Guest Blog – Interview with Maryam and Mina from The Circle, a London based charity that works with women who want to develop their careers.

The Circle is a London based charity that works with women who want to develop their careers. They give clothing to women who cannot afford an outfit they need for a job interview, internship, placement or the first few weeks of work. They also run skills development workshops with experts on public speaking, influence, personal branding, networking, communication, etc. So I sat down with founders – mother and daughter – Mina and Maryam to find out more.

Danielle: How do you describe The Circle and the work that you do?

Maryam: Sometimes you see people and you feel – oh they’re so lucky – they get the chance to do great things or things seem to work out – they’re at the right place at the right time. But they’re not lucky, they’ve spent a lot of time preparing to be able to take advantage of opportunities as they come across them. You know – having the right skills, having confidence in yourself, being prepared to take advantage of that moment, being known by the right people, being in the right place at the right time – all of that comes together and looks like luck. Basically, The Circle helps women create their own luck.

Mina: For me, The Circle is where you can come and get inspired to do what you’ve always wanted. We help you achieve what you want without pushing you around or judging you.

The main thing is that women should believe in themselves. What the women we work with want to do is – they’re already motivated to change their lives, but they’re lacking a certain something: practical stuff like the right clothes, more confidence, certain skills, contacts – there’s something that’s missing. We aim to fill that gap.

Maryam: We developed our tag line “confidence, skills, access” after talking to a lot of women to find out what was missing and everything we do is really built around these three things.

Danielle: So why did you two decide to create The Circle – it’s not often that you find mother and daughter working together like this?

Mina: True! Well, we wanted to do something together, something we believed in and we knew no one else was doing it in this way.

Maryam: There are lots of things going on in London that are fantastic – training, support – but it always felt like it wasn’t really inclusive, didn’t reach certain groups we know need and want this.

My mum has lived and worked in six countries and I’ve lived and worked in a few, and the common thing is that women are always the ones who create change – in their families, communities, companies; investing in women and helping them succeed adds to a more equal and fairer society.

Mina: We believe that women are change agents. I have seen this all around the world, even though women are often the most disadvantaged group.

Maryam: London is a great place to be, there is a lot here, people from all over the world – diversity – but there’s lots of need too. And lots of resources – companies, individuals and businesses who are willing to support what we’re doing.

Danielle: There are other services out there aimed at women looking for work; what is different about The Circle?

Mina: Some services out there are too bureaucratic or make you jump through hoops We wanted to design something that didn’t do that – that would be an empowering experience.

Maryam: There are certain things that aren’t really done – and we’re working out how to do it. For example, we want to develop a service aimed at trans* women who are looking to develop their careers and doing this in collaboration with other organisations in that community.

Mina: We wanted to create a space that is high quality and is a welcoming environment. Often that’s a trade-off but it doesn’t have to be. For example, training is often a very formal environment which some people feel they can’t just walk into.

Danielle: How can people support what you’re doing?

Maryam: They can get involved on all levels – clothes, time, expertise, contacts or equally a cash donation.

Work-appropriate clothing – particularly stuff over size 16 is what we’re always lacking. The full range of work clothes – casual, fun, to more traditional business attire.

Mina: You can use your own contacts to promote what we do.  If you’re a trainer or a coach you can donate your expertise. If you work with a business see if they can give space or funding. Or if you have time to give we need volunteers to run clothing drives or help with marketing, outreach, evaluation etc.

It would be great to get more women involved in what we’re doing – e.g. trainers and coaches and outreach – but lots of men help us too.

Danielle: What are some of the successes you’ve had?

Mina:  I remember the first woman we gave clothes to – she was an ex-offender and had an internship in a large company but needed some clothes and hadn’t been able to find support anywhere else. She wanted to go somewhere that was friendly and safe. She went on to successfully complete the internship and then got in touch because she wanted to give back by organising a clothing drive at her office. It felt like we were doing something right.

