Meet the next generation of Stem entrepreneurs

A new project is bringing together girls from across the EU to live in a free, female-only space where collaboration trumps competition

Imagine a space where women are encouraged to flourish and develop their ideas, surrounded by the support of other women. What would this space look like?

I am currently living with 45 girls aged 11 to 22 from across the EU, in the Outbox Incubator house. It is a free, female-only space, created for young women with a passion for science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem), who want to become entrepreneurs in this sector. Created and run by Stemettes, the Outbox Incubator is the first of its kind: the only place in the world where girls are given the space, support, tools and opportunities to create their own startups.

Last month, Stemettes held a Demo Day, where the Outbox execs (the title given to girls in the incubator) were given the chance to pitch for investment to an audience of international investors, friends and family. Startups included Hollerr, the wearable technology and mobile app that records incidents of street harassment and geo-tags for easier prosecution, and Free Feet, a laser device attached to the side of a shoe, designed to help reduce gait freezing for Parkinson’s sufferers.

The story behind Outbox Incubator

First, the obvious (and controversial) point: we decided to take boys out of the equation. Why? Because the the market is already flooded with young male entrepreneurs. Many of these girls are with us because, despite wanting to start their own business from a young age, they didn’t have the confidence to forge their own path in a male-dominated sector. According to recent research, “a mere 2.7% of venture capital-funded companies have a woman CEO”.

So the Outbox house offers them a man-free zone where they sleep, eat, live, work, play and make new friendships and business partners. The girls and young women in the house have naturally been supporting one another and building sturdy and long-lasting networks. Don’t get me wrong, they can be fierce and competitive when it counts: they were up until 3am practising pitches the night before a 7am start for Demo Day. And they know how to fight over the last Toffee Crisp in the larder! This project offers them the space and independence to let this natural competitiveness thrive without being muted by their male counterparts.

Despite this element of competition, there is a strong sense of support and inclusivity in the house. Every Outbox exec is both a mentor and a mentee, though we haven’t formally created a mentoring scheme. This flow of ideas, skills, passion and hope for shared success is constant, strong and incredibly important.

One thing I’ve observed is that support always comes before competition for every single girl who has passed through this house. Even on Demo Day, when everyone had their own pitch to worry about, they found the time to tweet, wishing each other luck and success.

I’m not sure if the girls fully understand what this sense of collaboration has done for the Outbox Incubator. It has created a space that acts as an ecosystem for advanced and rapid development. They are helping each other become stronger and more inspiring by the day, as they create a unique sharing community.

Imagine the power of one talented girl, one female leader of the future, one female innovator, and multiply that by 45 a week, for six weeks. That is the Outbox Incubator effect: an environment that is electric, alive and all female.

Not every girl will become the next number one business leader, but with a chorus of support behind them, they can finally believe it is possible. These girls will all be life leaders, continually seeking out safe spaces where they can share ideas and develop themselves and other women.

Outbox Incubator is one such space. We need more. What’s next?

Jacquelyn Guderley

The GuardianTramp

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