St. Mary’s College has become the first in Ireland to have an Entrepreneur in Residence, following an offer from local business guru, Mary Mc-Kenna.
Learning Pool co-founder Ms. McKenna - who is also Entrepreneur in Residence at Oxford University- was officially installed in her new role during a celebration event at the Northland Road campus on Tuesday.
St. Mary’s Principal, Marie Lindsay, told those pupils and invited guests that the only other school in the UK or Ireland with an Entrepreneur in Residence was a private school in Putney which cost £19,000 a year to attend, adding that the school was delighted when Mary offered to take in the role in a message she sent via social media.
Mrs. Lindsay said such residencies were usually the preserve of universities and large companies.
She added: “This morning in St. Mary’s and in other schools, up in St Cecilia’s, the girls are doing their GCSE English and yesterday they were doing their Maths. And they must have those qualifications, but in the world into which you young girls will be going out to work in, those qualifications alone are not enough. You need skills and one of the important skills that everybody talks about is entrepreneurial skills.”
Mrs. Lindsay said that teacher, Ms. Clare Doherty, who runs the school’s Entrepreneurship Week, had been instrumental in bringing about the new partnership, while fellow teacher and Head of Business Studies Conor Lynch told those gathered that over 100 pupils had expressed an interested in an Entrepreneurship programme. “That equates roughly to about 15-16 per cent of our school population. It just shows the appetite we have in this school for this and how this can be a success,” he said.
“The main aim is to challenge this taboo of setting up business, to remove the barriers, to remove the anxiousness, and to plant that seed that you can do this.”
Mayor of Derry & Strabane, Maoliosa McHugh praised the new St. Mary’s initiative, which he said was a “reflection of the progressiveness of this school, which I have always been very much aware of.”
County Tyrone native Mary McKenna told those gathered she has worked in and around Derry over the past 15 years and lives in Inishowen.
“People in Derry probably know me best as one of the co-founders of Learning Pool,” she said. “I sold my half of Learning Pool four years ago and since then I call myself a Tech Entrepreneur and other people call me a serial angel investor. What that means is I invest in other people’s early stage start-up businesses. I have invested in six early stage businesses to date.”
She said that these days, she only invests in start-ups that have an all female founding team and a ‘Tech for Good’ aspect to them.
“Being here as your first Entrepreneur-in-Residence ticks an awful lot of boxes for me. I have always been very keen to support women and support young entrepreneurs.
“I’m more used to working with people that have already made that jump into entrepreneurship so what I am thinking of you guys as is pre-entrepreneurs, people who haven’t actually decided yet whether you are going to start a business, and hopefully I am going to be a person that can help you with some of your career decisions and help you by bringing some of the things that you learn in school a bit more to life in terms of the real business world.”
Mary said that growing up in a working class area of South Yorkshire “everybody we knew worked for somebody else”, while “nobody ever said to you, ‘ you could start a business and be your own boss’.
“So,” she said, “if that seed is planted early, we may see some more entrepreneurs emerging in the north west. I think it’s really important for our local economy and i think we are in a very tricky place at a tricky time up here in this little north west corner of Europe. It’s very uncertain.”
She said it was difficult to prepare young people for the jobs that are going to be available into the future due to the evolving and dramatically changing job market and the rise of such industries as those around machine learning and Artificial Intelligence.
“I’m going to work with you to see what I can do to help you make career choices and prepare for that new world that we will enter into.”
Mary. McKenna also asked for local business community to rally in behind the project and to help provide funding.
She later took part a question and answer session, hosted by BBC Radio Foyle presenter Mark Patterson, alongside local entrepreneurs Gemma Duffy, founder of Independent Derry, Ciaran Murray, founder of Creative Metrics and Sass &Halo founder Aoife Doherty.