Maryam: We get a lot of feedback from women who attended our skills development workshops that are the best they’ve attended – that they’re treated as capable people. We don’t make the assumption that you’re not capable or in some way lacking because you’re going through a difficult period or a transition in your life.

Mina: We also realise that we are just a step along the way – that a woman doesn’t transform her life by just coming to one of our sessions or picking up an item of clothing. But we think we can help. We’ve worked with women who have moved here from another country and are trying to get back into their career, students who were feeling really discouraged with the fact that there seems to be no opportunities for them, women who have been made redundant and have to start over 20 years later, women who have been in the home their whole lives and now need to work – they need a place to start. We get lots of these women saying that our workshops very useful but also they feel comfortable and safe coming to our sessions – it is really lovely!


Guest Blog – Nizza at BBC Future Media ‘Get In’ Day

I was one of many who was exclusively invited to the BBC Future Media ‘Get In’ Day of a Think-Tank & Workshops for Women in Technology. After receiving the invite via LinkedIn, I was super excited and luckily my day off was timed well. When the schedule of the day was released closer to date, I thought to myself this will be a very productive day off and I was right.
I arrived at White City and followed the signs to the BBC Media Center. It was my first visit to their office, which is a very impressive campus style site.

Due to prior appointments, I missed the breakfast and introduction by Mark Lomas who talked about the diversity within the BBC workforce.

The highlight of my day was hearing Vanessa Vallely from @WATC_girl speak, who discussed her own personal journey as a woman in tech , starting at the age of 16, holding around 25 different job titles and now running her own business. She is an inspirational woman who is determined, motivated and not afraid to try new things. I really enjoyed her presentation. She then facilitated the ThinkTank session, where we sat at different tables and discussed various topics such as “What are the biggest stereotypes of women in tech?” , “How can emerging technologies help support gender equality?”, “What do you enjoy most being a techy?” and so on.

We had a lunch break and @WATC_girl wanted all of us to try and speak with alteast 2 to 3 women we hadn’t spoken to before during the event. I met a Java developer, a Senior Project Manager and a freelancer who was new to London.

After lunch, a workshop was held by Sonia from @EditDevelopment. She briefly touched on unconscious biases within the tech sector. There were tips for personal branding and professional self-belief. We were paired and asked to observe each other’s posture. Then we had to assertively mention the 5 to 10 things we are good at. This was a refreshing exercise. I had an enthusiastic partner and she gave me a positive feedback.

Then there was a panel session held by female senior management within the BBC FM group. We heard about the opportunities of working at BBC, the digital products and services it provides to the public such as the iPlayer. The team members were honest and very open about their experience of working at BBC including long hours, flexible hours, support from team members. Some women in the audience had very good questions which were answered honestly by the panel.

In a nutshell, the aim of this event was to highlight opportunities at BBC Future Media within the tech talent. It also encouraged honest discussions around bridging the gender gap within the tech industry. We had an opportunity to participate in #womenintech ‘think-tank’ where we openly discussed how the technology has helped us personally, what are the typical stereotypes that exist, how we can encourage more young females to join the tech sector. The @EditDevelopment workshop was great exercise and it touched on self-assurance as a female within technology.

Special thanks to Sarah DeSilva from @BBCFMDiversity for finding me on LinkedIn and inviting me to participate in this unique workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, met some great techy women and had great advise from @WATC_girl.

If you would like to know more, you can find me on Twitter – @hungrykiwilady

Guest Blog – Code First: Girls at Mozilla London Head Office by Olivia Drury

Code First: Girls Mobile Development Workshop

On Saturday, the 21st of June, Code First: Girls held a workshop at Mozilla in London on mobile app development. While it was sunny outside, the girls were focused inside on learning how to build a mobile app. The workshop itself was fun and interactive since the instructors, James Nocentini (@Jamiltz) and Yacine Rezgui (@yrezgui) were keen to share their enthusiasm for app development and careers in web development in general.

