What is Innovate UK’s Women In Innovation Award?
Friday 28 August, 2020
A year ago, Innovate UK awarded our Strategic Director, Dolores Sanders with the InnovateUK – Women in Innovation award, for our project to introduce AI and benchmarking for best practice into our Manufacturing Tech Platform. The award recognises women who have exciting ideas and business plans, and offers financial and mentoring support, recognising the challenges and subconscious bias that exists in the start up tech world (NatWest Rose Report 2019) . A year on from her award, Dolores reflects on how it has affected her and the opportunities that it has provided.
Innovate UK identified that there were significantly less applications from female entrepreneurs for funding than their male counterparts. The award is to encourage and signpost women to success and increase applications for the wider range of innovation grants. One of the tenets of the award, is “if you can see it you can achieve it” so the increased visibility of successful women in technology and entrepreneurship was fundamental, and the 2019 Award was the start of the Purple Plaque campaign for schools, providing a focal point for the Award winners acknowledgement.
When did you first hear about the award?
At a Innovate UK event on smart manufacturing, I met Pauline Dawes, who was a 2016 Award Winner. She was the guest speaker for the Women in Tech lunch and when she shared what she was achieving through the award, I decided, “ I want to apply for that”. I had to wait until 2018 when it was relaunched. We were looking to put together an artificial intelligence early stage project, which was separate to our core business, and absolutely needed funding to do it. It was going to take me away from some of the immediate commercial benefits of what I was doing in my day to day job. I was able to both put a business case together for the for the project, demonstrate the viability, both to my shareholders, and to Innovate UK . The Award was a combination of cash, which is always good, mentoring support and cohort integration with the other nine female award winners.
How did the Women In Innovation award change your business opportunities?
The opportunities from the award are quite multifaceted The first was the confidence that the recognition gave me in our business journey. I was one of the older winners. I came back into the technology workplace about three years prior to the award. I carried that confidence into securing private equity funding for the business and to secure an Innovate loan, which has enabled us to really develop the next generation of our Manufacturing Platform. They were the direct impacts; funding, new shareholders and expanded business opportunities. With that we have grown from a team of six, back when I first pitched for the award, to, now a team of 18 people! It hasn’t solely been as a result of the award, but all of the those elements came together.
How did the award affect you personally?
I have always wanted to make a difference to women in technology and women wanting to start their own entrepreneurial business. The award has given me that platform. Before lockdown, as part of Founders for Schools, I was going out to local schools and sharing my journey, innovation, what’s available, what’s possible, just creating that vision. If you can see it, you can become it! So I can start to utilise that platform, which is really, really important for me. Innovate UK gave us a plaque, as part of the purple plaque programme, which is designed again to signpost successful women around the country. I was able to go back to my school, put the plaque up, share some things with the students that are there now and to pay it forward, which has a massive impact.
In addition, there has been a commercial benefit from the award. I have utilised the award as a platform to say what we’re about as a company – TotalControlPro™ is innovative, we are the future technology partners, for our customers and we have been backed by Innovate UK and backed by hard cash to do that. It give us a great deal of credibility to our marketplace and we’ve definitely seen an upturn in not just the amount but the the calibre of customers that have been coming to us all as a result.