For the first time in my career, I was one of only four men out of forty presenters as I joined an all-day innovation networking event for around 150 invited participants who had applied to our infocus Women in Innovation programme.
I’m used to being just another participant, blending into a room full of people who look like me. But as Innovate UK’s Chief Executive Ruth McKernan pointed out, this feeling of being different is something that women experience all the time at events for innovators.
Same content, different audience
Overall, though, was this event, designed to share knowledge and create connections with a deliberately ‘different’ participant list, really that different from the ones I’m used to?
The content was completely familiar to me. Presentations on how the Innovate UK family (including the Knowledge Transfer Network, the Enterprise Europe Network and the Catapults) can provide funding and connections to support economic growth through business-led innovation are regularly delivered by our staff at events up and down the country.
The following topics of interest are familiar at any event for high growth potential businesses:
- securing funding and finance
- protecting IP
- communicating for impact
- attracting, retaining and managing talented teams
- collaborating and connecting –
The reaction to this content was also familiar to me:
- Innovators and entrepreneurs are hungry for knowledge and insight.
- Early stage businesses are keen to learn from those who have gone before them.
- Technologists realise that they have to focus on creating value for customers to succeed in business.
- The audience listened with interest to the 20 elevator pitches, marvelling at the range of innovations that ranged from organs-on-a-chip to augmented reality in museums and from an aid to apply anti-embolism stockings to fashionable safety wear for cyclists.
Success depends on the best talent and talent is blind to diversity
The interview with the keynote speaker, Claire Williams OBE, Deputy Team Principal of Williams F1, highlighted the real purpose of the event and what made it different, though.
For her, success for the race team or the advanced engineering business depends on having the very best talent. Talent is blind to gender, race or background, so it’s essential to develop that talent wherever it comes from.
Encouraging young women to pursue STEM subjects at school and offering role models to show how they can succeed are vital to deliver the pipeline of skilled engineers that Williams looks for to continue its proud history of success.
Inclusive culture as a component of success
Claire also highlighted the importance of culture as a component of success, telling of the importance her father attaches to treating all employees with respect and valuing their contributions in a personal way.
Applying pit-stop techniques to Cardiff’s neo-natal unit
Many of the challenges she spoke about are familiar to any business – prioritisation in the allocation of resources and developing long-term partnerships, for example. And many of the opportunities are familiar to innovators, too. The participants recognised the value of cross-industry collaborations that Claire described, such as applying the processes and techniques honed in the ultra-competitive and harsh world of the pit-stop to help improve the response times in a Cardiff hospital to save lives in the delicate environment of their neo-natal unit.
Age is no fool either
For someone like me, who hears many pitches at Venturefests, accelerator demo days and our own Investment Showcases, the stand out moment of the day, though, was hearing recently graduated Alex Moss’ elevator pitch for, Canaria, a business that is developing award-winning wearable vital signs monitoring technology for use in space, mining and hospital environments.
How did she deliver a pitch that was so composed, confident and compelling? Practice, practice, practice!
Infocus: encouraging more diversity and inclusion in innovation
Through our infocus Women in Innovation programme, Innovate UK aims to encourage more diversity and inclusion in innovation, so that participants come from any part of society to deliver business growth. This includes:
- Tangible support through grants, mentoring and business advice
- Learning and connections that might not ordinarily occur by bringing those ‘different’ innovators together to network
- Encouraging more innovators and entrepreneurs to follow suit, whatever their background, by highlighting role models – whether a celebrated and high-profile woman succeeding in the traditionally male world of high performance motorsport and advanced engineering, or a young entrepreneur who absolutely nailed an elevator pitch
Follow me on Twitter: @NigelWalker7
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