How we built the first ever incubator for girls in STEM

16 Jun 2015

Mary Carty, co-founder of Outbox Incubator

Mary Carty, co-founder of Outbox Incubator, discusses exactly why the world’s first ever incubator for entrepreneurial girls was set up, and how one simple tweet started it all.

In 2009, as a freshly-minted tech founder, I had just left a job in the public sector. I saw an ad for the Internet Growth Acceleration Programme (iGap), run by Enterprise Ireland. The programme sought to develop founders of high potential technology start-ups. Something in me said, ‘apply,’ and I was thrilled to be selected.

Over the course of the programme, I was mentored by business greats like Seán Ellis (Dropbox), Ed Bussey (ZIB ) and Justin Knecht (Crayola). On iGap, I forged my identity as an entrepreneur, as a problem solver and connector; someone who spots untapped potential and makes things happen. I was surrounded by a network of like-minded individuals, all focused on building great services and businesses and, with them, I learned even more. As a female founder, I was respected and empowered to achieve my goals.

What I learned on iGap became the core principles of how I work, eventually bringing this learning beyond my office to games companies, arts organisations, technology startups and a non-profit called Stemettes.

Unfortunately, many women do not have the positive experience I had as a newbie founder. Many women avoid careers in STEM due to negative gender stereotyping, unconscious bias and lack of support.

All of these factors are well documented, and the result is less female participation in STEM fields than in the 1980s. It is high time we changed the ratio.

Outbox Incubator

Fast forward to April 2015. I’m in London with Stemettes, about to be introduced to HRH Princess Anne. She is launching Outbox Incubator, the first incubator for girls aged 11-22 in STEM in the world.

Five teams of talented young women have presented their business ideas and blown the socks off all in attendance. An EU-wide call for young women is made, with the first cohort beginning the incubation programme in July.

It’s an exciting moment for the team and the future of women in STEM.

It started with a Tweet

I met Stemette founder Anne-Marie Imafidon – who is speaking at this week’s Inspirefest 2015 – on Twitter. The conversation we started that day has lasted 3 years. Stemettes works to combat the lack of women in STEM in a new way, inspiring girls to make informed career decisions so, eventually, women can be proportionally represented in the field.

To date, Stemettes has worked with over 4,000 girls, on hackathons, panel events, exhibitions and mentoring schemes. It soon became apparent that these talented girls needed support for the next step, an incubator for girls in STEM. And that’s where I came in.

An incubator for girls in STEM

A year ago, we began putting the structure together for what an incubator for girls in STEM would look like. It had to be fun, challenging, supportive and exciting but, most of all, not like school. Girls we worked with, and those who reached out to us for help, have developed successful businesses, won prestigious international awards and built working prototypes.

Very many of them had no support and were not taken seriously. These stories were shared with us nearly every day.

The Girls Hack Ireland event from March this year

The Girls Hack Ireland event from March this year

These talented young women needed a programme to help them advance their ideas and, like I experienced on iGap, find a peer group of like-minded individuals to connect with and learn from, all while learning from the best minds in the industry.

Outbox Incubator is born

After long conversations, a model emerged of an education programme and a funding model. We put an opening date in the diary for July 2015. All we needed now was a funder who believed in our vision.

We were fortunate that the team at Salesforce and the Salesforce Foundation have been incredibly supportive and come on board as our core funder. Our funders, partners, godmothers, and the hardworking Stemettes team, have made Outbox Incubator possible. From initial conception to launch has taken just a year.

Outbox Incubator will open its doors to over 120 girls on 27 July for six weeks of amazing learning, networking and fun.

We are thrilled to be working with over 120 young women from across the EU, with 20 girls from Ireland among them. Outbox Incubator is actively changing lives and the future of women in STEM.

Changing the ratio together

Throughout this journey, I’ve been overwhelmed by the support we have received. At every turn, we have been supported in numerous ways.

Our call for applicants is a case in point. So many people went out of their way to spread the word and encourage girls to apply. This kind of support and generosity is greatly appreciated by all of us.

A wish for the future

I believe that if we have a problem it is our duty to fix it. There is no other way. The lack of women in STEM and the cultural biases and stereotypes that cause this must be faced head-on.

My hope for Outbox Incubator is that we change the ratio, empowering the next generation of young women to reach for the stars, to claim the futures they dream of and to develop lifelong friends and memories in the process. Most of all, I hope they will share this learning with their friends, their parents and their communities, passing on these lessons to the next generation.

Our future is in the safest of hands.

Mary Carty is an entrepreneur and futurist with a background in the arts, education and technology. Over the past decade, she has founded two successful start-up companies and been nominated for an interactive BAFTA.

[Editor’s note: Although the full list of Outbox Incubator attendees has not yet been officially released, some of Ireland’s best and brightest – and some Inspirefest 2015 speakers – have already announced that they’ve made the cut!]

Inspirefest 2015 is Silicon Republic’s international event running 18-20 June in Dublin that connects sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.