Inspirational Woman: Alison Partridge | Head of Strategy, Capital Enterprise & OneTech

Alison Partridge

Alison is Head of Strategy for Capital Enterprise and OneTech and Director of Aurora European Services

For nearly 30 years she has worked across EU cities to support inclusive entrepreneurship and innovation. In 2018 she founded OneTech with colleagues and members at Capital Enterprise in recognition of the lack of inclusion and diversity in London’s tech startup ecosystem. She continues to work in pan European city networks such as TechRevolution which supports medium sized cities to develop inclusive tech and digital economies. Alison has a strong strategic vision and a talent for successfully developing and delivering multi-faceted and multi-sector projects and partnerships which make a difference to local communities. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I started my entrepreneurship journey in 1997 and have spent my entire career supporting Europe’s cities to create inclusive economies, which provide opportunities for all. For over 20 years I have led EU wide city networks to work together to better understand common problems and share experiences / explore potential solutions. In the past 5 years these have included TechTown (10 cities exploring digital ecosystems), TechRevolution (8 cities disrupting & reinventing incumbent industries through tech), TechPlace (EU wide platform supporting knowledge exchange on all things cities & tech and more recently I’ve been involved in ASToN (12 African towns working together on digital transitions).

Since 2016 I have also been Head of Strategy for Capital Enterprise and subsequently also OneTech. Not a natural 'tecchie' myself (and often in denial about being perceived as a ‘woman in tech’), in this role I believe I have driven conversation and change around the diversity in tech agenda, recognising that it is not accessible for all and needs to change. In London I founded and co-lead OneTech, which aims to connect under estimated and under-represented communities with opportunities in tech and thereby to change the face of tech start-ups.

In my spare time I teach yoga and am the proud mother of 2 bright young feminists who educate and inspire me on a daily basis.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No although I have been fortunate to have some amazing colleagues and a fabulous business coach who have mentored and guided me along the way.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Probably one of my biggest career challenges was dealing with the sudden death of a close colleague and friend. I’m not sure I will ever ‘overcome’ this. The one positive thing that came out of this for me has been to promise myself I will not waste my time on things which do not have clear purpose. Our lives are short and we need to live them well – taking advantage of, and being grateful for, every single day.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There are many but founding OneTech is fast becoming one of my biggest career achievements. Since I originally conceived OneTech early in 2018 we have:

  • Launched in October 2018 with funding from J.P.Morgan and in partnership with 5 delivery organisations – Diversity VC, Loughborough University in London, TechNation, The Accelerator Network and YSYS
  • Expanded provision to reach more of London’s young and underserved communities and engage 2 further delivery organisations – FounderVine and UKBlackTech – and with support from the Mayor of London’s Digital Talent Programme and the South London Innovation Corridor
  • Partnered with WeWork to provide free workspace to 100 female founders and 20 young founders
  • Increased female founders in Capital Enterprise programmes by over 475% and BAME founders by over 233% (with Black Founders increasing by more than 600%)
  • Recruited more than 250 people from under-represented communities (of which 51% are women and 61% are people of colour)
  • Supported these to raise £9.6m and create 102 jobs (as of October 2019)
  • Delivered Diversity Action Plans to 9 Accelerators and Diversity and Inclusion training to 20 senior tech leaders
  • Highlighted the importance of diversity in tech with government through a series of high level round tables
  • Shared the powerful stories of 13 OneTech Founders to inspire others.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Surrounding myself with diverse, driven, inspiring and hugely supportive colleagues, friends and family.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Be open to feedback and commentary from everyone around you and then agile in the way you respond.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

When I first started getting involved in the tech start-up world I was shocked at how male, pale and privileged it was. Walking around the co working spaces at the heart of London's tech city it was rare to see a woman, let alone a woman of colour. I’ve worked all over Europe and have experienced all sorts of cultures and prejudices along the way but this was genuinely a first for me. The more I work in tech, the clearer it is that it is a world created by (mostly white) men, for men. So yes, there are still MASSIVE barriers to overcome.

Even today I remain shocked by the stats relating to women in tech…. in the UK, for every £1 of venture capital investment, less than 1p goes to all-female led teams. Of all funds raised by European VC backed companies in 2018, a staggering 93% went to all-male founding teams. I hear regular stories of male teams actively deciding not to include a woman in their team for fear it might affect their chances of investment. And, as well as suffering from a diversity deficit, London’s tech scene is not inclusive. It attracts talent and innovation from across the world and yet is inaccessible for communities living across the street.

These barriers need to be overcome by long term, structural interventions such as OneTech which addresses the challenges from both the demand side (through policy and thought leadership) and the supply side (by connecting diverse communities with opportunities).

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Find new and different ways to recruit staff from outside the usual networks and sites and then use innovative approaches to retention, developed by women. Take a risk. Step outside the ordinary.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Scrap the national curriculum and overhaul our education system so that women and girls have the technical and transferable skills and resilience needed to create a sustainable tech future.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are so many – here are a few you may not already be aware of:

  • Black Women Talk Tech
  • DevelopHERUK
  • Diversity VC
  • Fearless Futures (D&I training)
  • Hustle + Heels (community of 8,000 black aspiring / founders)
  • Inclusive Boards
  • Mums in Tech