celt

 Emerging New Businesswoman sponsored by Kinsale Gin: Noella Carroll, Pinnaklo

Established Businesswoman sponsored by HerMoney: Sandra Looney, To Have and To Hold

Rising Star Employee sponsored by Alive Coaching: Aoife Behan, The Montenotte Hotel 

Shining Star Employee sponsored by Beacon Commercial Business Services: Gillian Roche, GE Healthcare 

Creative Professional sponsored by Hopkins Communications: Orla McAndrew, Orla McAndrew Food 

STEM sponsored by DePuy J&J: Sinead O'Flynn, Health 4 U

‘The President’s Award’ sponsored by Grant Thornton was presented to Irene Wallace, Cork Fire Service in recognition of her mental and physical courage, her inspiration and service to the public, even during the pandemic, her appetite for continuous professional development, all in a male dominated sector, and to highlight the importance of engagement between the public and private sectors.

The event was hosted by Emmy-winning former CNN correspondent and anchor Gina London, while guest speaker for the evening was Minister Michael McGrath.

President of Network Cork Maria Desmond congratulated this year’s award winners and paid tribute to sponsors AIB, Cork City LEO and the judging panel for their support. See www.networkireland.ie/cork for more about the organisation.

Next week in WoW! we will profile the remaining winners.

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