Most of those who attended the workshop already attended a Code First: Girls course. There was an attendee who previously took a Code First: Girls course in Aberdeen!

We spent the morning setting up our laptops for making an app. This included an introduction to PhoneGap and Apache Cordova which provided a platform for building our app through code. We used HTML5, CSS3 and Angular JS during the afternoon, enabling us through the process of making a messaging app. Angular JS was mentioned as being particularly useful as it is JavaScript but better in the sense that it saves time for developers not having to bother with selectors and provides interactivity to users. Being able to use Angular JS today is valuable because it is fairly new and increasingly being used in app and web development.

The instructors also shared positive prospects of considering web development as a career. Yacine enjoys being a web developer himself because “it is creativity.” Yacine supported working in a startup since they “grow so fast and are creative.” The added flexibility when working in a startup was described as a bonus that potentially gives you greater freedom than working for a large corporation.

The app we all worked on held a sequence of coloured lines where you write in the contact you would like to send a push notification or message to that appears on locked screens. While we didn’t have time to publish apps ourselves, James gave us a presentation at the end of our session to show us how it is done. Providing us with a guide on the different ways of publishing apps for Android and iOS, Android published through Google Play appeared much easier than the process through iTunes for iOS apps which also charges a fee. While it may be harder to publish an iOS app for iPhones, insight into the building process of a mobile app now appears to be very achievable thanks to the introduction to mobile development.

Guest Entry: Marily of Geekettes London Chapter

Marily is finishing her PhD in Computer Science (focusing in Predictive Analytics) at Imperial College London. She has loved technology since a very young age and has been trying to motivate everyone around her to embrace it in the same way as she does. She is now co-running the London Geekettes chapter.

On technology and innovation

Last week, I came across a video ad online. The ad started with a student that was browsing books in a library on a large touchscreen monitor, then a car with a 3D GPS navigation system, then someone using a tablet at a beach, a woman having a video call with her family and finally a child browsing a massive list of movies on the family’s TV that he was able to live-stream. What struck me most were 2 words that appeared after each one of these features. In fact these words were so big that they covered the entire width of the screen.

“You Will”.

All the features that were in this video sounded pretty normal, right? Well… That video was from 1993… that is, an ad made by AT&T, 21 years before. Twenty- one. When I was just about to discover a book at my brother’s room that was explaining what a “Mainframe Computer” was.

The words that appeared constantly in this video “You Will” implied that the ad agency that created this video knew that the features presented must have come across as the most lunatic projection of the future, straight out of science fiction. A vision of the future as crazy as a virtual reality headset that allows a stereoscopic 3D view with excellent depth, scale, and parallax that presents unique and parallel images for each eye.. but wait, this already exists, it’s called Oculus Rift.

So, what is technoogy for you?
It’s my entire life. In 2012, I started running a group for women in CS group at my College where I met more women that shared the same passion as me. Over the weeks we became more and more and then our little group led to organising the first UK all women hackathon with Facebook London as well as to collaborations with various women’s organisations in the UK which have been actively trying to shape the career path for the next generation of women in technology.

Then in 2013, I was asked if I was interested to run the London chapter of this global organization that facilitates relationships between women in the technology sector, called the Geekettes. My good friend from Imperial, Claire, is running it with me.

What is the mission and how can people be involved?
The Geekettes believe that the more women get involved with tech, development and leadership, the more successful and diverse companies and products will be in the future.

We are actually community led. This means that everyone can follow us on Twitter @LondonGeekettes, talk to us on Facebook /LondonGeekettes and tell us what they’d like us to plan for them. We check our inbox, see what suggestions for events we get, and we find a way to make it happen.

For example, we are planning an all-women summer hack alongside another London initiative that supports women of all ages in STEM, the Stemettes next month. A few weeks ago we were asked to plan an event for startups, I called it “Start up Do’s and Dont’s”. We sent out a few emails to see who would be keen to speak to this kind of event, we looked for a room, and the outcome was 4 amazing speakers (from Twitter, Forward Partners, Entrepreneur First and Smarkets) and 180 attendees. How do you find the tech/startup/entrepreneurial scene in London?

