Article by Annette Jezierska, CEO and founder of Future Fox

Team holding hands, diversityThroughout my career, I have learnt the value of working with creative, passionate and supportive people.

As the CEO and founder of digital engagement company Future Fox I face many challenges, but manage to overcome them with much grit and determination, and drawing on the support of my team, peers and wider community. Here, I share my advice on self belief, building a network, and taking steps to achieve diversity in tech.

Think bigger. Believe in yourself.

It sounds cheesy, but it’s totally true. Entrepreneurs tend to challenge the status quo and create something completely novel in the process. This can be scary, , but having faith in yourself and your ability to learn, adapt and grow will be what sets you apart from the rest.

Take The Future Fox journey as an example. I never made an active choice to ‘get into the tech sector’. My experience in urban planning gave me insight into the major structural and tactical problems preventing the sector from delivering the infrastructure we need. The best way to help solve this and have a massive impact with communities was with tech.

I’m not a technical founder, but my background in natural sciences equipped me with a robust scientific approach. Combined with my passion for the solution and the technical expertise of my team, we’ve managed to successfully establish ourselves in the market and tackle an industry-wide issue head on.

Build your network

While great ideas and the self-belief to achieve them are fundamental, entrepreneurship is not a journey you can take alone. It’s crucial that you begin building a network of passionate and open-minded people to help you take your idea to the next level.

In the very early days of Future Fox, I won a £5K funding contract from UnLtd, to build an initial prototype of the product and help sell the idea to future investors. This may seem like a drop in the ocean to anyone with cash behind the sofa to start their own venture, but for us it was transformative.

As part of the programme, I was matched with a mentor, John, who has stayed by my side for four years and counting. He has provided me with enterprise and sales specific support, but, most importantly, he has been my cheerleader as I’ve navigated the rollercoaster ride that is starting your own business.

My advice to any aspiring entrepreneur would be to research the programmes and funds that are available within your sector. Involvement with the Scottish Government’s CivTech programme also gave me a great platform to showcase my early-stage product to key stakeholders, as well as providing funding and business support to help us take our product to market. I’ve been lucky to build a network of amazingly knowledgeable and talented people who are willing to support and advise me on a variety of topics and challenges.

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Prioritise passion

As well as building a supportive network across your industry, attracting the right people to your team is key. Life as a start-up is not always easy and you are often inventing the path in front of you at every stage. That’s why it’s so important that you feel a shared sense of endeavour. You need to be able to trust each other, to laugh things off together, to take risks as a team and learn from your mistakes. This culture also comes across to our clients, who consistently remark on the quality of their experience working with our team.

I use the word ‘likeminded’ with caution. While it’s crucial that your employees share the same commitment and support for the company’s mission and direction, a team of people who think the same way will ultimately stunt your growth. Diversity in thinking is key, and it’s great to see more companies embracing neurodiversity as part of their core company values.

When it comes to recruitment, my advice to all companies is to be crystal clear on what it is the business is trying to achieve. This includes full transparency on both the opportunities and the challenges. This will help weed out applicants without a genuine passion for the product, leaving those who are fully committed to the challenge.

Diversity is key

Diversity is key to achieving our company mission; our product helps clients engage with people of all backgrounds in planning decisions. As well as prioritising diversity in thinking, businesses and entrepreneurs must place a key focus on hiring from a variety of social, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This includes driving inclusivity in terms of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, education and nationality, and ensuring the company takes an active role in empowering people from minority groups.

The global tech sector has a long way to go in achieving diversity. Women and minority ethnic groups are especially underrepresented (and underappreciated) at all levels of tech, data analytics, and across the urban planning sector more widely. There are few models – which are critical for inspiration. This is a real shame, as diversity is one of the biggest strengths of any team.

To tackle this in the short term, we’re placing a greater focus on making lower level roles available, to capture talented people who feel excluded without the appropriate qualifications for a senior role. We are predominantly doing this via internships and participating in the Government’s Kickstart scheme.

Of course, achieving diversity in tech is not a short term fix. In the long term, I plan to continue using my position and experience to act as a role model for aspiring women in tech and urban planning, doing my best to ‘walk the talk’ and ultimately helping my team to do the same.

Annette JezierskaAbout the author

Annette Jezierska is the CEO and Founder of The Future Fox, a technology company on a mission to help people lead the future of the cities and places. Its flagship product PlaceBuilder is a user-friendly, digital engagement and analytics platform that fosters collaboration between communities and planners, supporting better planning decisions and the creation of people-led places.