Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Female Founders at Houses of Parliament | EF.

Houses of Parliament, we meet again!

What is it like having breakfast at the Houses of Parliament? Different, very different indeed.

On November 29th, I caught a train so early in the morning I saw sunrise on my way to London. Now, this may sound like an inconvenience to some, ludicrous to many, and adventurous to the few. I was on my way to London - with an ankle affected by tendonitis I may add, painful! - for a opportunity I could not miss. Not even my doctor could persuade me otherwise. I was heading to the Houses of Parliament to join other females with a technical background who have already dived in, dipping their toes, or looking at the 'pool of entrepreneurship' and wondering whether to make splash. There were perhaps 50 of us, ranging from Electronics Engineers, Astrophysicists, Biomedical Engineers, PhD graduates, PhD students, established business owners, and tech startup founders and co-founders currently making international trading deals. Despite all our different technical interests and domains, the fundamental common ground we all had was that we were female. Given that this was a tech event, this speaks volumes.

Upon arrival to London, and picking up the latest Wired US magazine and unfortunately not finding this month's Kinfolk magazine (come on WHSmiths!), I hailed a London Black Taxi and asked to go to Houses of Parliament. The taxi ride was a pretty wondrous time for me actually. The last time I went to the Houses of Parliament was when I was a first year undergraduate at University. I took the day off University and went on a University trip to attend a talk/meeting on improving gender equality in the workplace. It was a time for me when I was starting to really understand how little female representation there are in STEM careers, especially Engineering where it currently stands at 9%. I went to the event to become more informed. When I started my Electronics Engineering undergraduate degree I was unaware of the female imbalance/shortage. By attending this talk, I could know the problems and reasons why in order to help me establish a solution to make things better in the future any way I could. Memories of this day, my first visit to the Houses of Parliament, made me a little bit warmer in the unforgivably cold London taxi. The taxi driver and I had a pleasant conversation on how much London had changed, how London is busy throughout the day, and he even put the heating on for me! It was going to be a great morning.

Appreciating the view of London during my Londn Black Taxi ride.

Compared to my first visit to the Houses of Parliament, this event was certainly more focused to my tech/engineering background and skillset. The event was created by Entrepreneur First, (EF) a start-up accelerator that turn University graduates (Bachelors, Masters, Doctorates) into start-up founders to venture into the world of entrepreneurship. Additionally, those who are already in industry who want to start their own business can also apply to join Entrepreneur First's program. I met Entrepreneur First near the very start of their success story, and I even wrote about it here! Ever since that first encounter, I have been mesmerised by how much Matt and Alice have been able to scale their business and make their impact international. I am very grateful for them in investing their time in me over the years, opening my eyes to the London tech start-up scene and introducing me to people who have since become my friends. In mt opinion, EF give people the realisation and opportunity to form their own business and make their legacy in the world through technology, engineering, and business.

This event was the second EF Female Founders Breakfast they have held, with the intention of bringing together technically-skilled female in a common place - it was such a thrill meeting another technical female, as this does not happen very often! - to bond and learn about skills needed to thrive in entrepreneurship if we ever wanted to take that path. The first Female Founders Breakfast event was held at the Entrepreneur First London HQ, and the second one in the opulent Houses of Parliament.

Appreciating the close view of Big Ben, London.

I gained new friends through the first EF Female Founders Breakfast (my experience at the event here), and I met up with one of them - Maura - upon entering the Houses of Parliament via the Cromwell Green entrance. We were greeted by the pleasantly jovial Houses of Parliament security team - not being sarcastic at all, they were genuinely incredibly humorous and welcoming and brightened our morning -  before being stopped in our tracks by the massive Christmas Tree in the entrance hall.

Houses of Parliament visitor's entrance. 

Once majority of the attendees arrived, we huddled through the corridors that led to our venue room. It was a feast for the eyes to look at the portraits, tapestry, and rich colours of the room. I am sure it took us longer to find somewhere to sit. Not because there were not enough chairs, but because we were so enamored by the scenery we wanted to tour around the room first! Even the ceiling was not abandoned, for it had a wooden matrix structure throughout.

Insight to the beautiful Houses of Parliament interiors.

We were welcomed to the Houses of Parliament by Alice Bentinck, co-founder of Entrepreneur First; Jenny Brennan, Developer Relations Lead at Entrepreneur First, organiser of the event, and a friend I made a few years back at a tech event; Zoe Jervier, Global Head of Talent at Entrepreneur First and one of the first EF employees I met years back!; Alan Mak, a MP with an interest with entrepreneurship and supporter of Entrepreneur First; lastly key speaker of the event Wendy Tan White, former Moonfruit CEO and co-founder turned Entrepreneur First's General Partner.

What I learnt most in Wendy Tan White's talk was the importance of discipline, resilience, the important of surrounding yourself with individuals who have a similar mission in life to you. Wendy's ability to weave life lessons through anecdotal storytelling allowed easy listening of very stressful of character-defining moments she faced, as she and her partners made a success of Moonfruit. It certainly did not gloss over the idea of entrepreneurship, in fact, it showed me that entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Living everyday knowing that you could lose everything you spent years of carefully nurturing is a lifelong risk you opt in to take. You have to question if you are willing to accept that daily risk for the potential gratification that comes with growing a fruitful and soul-fulfilling business, culture, technology, that truly reflects your goals, ethos, skillset. The Q+A session revealed the calibre of attendees at the event. Some questions were asked by Nell Bennet who is the co-founder and designer at Doppel, a wearable tech startup which wearable alleviates stress through subtly rhythmic haptic feedback that regulates your heart rate; a question from Marija Butkovic from Women of Wearables, a group that highlights and unites female founders and disruptors in the Wearable Tech Industry; Cristiana Camisotti, previous co-founder of Silicon Milkroundabout turned CCO of Edited; and a question from me!

Female Founders Breakast by Entrepreneur First, hosted by Houses of Parliament.
Wendy Tan White interviewed by Alice Bentinck.

Overall, I thoroughly recommend EF's Female Founders Breakfast to any female with a technical background to attend. You meet like-minded people (who happen to be female), more opportunity to meet others with a similar technical background, you receive great career advice, and a unique opportunity to meet friends in very unique settings. Besides female-only events, other events held by Entrepreneur First are sure to be of interest. Just last week or so there was an evening talk held at their London HQ given by William Tunstall-Pedoe who is the founder of Evi (also known for being part of Amazon's Alexa Smart Home Hub), and on December 8th there is an Engineering Careers Fair to get the opportunity to intern for Entrepreneur First's startups! Lastly, Entrepreneur First are hosting an 'open house' visit at their London HQ on December 14th if you want to meet the team and discover an option of entrepreneurship you may have not consdered before.

Exciting times to be in the Engineering and Tech sector right now. There are a plethora of opportunities if you know where to look. Hopefully this blogpost may offer some insight as to the diversity choice available when merging STEM careers with business or other Humanities or Art-related sectors. Though, if you are interested in gaining technical skills and not from a tech background there is another opportunity for you to consider. For me, it has certainly shown me there are no limits as to what I can achieve with the diverse skills I have - it is just a question of how I am going to do it.

Take Courage,

Olivia


All photos are mine, please do not use without my permission.

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