I grew up 10 miles outside Belfast and completed my undergraduate and PhD at Queen's University. I was always a bit of rule breaker, in a good way, always trying to do something innovative in my spare time. I was inspired by anyone who just did something and ignored barriers; someone like Joan Jett. Being in a tech startup is similar, there are lots of barriers and people saying "no" and you need to push beyond it. Thankfully, I have amazing friends and family who have supported me, even though I don't see them as often as I should or I cannot talk to them about work because of confidentially clauses. They are always there when I pop up for some air to go out to a gig or make sure I'm getting time to relax!
Our innovation, AppAttic, is around crowdsourcing clinical trials to validate medical apps. The idea is to decrease the costs, time, and resources required to test healthcare technologies with the aim of getting the latest solutions into the hands of patients quickly whilst still proving their safety and efficacy. The innovation was born from the frustration of running a randomised controlled trial in the NHS; if you don't know yourself, it's a process that is resource intensive and can effectively cripple research and development in a commercial company! AppAttic was initially designed as a concept that would reduce the costs we incur for running RCTs by up to 90%. Then we realised there is a significant market opportunity for it as a stand-alone product.
Though AppAttic was inspired by my own experiences - there wasn't just one 'Eureka moment', but rather lots of inspiration points and decisions to be made along our journey. The key for me has been having the wisdom, experience and just gut instinct to know which decisions to follow and learn from the ones that didn't work out and try again.
We have actually been aware of Innovate UK for some time, as we have been awarded a phase 1 & 2 Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) which is run in conjunction with Innovate UK. The application process was rather straightforward. The most difficult bit was writing about myself, it's not something computer geeks usually do, we often prefer to just go into a dark room and make something. When you approach a new business opportunity you anticipate being out of your comfort zone occasionally, but for me it's the moments in which I reflect on my own journey and my own story that are challenging - trust your own voice, because learning to talk about yourself and why you deserve something above someone else is incredibly valuable! Winning this £50,000 grant, and the fantastic package of very tailored business support package, makes it all worth it - so go for it!
My top tips for other female innovators and entrepreneurs are to just try something, and go for it - don't wait for approval, trust yourself and keep going. In fact, these apply to everyone, male, female and everything in-between.
Rachel & Innovate UK:
Dr. Rachel Gawley has just been honoured as one of the 15 winners of Innovate UK's 2016 Women in Innovation awards, a series of awards dedicated to addressing the disproportionately low numbers of women entrepreneurs in the UK. Here, over a series of 15 posts we'll meet the inspiring innovators and entrepreneurs that Innovate UK is celebrating, each of whom will receive a tailored business support package, expert business mentor and £50,000 to help them reach their full potential.
Dr. Ruth McKernan CBE and Chief Executive of Innovate UK says: 'From fully autonomous drone software to affordable solar power technology and even a digital education portal which engages school children with the molecular world, the calibre of ideas is an eye-opening view into the talent and vision of the UK's female entrepreneurs. It is very clear that harnessing the talent of women entrepreneurs could significantly enhance UK economic growth. I am delighted that we are taking action; supporting and funding female entrepreneurs to help them succeed and inspire other women to come forward, apply for funding and turn their ideas into successful business.'
If you have an innovation or business idea and are looking for support then visit www.innovateuk.gov.uk for further information - go for it!
You can follow Innovate UK on Twitter at @innovateuk or subscribe to their YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/InnovateUK.