I read somewhere that whilst Berlin and Paris are actively encouraging investment “London is the only comparable hub to Silicon Valley. It offers a wide range of support networks, capital infrastructure and diverse talent”, I totally agree. Every week there are numerous events in tech of all sorts, most of them free to attend. People can gain skills, be inspired/motivated by amazing people, find mentors, become mentors and come up with a cool idea for a personal project. At last month’s startup event, David Norris from Forward Partners mentioned that his company could take a single founder with an idea, provide funding and expert guidance and turn it into a successful business.

I really feel that the opportunities in London are endless.

Guest Blog By Michelle Lam, Founder of VisioMobile

VisioMobile – Learning to Walk Timeline

By Michelle Lam, Founder of VisioMobile

I am the founder of VisioMobile, an online TV platform featuring global (multilingual) TV and entertainment content. I received an email from Espark Accelerator one month after I submitted my application. My first thought was they sent me a rejection email. I took a deep breath and started to read. I couldn’t believe what I had just read. They invited me to the first round of interview in less than two and a half weeks at their Edinburgh Hatchery. My feelings at that time was indescribable.

Time was limited. I had to make my decision within the week. Then, I could spend the following week to search for plane tickets and accommodations, take care of things, pack my belongings, say goodbye to my mom, and fly to the UK. At that time, I could not make up my mind. A very good friend said to me, ‘Go for it. This is a great opportunity for you to make things happen.’

Moving from Silicon Valley to London, it was a big decision to make. The journey of building a business is challenging. I have to devote 100% of my time without a regular income for as long as it needs. It was the most riskiest decision I have ever made in my life. No matter what, one thing for sure a new life journey has just begun. No turning back… No time to look back.

I arrived in London four days prior to the interview. While staying with my friends, I worked on my 60 second pitch presentation and prepared for the one-on-one panel interview. After rewriting and rehearsing my presentation several times, I finally was satisfied. On the day before I flew to Edinburgh, there was a Tube strike. I was so worried that might affect me getting to the airport the next day. It seemed like everything happened all at once. Luckily, it was lifted in the same evening. What a relief!

On the day of my first interview, I had done my 60 second pitch presentation in front of the judges and other entrepreneurs. I thought it was the most unnerving experience I had ever had, but I was wrong. Following to that, the one-on-one panel interview was extremely intense. In a blink of an eye, I had already finished answering a series of questions from the judges. I had completed my first interview!

The experience was absolutely fascinating at the same time surreal. By the time I was on the plane flying back to London, I still couldn’t believe I had done it. I had met so many amazing entrepreneurs in the hatchery. They all had great ideas and valuable experiences. It was absolutely a rewarding experience to make my journey in creating my startup here in the UK more meaningful.

Back to London, my anxiety level has gone up a notch. I was not sure when I would receive the result. My mom and friends were very supportive, which I was thankful for this. One day later, on a Friday morning, I got an email from the accelerator to invite me for the second interview, which was in less than two months. Again, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was reading the email. Then, 30 minutes later, I got a call from the accelerator confirming the details of my second interview. I called, emailed, texted my mom and friends to share this incredible news.

While I studied for my master’s degree at Manchester Business School back in 2012, I conducted research on BBC webcasting for my dissertation which was an excellent way to start brainstorming my business idea. After moving back to Silicon Valley, I conducted research on my business idea and had written a business plan.

Finally, it was time to execute my plan after two years of preparation. Since building a business from scratch requires a lot of time and effort, I have devoted all my time working with my CTO to create a prototype, creating fan base via social media, meeting like-minded entrepreneurs, connecting with investors and firms ever since. I have to admit that I have established a strict schedule: working seven days a week, and staying up late to work.

