Imperial College London

Top women entrepreneurs talk tech and ambition at transatlantic roundtable

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President Alice Gast with North American and Imperial entrepreneurs

President Alice Gast with North American and Imperial entrepreneurs

Some of North America’s most exciting entrepreneurs joined their Imperial peers to discuss women-led innovation today.

President Alice Gast chaired the Imperial Enterprise Lab roundtable event with London & Partners. Several successful WE Innovate alumni joined female business leaders and entrepreneurs from the United States and Canada to discuss how to accelerate moves to a world where women are no longer a minority in tech leadership.

We’re making Imperial a destination for entrepreneurial students. Professor Alice Gast President

The event took place at the start of London Tech Week, a weeklong festival of technology and innovation, as the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that inclusion and diversity should empower the next generation of tech talent.

Welcoming the group, President Gast said: “You have come to the right place,” speaking of Imperial’s commitment to science, innovation and business for the benefit of society. “This is a particularly exciting time for the world of technology, business and higher education. We’re gaining momentum. But we need more change, and we have some change agents with us today.”

President Gast enthused about Imperial’s support for entrepreneurs, including the Enterprise Lab, WE Innovate, Hackspaces, the MedTech SuperConnector, the Invention Rooms in White City and a recently launched MOOC on creativity from the Dyson School. “We’re making Imperial a destination for entrepreneurial students,” she said. “They show up with entrepreneurial ideas, even as freshers.”

The Invention Rooms in White City
The Invention Rooms in White City

WE Innovate

“WE Innovate, formerly Althea Imperial, was a turning point for Imperial” building on the vision of Alexsis de Raadt St James, President Gast said.

The Enterprise Lab became like home for us. Zainab Ahmed Founder, QuickCount

“We were finding too few women entering Dragon’s Den-type competitions… We Innovate was the impetus to come together, gain confidence, network and now women are winning our entrepreneurial contests.”

Pru Ashby, who leads on North America for London & Partners, said: “We’re excited to be working with a top 10 global university and to have all these amazing women from all over the US and Canada… We’re focusing on talent, skills and creative people in London – where else but Imperial?”

Liz Choonara, ‎Head of Programmes & Community for Imperial Enterprise Lab, spoke about the “talent pipeline problem,” and efforts like WE Innovate to “get women into entrepreneurial programmes, with mentoring, networking, signposting and to support to get businesses kickstarted.”

Liz Choonara introducing the Enterprise Lab
Liz Choonara introduced the Enterprise Lab, which has supported thousands of students

Six WE Innovate alumni presented to the group, including LYS Technologies’ Christina Petersen, FungiAlert co-founder Angela de Manzanos, Natalie Schenker of Hearts Milk Bank, SignIn©’s Simonetta Ifeji, Florence Gschwend of Chrysalix Technologies, and QuickCount’s Zainab Ahmed.

Christina Petersen developed LYS, the world's first user-focused light measuring wearable and app
Christina Petersen developed LYS, the world's first user-focused light measuring wearable and app

All spoke of their positive experiences with WE Innovate. Christina Petersen launched LYS’ first commercial product, a wearable light-tracking device, within one year of entering the programme, and is now testing products in Hong Kong, Switzerland and Scotland. She said: “Without Althea / WE Innovate I wouldn’t have started my company – and Imperial was my first customer!”

SignIn(c) founder Simonetta Ifeji
SignIn(c) founder Simonetta Ifeji

Angela de Manzanos explained how she and her FungiAlert co-founder Kerry O’Donnell attracted private investment in their early-detection system for plant disease as a direct result of the programme.

QuickCount founder Zainab Ahmed, who is developing a low-cost solution for point-of-care blood analysis, said “This basement - the Enterprise Lab - became like home for us. We gained the confidence to be both the science brains and the business brains.”

Breaking the cycle

During the roundtable, Alexsis de Raadt St James, whose vision and investment is behind Althea Imperial / WE Innovate, led on the need to “break the pattern recognition” that has held back women in tech, “and be role models”. She spoke of her Silicon Valley experiences where “there’s a lack of awareness of what the UK is capable of,” and the need to keep raising the profile of Imperial and its entrepreneurs’ work.

Alice Gast chairing the roundtable

Priya Guha of Rocket Space told the group “Don’t underestimate the value of your deep tech base – this will be the advantage of the UK for years to come.”

DC-based Mack McKelvey, founder and CEO of SalientMG, advised early-stage entrepreneurs to “think about the brand of your company from the get go… connect your personal brand with your company’s brand.”

Goldie Chan of Warm Robots agreed, emphasising the importance of “social media and PR – things you can do for yourself, to a certain extent.”

Jen O’Neal of Tripping.com said “You don’t have to follow the Silicon Valley funding pattern. You can look around the world” for funding sources. She also noted how lonely being a founder can be, making “networking with other founders” so important.

Jenny Kray of Calabrio added: “Don’t be afraid to ask to network… many people want to pay it forward, and you can one day too.”

Roundtable discussion

Others touched on the need for better education about how funding works, connecting with role models, expanding networks beyond technology to fields like sales, the opportunity to collaborate more within London, and branding.

Reporter

Andrew Scheuber

Andrew Scheuber
Communications and Public Affairs

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 8197
Email: a.scheuber@imperial.ac.uk

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Enterprise, President, North-America, Student-entrepreneurship, International, Entrepreneurship
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