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IGNITING THE SPARK with Dr Sue Black OBE, #techmums

Caroline Sherrington

“Studies have shown that one of the main influencing factors on children’s numeracy and literature ability at that age are their mother’s education and the home environment. If we create a better home environment for the kids by teaching the mums technology and building their confidence, then hopefully we can have an effect on the child’s achievement at school as well.” Dr Sue Black OBE – #techmums

We spoke to Sue Black, the founder of #techmums, to find out what it was that inspired her to start the organisation.

What was it that ignited the spark to begin #techmums?

It started with me being a woman and a mum in technology and realising that you can get lots of new opportunities in your life simply by understanding some really basic technology. Having worked with technology for twenty years, I can see how my knowledge has affected me and my family in a positive way.

I wanted to try and help everyone have access to these benefits.

Do you know the little Britain sketch ‘computer says no’? I think a lot of people don’t like computers and see them as a threat. I want to try and ‘flick the switch’ to show them that computing is a great thing and to try and get them from computer says no to computer says yes!

I started by training children, thinking that we need to teach kids computing in school because at that time there wasn’t that much, and there wasn’t any training on this subject in primary schools.

I ran some workshops with seven year olds doing things like app design, and programming. We got parents to come in at the end and have a go with their kids and I noticed that not in every case, but in general, the Dads would get involved and the mums stood back a bit and weren’t very confident.

This gave me the idea to start doing something with mums. Also I wanted to try and get out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible and I thought if we get the mums then the kids will come on board anyway. I wanted to show mums that technology can be a great enabler and can help them do what they want. For example, if they want to start their own business we can help with technology.

We teach things like social media and staying safe online so we can help give opportunities to mums. But also to help the whole family, if the mum is more positive towards technology then I think the kids will have a better time and are more likely to be positive about technology as well.

Studies have shown that the main influencing factor in kids on numeracy and literature at that age are the mum’s education and the home environment. So if we create a better home environment for the kids by teaching the mums technology and build their confidence, then hopefully we can have an effect on the child’s achievement at school as well.

The aim is through mums to create more women who work in technology. We want to teach women technology skills and create jobs for mums. Our trainers are quite often mums, they can work in schools during school time as well when the kids are at school.

Have you had any examples yet of mums who have gone on to start-up businesses?

One of our mums had a cottage in Ireland and was paying agents to find people to rent it out during the summer, without much interest. After doing the web design and social media part of the #techmums course, she decided to set up a twitter account and created a website to see if she could get anyone to rent out her cottage in the summer. She went on to get people renting it throughout the year, even more than she was expecting. When other cottage owners saw how well she was doing, they asked her to rent out their cottages too, so now she’s got a holiday rental business, purely through her knowledge of social media and web design, which she learnt from #techmums.

This is just one story, the mums have just taken it and run with it.

What’s surprised you most since you started #techmums?

I thought everyone would love it, and they do. I suppose I’m surprised it hasn’t grown more quickly. It’s not-for profit but we need money for it to work as an organisation. Things are moving along now, but in the early days I thought more people would jump at the chance to learn and it’s taken longer to take off - people take time to understand doing things in a different way.

I think initially everyone thought - ‘Why are you focusing on mums?’- Lots of people thought we should just focus on kids to start with, but I didn’t think that was the case. Three years later people have started to understand why of course it’s a good idea, and it has been interesting to see how attitudes have changed over time.

What’s the toughest challenge that you’ve faced?

Turning our idea into a business – making money to fund getting out to more mums. To build a business out of doing something which no one has done before is a difficult thing to do. Everything I take on as a challenge I think is going to happen really quickly but things don’t always work that way!

What is the biggest success so far?

Looking back now, it’s fantastic to see how many people got involved. It’s exciting to think about how something that was an idea in my head got more and more people and momentum. It’s changed the way mums see things.

What are you very good at?

Working out how to solve problems. I saw a problem when I went to computing conferences and found there were not many women there. I ended up going to an all women conference and found it was a very different experience and wanted to try and bring that experience to women who were isolated from technology in the UK.

I aim to have 1 million #techmums by 2020. That’s my ambition.

What type of person do you look to recruit into your organisation?

People that are very passionate about technology and care about society and especially about people that haven’t had the easiest background and of course people who work hard.

What does the team look like at the moment?

There’s 3-4 of us at the moment working part-time. But we’re on a growth stage at the moment I’m looking at bringing more people to the team which is exciting.

What part of your day do you most look forward to?

I do like it at 9 or 10 o’clock at night when I sit down and relax after a full day! I have to say I enjoy almost everything I do now which is a great position to be in. I’m always doing very different things; I might be out doing a talk, working on my next book, answering emails or on social media.

I love what I do.

If you could give your 18-year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Trust your gut instinct. I used to think that people who were older than me knew better than me, and to some extent that’s true because they had more experience, but when I was younger I didn’t really trust my gut instinct.

I think it’s really important to do that because we do have an instinct about what’s right and wrong. And not everyone who is older than us does know exactly what’s right for us, we’re the only person that knows us really well and what’s right I think trust your gut instinct is something I realised I should do earlier on really.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Hanging out with my kids – I’ve got four kids and a grandson!

I’ve actually just started triathlon training, I like running and swimming and now the weather is getting better, I’m going to start cycling as well. I’m hopefully doing one at the end of May. It’s quite fun and if you’re working hard it’s quite good to do exercise as well.

Do you have a philosophy on life?

Follow your passion, do the things that you really love doing because that’s what you’ll be best at.

If you were asking other entrepreneurs questions, what would want to know?

What’s their best start-up hack? Something to make things easier, the things that they know has really helped with building a start-up.

Mine would be to find the right people to work with.

What do you like about working with Ignition Law?

They’re super friendly, knowledgeable, professional and really nice people.

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