Work-life balance is a virtue, thank you for the guest speaker’s, Ms. Avid Larizadeh’s, advice at a Women 2.0 event. While I enjoy working and creating what I love, most of the time I have forgotten to take time off to rest or have regular meals. As I am too focused all the time, I have found it difficult to shut off my mind before bedtimes which often resulting in staying up late to work. As a founder of a startup, enough sleep, exercise, healthy meals, take time off are beneficial in order to achieve a work-life balance life. I try to prevent burnout because it will only have a negative impact on both myself and my business.

In the past one and a half months, I loved every bit of it even though it was exhausting. Work-life balance is definitely what I need to work on. This week, the first week of July, I am going to Edinburgh for my second interview with the accelerator. I cannot say I am ready for it. However, when great opportunities come knocking, I have to put myself together and seize the opportunities.

Building a business from scratch is like learning to walk for the first time, which I am in the crawling stage at the moment.

Guest Blog – Free:Formers is very lucky to have a second guest blog written by Free:Formers, a digital training and education company that connects business people with young talent to make ideas happen faster. Freeformers also undertakes number of ‘social good’ projects such as ONE:FOR1 = Business and Social impact and Web for Everyone = giving thousands of people – young and old – the power to not only use the web, but create it. 

“I’m on a mission to make a real difference to people’s lives, helping young people to get work in the digital space.  I set up Free:Formers with the gregarious entrepreneur Gi Fernando to solve the demand/supply problem of the digital skills gap.

Businesses are crying out for tech savvy people and often have to search outside their current workforce for the best talent in design, IT and social media.  Employers are all fishing from the same talent pool.

At the same time there are almost one million 16-25 year olds out of education and looking for work.  Young people who need workplace-relevant skills, and need a break to transform their digital know-how, creativity and entrepreneurial creative passions into a salary.

And this is exactly what Free:Formers ONE:FOR1 mission is all about, because for every business person we train, a young person gets a training place for free.

In partnership with The Prince’s Trust, UK Youth and The Duke of York’s iDEA scheme we have already delivered digital skills training to over 1,400 young people.

Just last week ONE:FOR1 got some significant recognition from some high up places.

I went up to Liverpool with Lewie, a Tech Trainer who has been part of the team for almost a year after discovering him on a ONE:FOR1 workshop.  Together we pitched the business and social impact of Free:Formers to the Duke of York himself and a panel of well-established entrepreneurs, making it into the National Business Awards finals for the New Entrepreneur of 2014.  You can watch it here.

Lewie is an amazingly talented guy, a great trainer, he is also becoming a businessman in his own right because of the leadership and digital skills he is developing at Free:Formers.

The entrepreneurs who stood out at the pitch event in Liverpool were those who had a passion for what they do. Because starting a new business is tough, you have to believe in what you are trying to achieve.  To be a success it can’t be a 9-5 job.  You get emotionally involved.  And that’s a good thing.

It’s because of ONE:FOR1 I am emotionally involved and passionate about Free:Formers.  It’s so powerful to see the difference we can make to young people, taking so many entrepreneurial dreams and ideas, and making them a possibility.  As part of our role as a delivery partner for the iDEA scheme we are doing exactly that.

To be standing next to young people like Lewie on a stage in front of peers and princes and hear the applause for what we achieve is so empowering.

I get to work with inspirational digital natives, like Lewie who teach people at all levels and stages of their career, to get the most out of digital.

As the only London Tech City company up for the award, I felt a responsibility to represent the exciting booming tech scene we are all part of.

Equally being a woman tech entrepreneur I knew this was a chance to bust a few myths that the tech scene is male dominated and change the narrative about powerful tech bosses are more often men than women.

So now the pressure is on to deliver a win on behalf of the people we have trained, the London tech scene and, oh yeah, all women.  No biggie…

But seriously if you’ve read this and think Free:Formers are doing the right thing it would be great to have your support and your vote:

Emma Cerrone
CEO of Free:Formers”

Guest Blog: Berlin Tech Startup Scene and Rework Conference is very lucky to have a fourth guest blog from Iain Cameron who worked for 25 years in the Department of Trade and Industry and Cabinet Office. He also worked for over ten years on business improvement in the UK automotive supply chain. Recently he has been developing a start-up, Industrial Strategy Communications and has worked on projects with Oxford University, the UK Commission for Skills and SMMT Industry Forum.

