Galway’s position as an entrepreneurial city is to be further bolstered as NUI Galway today, Wednesday, officially launches Blackstone LaunchPad, which offers all students, staff and alumni, regardless of discipline, the opportunity to gain an insight into life as an entrepreneur.
The new programme offers one-to-one coaching, ideation and venture creation support, and encourages everyone to develop their creative ideas.
At the helm of this programme is Mary Carty, who has an impressive background in entrepreneurship, having set up the first ever incubator initiative for young women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
The new NUI Galway programme is modelled on the success of an American initiative which originated at the University of Miami and was further developed by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. Other LaunchPad sites have since been developed in universities including Cornell University, NYU and UCLA.
NUI Galway was selected as a LaunchPad site through a competitive process, with funding provided by Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and Galway University Foundation. “It’s very exciting times for entrepreneurship in the city, adding to an already flourishing ecosystem,” says Ms Carty.
The programme has been up and running for a month and so far, there has been a huge uptake. “Many students have ideas they wish to work on, some have business ventures already and others want to work on skills that will help them in their future careers; like networking, presenting, pitching and research.”
So are there benefits to introducing entrepreneurship at an early stage in a student’s life? “It is a very rewarding process, taking a germ of an idea and following it through. Even if that idea fails early on, the skills you develop during this process are hugely transferable and useful for the rest of your life. Discovering your own potential, working collaboratively with others and building a team are other key components; all hugely valuable.”
Ms Carty comes from an entrepreneurial background and has been at the forefront of developing two successful start-ups. She grew up on a farm and learned about business from an early age. Over the past 10 years, she has established two successful technology start-ups and been nominated for an Interactive BAFTA.
She is a passionate advocate for women in STEM and is an advisor to STEMettes, which builds interest in STEM in young women. Last year she co-founded the first incubator for young women in STEM in the world, the London-based Outbox Incubator, which worked with 115 girls from six countries. 35 companies were established on the programme.
An experienced start-up mentor, Ms Carty is all too aware of the obstacles for entrepreneurs. She believes that some stereotypes have emerged in the sector in recent times that have not helped the situation. “Unfortunately, we have come to a stage where founders have become synonymous with a certain look, personality and skills. In the tech world, that stereotype is predominantly a young male in a hoodie and trainers. For other sectors the stereotype is an older male in a suit. I think this perception stops many people from pushing their idea further, believing that they do not fit the mould of an entrepreneur.”
She adds that having a mentor is very important, “Being an entrepreneur can be very tough. Developing a peer group of like-minded individuals is very important; fostering great relationships with mentors who can guide you along the way is crucial and a strong network of friends that you can lean on in times good and bad. Learning how to ask for help and listening to advice is a lifelong skill. Being an entrepreneur is just as much about the personal as the big idea. Building capacity in all these areas will make the road a little less lonely.”
But being an entrepreneur can be hugely rewarding. “Anyone can have a great idea at any age. The knowledge that you can make the world a better place, solve a problem for large numbers of society or find a new way of doing everyday things more efficiently, is pretty amazing. This opportunity is open to all of us. We live in a time where people can come together and collaborate in ways we never dreamed of before. Technology has given millions of people access to knowledge and networks. There has never been a better time to get involved, to start something, to give it a go.”
Ms Carty adds that she also wants to encourage students to explore entrepreneurship as an option. “For students who may not have considered themselves entrepreneurs, we want to show that entrepreneurship is a viable career path. There are so many opportunities open to students, we want to shed a light on the possibilities of working in this area and the potential to bring their ideas to life beyond LaunchPad.”
At its heart, LaunchPad aims to build critical core skills, market research, planning, financial management and managing teams as well as valuable personal development skills like teamwork and collaboration, pacing, delegation and personal resilience.
“Learning how to ask the right questions, how to go about finding the answers and testing your ideas is a huge part of the programme,” she adds. “We want to build skills and confidence, with skills and confidence you can solve just about any problem that comes your way.”