Inspirefest 2015: Where are they now?

19 Oct 2015

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, speaking at Inspirefest 2015. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

It’s been just a few short months since Inspirefest wowed with its debut, bringing together sci-tech professionals from across the world for a two-day event aiming to #ChangetheRatio of STEM conferences.

Diversity was the watchword, with a conscious effort made to include speakers and panellists of all stripes, and from all backgrounds.

But the bid for diversity was far from the only exciting thing about Inspirefest 2015, with a number of speakers making significant announcements from the Inspirefest stage, and others going on to have huge successes with their initiatives and projects.

Now, a third of a year on, we’re already looking towards Inspirefest 2016. Speakers have been announced, ultra early bird tickets are on sale, and a buzz is building in online communities already.

But what of those who made those big announcements, and had those impressive successes? Where are they now? We found out…

Ciara Judge and Émer Hickey

Ciara Judge and Émer Hickey, along with Sophie Healy-Thow, are former winners of the BT Young Scientist awards and the Google Science Fair.

In the midst of an incredibly busy summer – Judge in particular was country hopping, spending a month at MIT, and a few weeks at Outbox Incubator in London, among many other appearances – Judge and Hickey appeared at Inspirefest (one physically, one virtually) to talk about their company, Germinaid Innovations.

Germinaid, which focuses on agricultural research, has since become operational, and Hickey and Judge will be taking to another stage – Wired2015: Next Generation, in London – this month to talk about the business and its successes.

Judge also launched a second business this summer. PurchaseMate is a barcode scanning app that gives you corporate information on the brands you buy from, and was developed by Judge and a team at MIT Launch Summer.

Sophie Healy-Thow

Sophie Healy-Thow (as mentioned above) won the BT Young Scientist award in 2014 with Emer Hickey and Ciara Judge.

Unfortunately Healy-Thow couldn’t make it to Inspirefest 2015 but that’s not to say she has been forgotten around these pastures.

Back in July she was invited to give a TEDx talk in Dublin’s Science Gallery and only this month she was selected as a global youth leader by the UN for her work in the fight against hunger.

Here’s Healy-Thow at the UN summit on sustainable development goals in New York recently, where she was the only youth leader from Europe in attendance:

Sophie Healy-Thow

Dr Nina Ansary, Jewels of Allah

Dr Nina Ansary, a noted Iranian-American historian and author, gave a keynote address at Inspirefest, speaking about Iranian women who have risen above the oppressiveness of the country’s patriarchal society to achieve greatness.

At the time of Inspirefest, Ansary’s Jewels of Allah was available as an e-book. The book aims to uncover the ‘untold story’ of Iranian women.

Jewels of Allah has now been published in print.

Sheree Atcheson and Women Who Code

Sheree Atcheson appeared on the Inspirefest panel Code: Debugging the Gender Gap.

Atcheson, expansion director at Women Who Code UK, talked about the importance of making sure that women aren’t left behind as the tech industry continues to gather speed.

Women Who Code (WWC) is a US-based non-profit, which aims to help women to excel in technology careers and further the idea that ‘the world of technology is much better with women in it’.

On the Inspirefest stage, Atcheson announced that WWC would be coming to Ireland.

Women Who Code Ireland is launching on Thursday 12 November. The first session will take place that night, and is open to all interested parties.

Dr Sue Black, #techmums and Saving Bletchley Park

Dr Sue Black has led an interesting life. As a young, newly-single mother, Black decided to go to college and get a degree.

Inspired by the lack of women in computer science, Black set up BCSWomen – the first UK network for women in tech.

She went on to spearhead a campaign to save Bletchley Park, the World War II code-breaking site where the majority of code-breakers were women.

Black also founded #techmums, which aims to give mothers the confidence, skills and understanding they need to make sure that they and their children can take advantage of the wealth of opportunities technology offers.

Since Inspirefest, Black has released Saving Bletchley Park, a book detailing the campaign to save the park.

#Techmums is making its first foray into Ireland this November. While An Cosán’s Young Women in Technology programme was inspired by #techmums, and Black helped to train the programme’s instructors, this will be the first official #techmums class in the country.

The six-week programme will run at the Digital Hub from 6 November.

Anne-Marie Imafidon and Mary Carty, Outbox Incubator

Anne-Marie Imafidon took part in the Next Generation panel at Inspirefest.

Imafidon holds the world record as the youngest girl ever to pass A-level computing, an achievement she had under her belt at the tender age of 11.

Founder of Stemettes – a project designed to inspire young girls to pursue education and careers in STEM – Imafidon is a tireless advocate for young women in tech.

Along with Mary Carty, already booked for an Inspirefest 2016 appearance, Imafidon created Outbox Incubator, the world’s first tech incubator for teenage girls.

Outbox ran over the last six weeks of summer, with more than 100 young women passing through the doors of the London house that was its base.

The incubator was a huge success, with many of the young women using the opportunity to hone business plans and make contacts. Most of all, it was a source of inspiration for the young entrepreneurs, showing them all they could achieve.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the Royal Society

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell delivered a stirring keynote at Inspirefest, talking about her experiences as a young postgraduate scientist in the 1960s.

Bell Burnell discovered the pulsar in the late ’60s but, despite being named second on the paper detailing the discovery, was not recognised in the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics that was awarded to her team members.

As she detailed in her keynote, that was not the only sexism she faced during that time, with reporters either ignoring her or only asking her about her appearance.

Of course, Bell Burnell went on to receive recognition from many other quarters. Most recently, she was awarded the Royal Society’s Royal Medal for her “pivotal contribution” to the discovery of pulsars, and her subsequent observation, analysis and understanding of them.

Prof Susan McKenna-Lawlor

Prof Susan McKenna-Lawlor provided Inspirefest with it’s major ‘mic drop’ moment.

After delivering a fascinating keynote about her involvement with the Rosetta mission’s Philae lander, McKenna-Lawlor took part in a panel discussion moderated by famed broadcaster Leo Enright.

Seemingly out of nowhere – though of course it was a plan long in the offing – McKenna-Lawlor announced her intention to launch Ireland’s first space programme.

What may have seemed like pie in the sky to many has proven to be very much within our grasp.

In fact, as August drew to a close, we were several steps closer.

At Astronomy Ireland’s annual fundraising event, Star-B-Q, McKenna-Lawlor not only named the space mission – Cumar – but gave details of the preparations for it.

It is hoped that Cumar will launch in late 2016.

Update: This article was updated on 20 October at 15.30 to include information on Sophie Healy-Thow

Kirsty Tobin was careers editor at Silicon Republic