I met the CEO of Rework, Nikita Johnson, recently at a Nesta brainstorming event on digital health services. As a result I decided to attend their two day conference in Berlin last week. It was held in an excellent conversion of a ruined church in the former Eastern segment of the city. Nikita explained the event goal as to explore how innovative new advances in science, technology and entrepreneurship are reshaping business and society with a mix of technologists, entrepreneurs, researchers and industry leaders.

The event was organised via a series of sessions – Big Data & Healthcare, Smart Wearable Robots, Smart Materials Disrupting Society etc. Each session usually comprised a few short presentations, each followed by Q&A and sometimes a panel session. There was plenty of networking time scheduled and excellent food. Some local businesses had also taken exhibition space in the main space.

Of the latter the one that really made an impact on me is an affordable steady-cam device for the retail market. Before and after skateboarding videos illustrated how amazingly effective the device is. As someone who is experimenting with amateur video I am already seriously tempted. An IPO is imminent as is the retail launch. I asked the CEO if he had a plan for fast ramp-up if the product really catches on he assured me he has.

One of the over-arching themes that emerged is the quality and invention of European robotics reseach, often done in HEIs. Berlin’s Free University has an autonomous car that drives around the city, ETH Zurich is developing robots on the scale of microbes, Barbara Mazzolai from the Centre for Bio-Robotics amazed the conference with the vision and invention of her programme and Professor Paik from EPFL in Switzerland introduced us to soft robotics. From a practical point of view, the Finnish firm ZenRobotics presented a waste sorting/recovery pilot.

Much of the research has been funded by the Commission under FP7 or the current successor, Horizon 2020. The second day was curated by Beatrice Marquez-Garridofrom from the EC Future and Emerging Technologies section. I was especially impressed by the session, Open Design, Meet the New Makers and I immediately e-mailed an old friend who is the UK’s leading historian of design about one of the presentations with a novel sociology of design. She was pleased to pick up the lead.

On the practical front, Fraunhofer FOKUS was authoritative on the subject of the Internet of Things. Professor Luca Gammaitoni from the University of Perugia presented the FP7 project Zero Power – building then nano-to-micro bridge for energy sustainable ICT. This project has established three possible ways to build zero energy switches and on the way has clarified some physical fundamentals like the relationship between energy and information entropy.

The second day kicked off with short presentations by European start-ups, two of which caught my eye. McKinsey alumnus, Claudia Leissner, explained her Proboneo concept. This involves brokering partnerships between the CSR arms of major German firms who provide resources and social innovation projects – both funds and expertise are involved. Another start-up, Argus Labs, is working on bringing machine based emotional intelligence to mobile devices.

The Conference wasn’t just about projects that are completed or well under way. Beatrice M-G introduced a fascinating Horizon 2020 programme where the call deadline has not long closed and the programme goal is to take machine intelligence ‘beyond problem-solving’.
I met several Brits who thought the event was worth the journey including the CTO from Microsoft Ventures UK in Whitechapel and the CEO of Fast Future. Berlin is said to be the major European centre for technical start-ups and the experience of the conference confirmed this. There was a magazine available about 100 Berlin start-ups. In the foreword the mayor explains that more than half the venture capital investment in Germany happens in Berlin.

I managed to spend some time walking around the former Eastern sector which has a very young vibe. I went to an excellent gig with Norwegian-German band Kat Vinter on the evening of the 2nd day of the conference who recorded some of their album in the Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey.

Organising conferences of this kind globally seems is Rework’s stock in trade, and a further event in San Francisco is in development. September will see a UK event similar event to the Berlin conference but with different content. This is certainly going into my diary.