Helen Brown

Inspirational Woman: Helen Brown | Managing Partner, Seeblue

Meet Helen Brown, Managing Partner, Seeblue

Helen Brown

Helen Brown is Managing Partner of Seeblue, an award-winning Account Based Marketing agency for technology companies. Prior to entering the world of marketing and entrepreneurship, Helen earned a 1st class degree in Political Science from Bristol University and competed a dissertation on Female Genital Mutilation, an experience which fuelled a life-long passion for equality and women’s rights.

Helen was Chair of the Vodafone Group Women’s Network and Seeblue are the pro bono Marketing partner for the Digital Poverty Alliance, working to end digital poverty across the UK by 2030.

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

Having spent 12 years working for global technology companies in marketing, my career took a completely different turn when three and a half years ago I co-founded Seeblue, a specialist tech sector Account Based Marketing agency (www.see-blue.co.uk). We focus on how our clients products and services (across IoT, Telco, SaaS, Cyber Security, Insurance and Analytics) deliver transformational value to their customers.

We are now nine people strong and have achieved three times growth year on year – despite recessions and covid. We support primarily software companies who target enterprise clients. We have a deep understanding of the digital transformation landscape and what that means across different sectors.

I am married and have two children whom I adore more than life itself. Somewhere in the madness of having a family and starting a business, we built our own house and when I have a moment for a break I love adventure sports, camper-vanning, healthy food and learning about psychology and ways to improve my mind and my mental resilience.

Helen Brown

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did, but it never included entrepreneurship! I am a person who loves learning and always looked ahead to what next, and which projects or roles would enable me to learn new skills. Being an entrepreneur, however, came from a process of deduction.

I realised that the big corporate career I had sought was actually someone else’s version of “success.” I just didn’t feel close enough to the output, to the customer, to the point of need and would end each day feeling unsatisfied.  So, I started freelancing, which, for a period of time when my children were small, was fantastic – it gave me the freedom I wanted. But I then started to want more, I wanted to create something, to be part of building something. So, I realised that the best way for me to do that, was to create a business. And that was how Seeblue began. A walk on a cold January day with an ex-colleague from Vodafone and NCT friend led to the creation of our now thriving marketing agency, Seeblue.

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

One of the hardest things for me was working out what I really wanted. I always found it easier to identify what I didn’t want than what I did! And I don’t think that’s uncommon. The thing which changed my thinking, was understanding my personal values. Family, freedom and fulfilment sit at the top for me. Freedom in many ways – the ability to choose how and when I focus on my family, the freedom to make decisions, the freedom on where and how I work. And fulfilment to me comes from being challenged, mentally absorbed, caring deeply, and having a sense of growing something.

I often think of Seeblue like a garden. First you plant the seed, then there are a few early shoots and then you need to watch, listen and respond to the environment, weather and other external and internal factors to ensure each part of it stays healthy and thrives.

The transition – from corporate employee to business owner has not come without personal challenges though. I have experienced the most severe, almost crippling imposter syndrome at times. When you go from being great at what you do (marketing) and become the rookie newbie trying to work out how to do things for the first time (HR, finance, legal, contracts) – you can really loose a sense of who you are.

Ultimately, I have lent on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help me de-code the way I have felt when pushed way out of my comfort zone, to rationalise the situation and realise that it’s ok. Really ok. Anyone who is creating new ideas or doing something different is doing it for the first time. No progress would ever be made in the world if people weren’t prepared to be ok, with not knowing everything.

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What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Without a moment’s hesitation creating Seeblue, with a young family, in the face of a recession and Covid. In the early days it felt so challenging that only downright determination saw us put one foot in front of the other and keep turning up every single day. And despite feeling unsure, we just carried on. We listened to each other (my co-founder and I), the market, our customers. Recognising that we are tech sector specialists, having worked in telecommunications, SaaS, Cyber Security and IoT we were clear from the outset that our value was in our knowledge, which we apply across sub-sectors under the tech umbrella.  We pivoted our offering. We stayed nimble and we eventually grew and thrived.

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

There are a few things.

  1. Understanding your values – you will not be happy if you fight against them. Don’t look outwardly to copy others but learn what success really means to you.
  2. Be clear on your why. This is the only thing that will see you through when things get tough.
  3. Talk to people, learn from everyone. Especially if you struggle with confidence or any kind of mental health challenge – just talk. It will help you see it for what it is and enable others to support you.

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

I believe that having a growth mindset is one of the most critical things to succeeding in anything. Always learn, not only about your sector, or your area of specialism but take an interest in the impact of technology on people. Connect the dots. Have an opinion. Share that opinion publicly/on social media. Don’t assume that if you do a good job someone will notice. To succeed in any professional endeavour, people need to hear you and you need to reach out to them. Don’t see barriers, see opportunities.

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

Culture can still play a major role in certain organisations. My advice to anyone looking at the kinds of companies that they work for would be not to focus on whether your manager, for example, is male or female but look at the Board. Look at the Senior Leadership Team. Is it diverse? How serious do you think they are about having a balance of views. What are the policies around parental leave and flexible working? These things will tell you a lot about whether that company truly values diversity.

I also know there to be a difference in the (general) confidence levels of male and female employees when it comes to asking for promotions. So do everything you can to get the right mentors and role models to support your goals. Be clear. Ask for feedback. Tell people what you want and invite their support to help you on that journey.

