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Cork Woman Named as Winner of JFC Innovation Awards 2011

Business Student Programme business scoops top rural business prize

A Cork entrepreneur who brings hundreds of foreign students to Ireland each year to learn English, generating up to €2 million for the economy, has won the overall 2011 JFC Innovation Award for rural business. Bernie Carroll from Charleville won the prize for her business, Student Programmes Ireland, which places young foreign students in secondary schools to help them perfect their English.

Bernie identified the demand for students to live with Irish families and go to local secondary schools in 2009 and placed over 100 students in secondary schools around Munster and Connacht in her first year of trading. In 2010 Bernie grew this to 160 students and is all set for further growth.

Bernie was named the overall winner of the JFC Innovation Awards for Rural Business, an all-island competition for farmers and rural entrepreneurs who have a business that has commenced trading in the last 5 years. The Awards, sponsored by JFC, are organised jointly by Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland, the Irish Farmers’ Journal and the Irish Local Development Network and were presented in Galway this week.

Bernie said she was over the moon to have won the award. “I believe I’m the first woman to win it outright and I hope I won’t be the last. To win this for my work in rural Ireland is extra special because I’ve been involved in rural development for years.

She said with the recession there is now a waiting list of families to take students as they see it as a way of bringing in additional money. The host family get paid for each week they have the students. The schools the students attend benefit from the capitalisation grant from the Government. Bernie has focused on Eastern European countries, Slovakia in particular. She sees potential in the US and Asia.

Now in their fifth year, the awards have been responsible for supporting and developing excellent business concepts from farmers and rural entrepreneurs.

Organised by Teagasc, the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN) DARD, (Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development), the Irish Farmers Journal and sponsored by JFC Manufacturing in Galway, the overall prize fund for the competition is valued in excess of €40,000.  This includes cash prizes totalling €12,000, provided by JFC Manufacturing, advertising in the Irish Farmers’ Journal valued at €16,000, and mentoring and business support from Teagasc, ILDN and DARD worth €16,000.

As well as the overall prize there were four categories in this year’s competition and a special merit award: They were:

  • Energy / Manufacturing Category: - David Russell and Liam Keelagher of Fivemiletown, Co. Tyrone, for Klassoo, a noose which    makes it easier to handle and restrain cattle in a safe and friendly way.  Contact: 00 44 2889598222 www.klassoo.com/
  • Value added/ Speciality Food: - John and David Hogan, of Everyday Foods, Ballaghadereen, Co. Roscommon, for large scale production of speciality oyster mushrooms. Contact: 086 8281456
  • Services / Rural Tourism: - Anne & Graham Ferguson, Ocean Addicts, Novohal, Co. Cork, who offer Ireland’s first Dive Liveaboard experience along the coast calling to a different port each evening. Contact: 021 4887963 www.oceanaddicts.ie
  • Start Up Category: - Michael Flanagan and his wife Aishling Roche of Achill Island Turbot, Achill, Co. Mayo. They have set up a business growing farmed turbot. Contact 087 6390841
  • Special Merit:  - Eoin Hogan, Trail Kilkenny, Kilkenny. Eoin Hogan coordinates Trails to allow visitors discover the craft and food producers dotted around the county.  One of the most important features is the finger posts signage that has been developed for each producer.

Congratulating the winners, John Concannon, Managing Director of JFC, said there is a wealth of talent and innovative ideas that need to be tapped into. “Innovation is needed more than ever in the current economic climate. We need to see new businesses emerge that will create employment and generate wealth in rural areas. The added value of this competition is that it is all-Island, which opens up a much larger marketplace for any successful applicants.” He added “Developing new ideas and creating new business will be the stepping stone for many that will lead to a better future. Our rural entrepreneurs could help lead Ireland out of the recession.”

Concannon, from Tuam in Co Galway, launched his innovative buckets for feeding calves on the Late Late Show 23 years ago. Today his successful company sells a variety of products worldwide and employs over 200 people with a turnover of €40m.

Director of Teagasc, Professor Gerry Boyle, said: “Innovation is a driver of the economy and while farming remains a core element, the economic and social development of rural Ireland is no longer limited simply to agriculture but encompasses the entire rural community. This is reflected in the diversity of the finalists in these awards.”