6 things I learned in one week at Outbox Incubator

13 Aug 2015

How many Outbox executives can you fit in a lift at Goldman Sachs? Niamh Scanlon peeks out from the back row, second from the right. Photo via @teen_qweenn/Twitter

Outbox executive Niamh Scanlon, 12, tells us about her first week at the London incubator for young women in STEM.

Don’t pay for advertising before your product is ready, think about how to deal with failure and – most of all – work as a team.

Those are just some of the things we learned this week in the Outbox Incubator, an intensive programme for young women interested in STEM running this summer in London.

Last week was week two of Outbox, and it was my first one living in the Outbox house. During three weeks there I am developing reCharge My eCar (an award-winning app to enable drivers of electric cars to find free and available charging points) and Auto-Journalist (an app to allow journalists to send questions to interviewees to video-record answers). I made both these apps with skills I learned in CoderDojo DCU and for Coolest Projects.

Setting out on a big adventure

Before I headed over from Ireland, three weeks living in a house with about 35 other girls didn’t seem that ‘big’. Then, when I arrived at the house, I realised that not only was the house huge, but the whole experience suddenly seemed much bigger!

Most of the other Outbox executives were away at the YRS Festival of Code when myself and two other Irish girls arrived at the house, so it was pretty quiet. Then around 30 girls flooded into the house and the energy was massive. It has stayed that way ever since.

And it’s not just the girls who live here, but Pickles the cat basically lives in the garden of the Outbox house too.

Here are the key things I’ve learned in just one week of the Outbox Incubator.

1. Get the timing right when advertising your business

On Monday morning, after waking up to the sound of a fire alarm at 6.55am, our first talk was on advertising your business properly, delivered by Tina Mashaalahi from Kweek Week.

We learned that before advertising you should have a tested, working product, and it doesn’t matter how small your business, you will always have a competitor.

Another important tip was that if someone wants to invest, they’ll invest in you!

2. Ways to feel better about failure

That afternoon, the session was Believing in yourself and dealing with failure, by Ailish Irvine. Ailish asked us what success meant to us. The common answer was doing what you like and want or trying something new.

Next, we were asked what failure meant to us. Many people said letting fear get in the way, not trying. Ailish told us that you need to feel sorry for yourself and have a ‘pity party’, but don’t let it go on for too long. And to help yourself bounce back you should take some time out and call a friend.

To end the session, Ailish said: “And if all else fails, eat chocolate!”

3. Why it’s so important to help your customers

On Tuesday morning, some of us did yoga in the back garden. Thankfully it wasn’t too cold!

Sarah Drinkwater from Google’s Campus London came in to talk about Authentic Leadership. She explained that, although the first customer may be ourselves, you have to think of the people that will use your start-up.

Later that week, on Thursday, we had to come up with a rough budget for Demo Day, which takes place on Saturday 15 August, when each person can pitch their business idea to investors.

We did practice runs of our pitches and then learned about helping and understanding your customers with Graham Ruddick. He told us that by simply asking your customers, you can improve your business. And if you help your customers, they will help you!

That evening, we painted our nails as downtime!

4. Good design makes things easier to use

For our Tuesday afternoon session, Shivaani and Jo Chidwick from Salesforce came in to talk to us about life skills. In teams, we came up with a really visual brief for a team of people who were climbing the three biggest mountains in the UK within 24 hours, and for our efforts we each got a light-up mouse for our computers!

That evening there was a bin-bag fashion show where you had to make clothes out of bin-bags!

On Wednesday, it was an early start as we went to Goldman Sachs where our mission was to design an upgraded version of the shopping trolley. Each table had a category and ours was ‘Children and Safety’.

We wrote our ideas on sticky notes and grouped them together on the wall. Our shopping trolley was circular with ball wheels (so it was easier to manoeuvre), a compartment for a buggy, and a big, comfortable seat near the front for a child to sit in.

Trolley fun in design your own trolley at Goldman Sachs #nomoretantrums #outboxin

A video posted by Stemettes. ❤️⭐️#⃣➕ (@stemettes) on

For downtime that evening, we did art with the mum of one of the girls, who was an artist. It was really fun!

This evening's #outboxin downtime is ART! ??? #artsy #creative #painting #aprons #STEAM

A photo posted by Stemettes. ❤️⭐️#⃣➕ (@stemettes) on

On Friday, Chloe Hole, the CEO of Appirio, talked to us about app development and crowdsourcing. She asked us what our favourite apps were and to think of reasons people used these apps. After we had come up with a few reasons (design, usability etc) she told us that when we are creating an app we should think about these things.

5. Know your audience for pitches, interviews and articles

In the afternoon, Claire O’Connell (also known as my mum!) came in and did a session about telling our stories. We had to write one-liners about our project, then we split up into pairs and interviewed each other about either our time in Outbox or the project we are working on during Outbox.

6. How to build a fort using newspaper

On Saturday, we did team bonding by making forts out of rolled-up newspaper! Using a STIXX machine, we rolled up pieces of newspaper so that they were solid and constructed our forts using cable ties.

Later that day, using the same materials, we created a product that we wanted to ‘sell’ to Ikea, and then each team had to do a pitch about why Ikea should buy their product.

On Sunday morning, some people left at around 5.30am to go to the airport. It was such a great week, I hope week three will be just as good, if not better!

By Niamh Scanlon

Niamh Scanlon is 12 years old and from Dublin. She has been going to CoderDojo in DCU for three years and has been mentoring at CoderDojoGirls for two years. She has won two Eircom Junior Spider Awards and a Coolest Projects Award.

Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Eircom, Fidelity Investments, ESB, Accenture and CoderDojo.