HeForShe: Wil Benton | Venture & Ecosystem Director, ATI Boeing Accelerator

Wil BentonWil is the Venture & Ecosystem Director at ATI Boeing Accelerator. It's a 3-month programme for world-class startups building industry 4.0 and sustainability enabling technologies, with the potential to bolster the growth and competitiveness of the UK aerospace industry.

Prior to becoming Venture & Ecosystem Director at the accelerator, Wil delivered similar programmes at Ignite, directly supporting 38 companies in accelerator and pre-accelerator programmes. Wil is also a former co-founder and CEO of Chew, a music-tech startup that was acquired in 2017 after scaling to ~400,000 global users, and alumni of Ignite [Prog. 5, Winter 2014].

Wil is an active angel investor (15+ investments to date) and startup mentor. In his free time, he manages a chart-topping record label and DJs around Europe and the US.

Why do you support the HeForShe campaign? For example – do you have a daughter or have witnessed the benefits that diversity can bring to a workplace?

As the only man in a team of two to four other women, I’m a firsthand witness to the benefits diversity can bring to our workplace. Without diversity of thought, background, gender, race - whatever - you will struggle to create a meaningful environment for growth.

I have also seen the struggles my partner has faced as a women in a male-dominated industry and am therefore doing my small part in trying to change that.

That’s why I support the HeForShe campaign.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

If only one part of the workplace is driving for change, change will never happen. The fact we’re having to have this conversation in the 21st century is beyond me - but it’s clear there’s a huge amount of work still to be done. Thankfully the conversation is now more front-and-centre than it has been historically, but it’s critical that men play their part to support gender equality so we can all make it happen.

How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?

In my experience, men are welcome - I think it’s important to reflect on everyone’s experiences but provide a place for sharing ideas for change and improving the situation. If only one side is having that conversation, we’re not going to make much of a change! But yes, I think the conversation is open to and happening with both men and women.

Do you think groups/networks that include the words “women in…” or “females in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t really their problem or something they need to help with?

I don’t know - it’s not something that makes me feel that way and I can’t speak for others! I think it’s great that there are these groups/ networks that provide the opportunity for this dialogue to happen, but I also think that - as a community - we can do better, and create more inclusive opportunities in  mixed groups/ networks as well as the individual/ disparate ones. It shouldn’t be hard!

What can businesses do to encourage more men to feel welcome enough to get involved in the gender debate?

I think the first step is to flag that the debate is happening, and that it needs/ should be something we’re all consciously aware of. There are a number of initiatives pushing this forward (shout out to 50:50, Lu Li, Diversity VC and everyone else doing the good work!), but it needs to be part of the business values to really lead to any positive difference. It’s not a tickbox exercise, and so if treated as such it’s just window dressing. And that’s not good enough.

Do you currently mentor any women or have you in the past?

I do what I can to share my experience as a founder, investor, advisor etc and mentor anyone I connect with that I think I can help. At the moment I’m mentoring and advising a few startups, some of which are female-founded. It’s a really rewarding process and one that’s worked for me (as a mentee) in the past. Mentoring should be something everyone does - you’d be surprised at what providing a second opinion on things (or receiving one) can do for personal development!

Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women – for example, are women less likely to put themselves forward for jobs that are out of their comfort zones or are women less likely to identify senior roles that they would be suited for? 

The amazing women I’ve mentored (or am working with at the moment) are driven, keen to speak up and ask for help - but yes, there are occasions where confidence and trusting in ones’ self can take some time to come forward and be as established as the bare-faced swagger that some of the male founders I’ve worked with have!

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of HeForShe interviews, including Christian Edelmann, George Brasher, Stephen Mercer and many more. You can read about all the amazing men championing gender equality here

Gabriela Matic

Inspirational Woman: Gabriela Matic | Programme Director, ATI Boeing Accelerator

Gabriela Matic Gabi Matic is the Programme Director at ATI Boeing Accelerator, a 3-month programme for world-class startups building industry 4.0 and sustainability enabling technologies, with the potential to bolster the growth and competitiveness of the UK aerospace industry.

Gabi is responsible for designing, recruiting for and running accelerator programmes across the UK mainland, as well as a core focus on programme pipelines.

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

I am currently the Programme Director of the ATI Boeing Accelerator. Before that, I was the Co-Founder and former CMO of HealthTech startup MindMate, an Ignite and Techstars NYC alumni company, that started in Glasgow, raised over $2M from top-tier international investors and is now headquartered in the US.

While at MindMate, I grew the platform from user 0 to 50,000 and sold into the NHS through my expertise in digital marketing, user acquisition, sales and fundraising. I left the company in 2016 to join Ignite and have worked on accelerator and pre-accelerator programmes since.

Over the last three years, I’ve been responsible for designing, recruiting for and running accelerators across the UK, as well as having a core focus on programme pipelines. Since joining Ignite, I have successfully accelerated and supported over 60 startups and have mentored hundreds more.

I have also been running a Female Founder Meetup Group in London and am on the Board of the Chisenhale Dance Space.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I tried when I was quite young - around 15-16 - and quickly realised that there were too many different things I was interested in and that I didn’t want to keep any doors closed because I’m trying to follow a plan. This has proven to be the right path so far; life has a way of pointing you in the right direction, even if it’s unexpected.

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

I think I had to face many of the most challenging situations during my time as a startup founder. Only after I ended up leaving my startup did I realise that I had completely neglected my health while focusing on building the business. I had started identifying myself and my worth with the startup and had to learn to be kinder to myself and to detach from this whirlwind of successes and failures. Startups are incredibly hard and I respect anyone who embarks on that journey. I also had to learn that it’s so hard to find the right people to go on this journey with.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I think winning this contract to deliver an accelerator programme for someone like Boeing and the ATI had definitely been a highlight so far! However I, most of the time, feel like I achieved something when I can see that what I did made a real difference to someone. Seeing founders make real progress through our accelerators ticks that box. As founder it was similar, it was super rewarding to see that our application changed people’s lives for the better.

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

It’s probably my attitude to fear and feeling uncomfortable. I wouldn’t say I like it but I do embrace it as often as I can because it has lead me to some very exciting opportunities.

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

Don’t be scared to make mistakes. I believe that often those are the things that we learn from the most and that move us forward. Be brave and ask questions. If you don’t inform yourself and ask those questions because you are embarrassed and feel like you should know the answer you are going nowhere. Especially in technology - things change all the time, it’s okay to ask for help.

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

Yes, unfortunately there are, you just need to look at the numbers and stats. We usually like to work with people that are like us and because women are still underrepresented, especially in technology and senior roles, there is lots of bias and exclusion. I think we need to be really honest about what the status quo looks like and that we need to proactively change something. It will have to start with promoting those women that are doing well because everybody needs to see people like them in a position of success.

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

Women are often less likely to push for that promotion or speak up about being overlooked. Companies have to work against that and help those women to find their voices by creating an atmosphere that allows that. Make actual plans and be structured about your employees’ development by working with them on timelines and what it is they need to achieve to progress. This will make it easier for all parties to be heard and work towards progress rather than just allowing it for those who are loudly asking for it.

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?

I think I would like three things to become facts rather than aspirations:

- Women know it’s okay to take up space and work in tech if that is what excites them, even if it is still dominated by men.
- Women are each other's biggest cheerleaders and proactively help other women to overcome barriers that are keeping them from being included.
- Men are all allies and understand that the overall situation will be better with more women involved.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are few communities, mailing lists and FB groups I would like to point out:
- NOI Club
- Blooming Founders
- Ada’s List
- Geekgirl Meetup