I admit it. Our previous blogs haven’t exactly focused exclusively on the main focus of the Outbox Incubator: that the girls are becoming female entrepreneurs before our very eyes and building their own start-ups every day in the Outbox house. So many things happened in week 5, a particular highlight being Debbie – Event Stemette’s – delicious and impromptu apple crumble and custard at 10pm one night.
But the crumble chat will have to wait. I’ve just sat in on a session: Emma McGuigan, Stemettes Godmother & head of Accenture UK technology, interviewing Dame Stephanie (“Steve”) Shirley who set up the first ever all-women software company in 1962. We posed the question: “who here would like to own and run their own business?”. Every single girl put their hand up – apart from Seray who after 5 weeks in the house has decided she wants to own a business but have a team to run it for her. Fair play, Seray – you certainly know your own mind.
Even Stephanie Shirley didn’t always want to start a business, so perhaps many of our girls are a step ahead of this fabulous women at their age.
Inspired by the wealth of young female entrepreneurs, aged 11-22, I was sitting amongst, I felt compelled to find out more about how Outbox Incubator had been for them on their path to running their own start-ups.
“Paula, what has been the best thing you have learnt from your time in the Outbox Incubator?”
“That it is extremely important to always have a business plan in mind. That way you can have a strategy and make sure that you achieve what you set out to achieve”
To think that Stemettes didn’t even have a business plan written down anywhere when we first started…
“And Vanessa, do you have anything to add?”
“My favourite quote that I have heard in a session is ‘The only thing that limits you is the constraints of your own imagination’. I never want to limit myself”.
“Sam, has there been anything you’ve experienced or learnt here that has shocked you?”
“I found the topcoder.com session really interesting; the idea that you can share your code and make money based on how good your code is really fascinates me. I also have a favourite quote from house…”
“Go on then, Sam”
“’If the wheels don’t come off, you’re not running fast enough’. To me that means that we have to push ourselves to the limit if we’re going to succeed in creating our own businesses”.
Perhaps that’s what all those late nights in the house are down to then. A mixture of coding, business planning and ridiculous amounts of gossip is probably the most accurate summary.
“And Sonia, has there been a particularly stand-out session for you?”
“Yes, I really enjoyed the Skype session we had with John Stepper in New York. He explained his concept of ‘Working Out Loud’ and the importance of creating our own networks for success and support”.
All the girls in that circle have pledged to Work Out Loud, beginning with blogging about their work in an honest way and setting up their own working out loud circles to share goals and support others.
“Finally, Seray (who is spending the whole 6 weeks in Outbox – we can’t get rid of her), what are your thoughts?”
“The best thing about Outbox Incubator for me is all the opportunities that have been opened up for me. I used to think that you had to be in a certain place at the right time to do lots of things but I’ve realised that I can push to achieve my goals anywhere and at any time.”
She learnt this from Naima, a fellow Outbox exec and as a result is going to apply for a particular grant years earlier than she would have done.
“And I loved the session with Leigh Brody on Biotech most. It was amazing what we can do with genes and how we can “silence” them, so they don’t express themselves. Also all the ethical issues around that”.
The fantastic thing about all this knowledge and experience that has been acquired since Outbox launched in June is that it is all being put to use. In a very tangible way in the Outbox house as girls literally rush out of a session to their laptops to use that piece of learning in formulating their business or marketing plans or have that bit more confidence to help them tackle that tricky piece of code which they thought they’d never master.
But also in a way which will go on to exist outside of these four walls: they’ll be taken back to school; to university; into the business world; and into evenings and weekends in front of their laptops when these girls, as women, spend their spare time growing their businesses. Perhaps one day one of these gems of wisdom will pop out of her mouth in a board meeting when this fantastic female entrepreneur and CEO, who attended a little-known incubator run by the Stemettes in 2015, is living her dream and realising her goals, able to work full-time on her own business.
Entrepreneurs don’t know it all. Behind every young entrepreneur who managed to nurture their start-ups from the depths of Silicon Valley was a whole network of different things: a supportive network of friends and family, teachers and professors; an investor who believed in them, or parents who were willing to fund their “dining room table project” (where Dame Steve Shirley started); but mostly they learnt lessons, from experiences, business contacts, friends and families and by sheer fearless curiosity and embracing being thrown in at the deep-end. Putting themselves in the position where they could learn and being open to seeking out and forever absorbing the lessons made all the difference. There are no silver spoons in Silicon Valley. We know that, and that’s why the Outbox Incubator provides that for everyone who passes through its doors – those who are lucky enough to have that support already, and those who aren’t.
In creating Outbox Incubator, we hoped to provide the lessons and the learning environment in which 112 girls could begin that amassing of valuable lessons. But, as every entrepreneur – or even every adult – knows, the learning never stops. This is just the first step on a life-time of learning exactly what it takes to be an entrepreneur and then learning how to implement that. As one of our execs said this morning “implementation is everything”, but we expect these girls to fail numerous times – and embrace that failure – before they settle on success.
We’ll do our very best to be there to hold the hands of our Outbox execs, to whom we have grown very attached, and catch them when they fall. But they’ll also do it on their own too, picking up coaches and mentors, role models and inspiration along the way.
Some people may see the last week of Outbox Incubator, which we find ourselves in now, as the end of the journey. But we know differently. We know that it is just the beginning for our Outbox execs.
Huge thank yous to all of our brilliant session leads from the week:
Amy Wagner (Coach, MOJDigital), Trisha Doyle (Head of Content, GDS), Sonia Bate (EDIT Development, Meghan Alladi, Lydia Monnington (Data Analyst, Ocado), Caroline Kuipers, Stacey Torman, Yann Mauchamp (CEO, Mutual Benefits), Mary McKenna (Irish tech entrpreneur & angel), Krishma Nayee (Humanitarian & Development Lead, What 3 Words), Sylvia Mbemba (Consultant & entrepreneur), Raj Mistry, Nina Bibby, John Stepper (Author).
Special thanks to Jessica Wade (PhD, Imperial) for covering the cost of Friday night’s Chinese takeaways! If you’d like to cover a final meal at the incubator, get in touch.