Helen Brown

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

A combination of policies, culture and content. When any imbalance exists policies are an important part of setting guidance for what needs to happen. Culture is everything – we have built Seeblue from the ground up with culture and values at its heart. Look at whether the culture recognises and values the respective strengths that male and female employees bring, as this will have a huge impact on your experience and your potential success.

By content, I mean everything from speakers and events to networks to written material. Are you working on your own self-development and awareness, are you existing outside of the bubble of your daily tasks, and looking outwardly to how you can make a difference? What does your company offer which you can take advantage of?

There are currently only 21 per cent 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?

With a 6-year-old daughter, I would say it has to start in school. A transition is underway (coding for girls, science fayres and competitions) but education is still quite old fashioned. Much more needs to be done from nursery ages up to demonstrate that tech is for all.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

This is not tech specific, but to everyone interested in building mental resilience I would recommend reading Anthony Robbins book Awaken the Giant Within. In my opinion, this is the single most powerful thing you could read and implement to identify your values and improve your self-belief such that you have the tools you need to achieve whatever your goals and dreams may be.

Inspirational Woman: Paula Whitby | Managing Partner, CARAS

Paula WhitbyPaula launched the CARAS brand in the UK in 1997, after becoming one of the founding partners of P&B Computers.

She has almost 35yrs of experience spanning business distribution and developing management software, for the greater good within large organisations. Currently specialising in software solutions for the domiciliary sector, using data to help care managers make better-informed business decisions.

Tell us a bit about yourself, the journey from P&B Computers to CARAS, and your current role at CARAS

P&B Computers was originally formed in 1991, the company built and supplied desktop computers and servers with parts sourced to suit customer specifications. This was a great success at the time but technology progressed at great speed during the 90s, with increasingly available internet, new EEC regulations and the ease for end-users to purchase computer parts direct. Our margins were therefore decreased, and we needed to adapt and investigate alternative products and solutions.

We then found CARAS, a DOS-based software solution that itself had a legacy and was a software solution provider for the care industry since 1988. In 1996, we purchased the software, added it to our portfolio and commenced the journey of re-development and product enhancement to meet client and ever-changing legislative requirements. 26 years in, I am still passionate about CARAS and work as Managing Partner, overseeing all day-to-day operations and ensuring client satisfaction.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really, I initially fell into technology as a career path. I left college after completing a Business and Distribution diploma and began searching for my first full-time job. I came across numerous telesales and field sales vacancies, which all seemed to be connected to IT. At the time this was an industry I knew little about.  I joined a company called Walters’ International which was the first UK computer supplier to officially be approved as a supplier of “IBM compatible” PC’s.  Through learning on the job and attending large computing and technology exhibitions, my real IT experience and knowledge began to grow.

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

I have faced numerous challenges throughout my career. In the early stages at Walters’ it was a struggle to get noticed among a large group. The telesales team was predominately female, and the field sales team and technical engineers were all male. Even when I was offered a field sales position, I was given a van to carry equipment instead of a car as the men had and I was always given the places to visit that the rest of the team did not want to go to. It was a case of perseverance – finding different ways to achieve technical sales and working my way up the ladder, taking a few risks along the way to demonstrate and prove my abilities.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There are a few large achievements that I am proud of, one that stands out was P&B Computers tendering and winning a contract in 1995 to supply, build and deliver 60 computers in just 10 days to Milton Keynes College worth £50,000. However, my biggest achievement has been the continual development of the CARAS software solution to meet the dynamic requirements of the care industry and to keep up with constant technology and legislative changes, as well as developing our mobile application and most importantly still being here in 2022!

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

I believe that strong and open communication, thinking outside of the box to do things differently and ensuring I can adapt to new situations are three key contributors to my success.

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

My main tip would be to research your sector and stay up to date with industry changes. Ask lots of questions and take advantage of all the communication tools available today. It’s a case of wanting to learn and then utilising your resources to find out the information you need.

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

There are less barriers now than in the late 80s but there is still a way to go. Many technical support teams are still primarily male-orientated especially at the higher level of support escalation. I believe that addressing this is a case of women challenging the bias, taking opportunities when they arise and continuing to push forward.

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

I think that many tech companies need to invest additional funds into addressing gender inequality in the industry and providing more opportunities and education for women.

There are currently only 17 per cent 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 that change for women in tech starts with education. Careers advice for girls should promote IT & STEM careers including science, technology, and engineering. The more girls that are involved in these types of education will ultimately provide a higher availability of talented women in the industry.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are more resources available than you may think. Networking on LinkedIn is important, but other resources are available too such as The Women in Tech Show, Women Tech Charge, and the Women in Tech Summit. Remember that information and communication is key!

Nichola Bates featured

Inspirational Woman: Nichola Bates | Managing Partner, Aerospace Xelerated & Head of Global Accelerators and Innovation Programs, Boeing

Nichola BatesNichola joined Boeing following a decade-long career working with scaling startups.

Nichola brings extensive experience of international business development and fundraising for growth and she is passionate about the benefits of collaboration with startups. At Aerospace Xelerated, Nichola invests in and supports startups using AI and autonomous technologies to the benefit of the aerospace sector and related industries.

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

I was a lawyer and earned my degree part-time while working in the court service in Northern Ireland. One of my responsibilities became outreach and communications and that was really where my interest and journey started with tech. I was working on the side with different businesses, helping them make the transition into the virtual world, and realised I’d rather do that than be a full-time lawyer.

Then I became very involved in economic development work here in Northern Ireland. I was the first person to bring CoderDojo to the country and I was really engaged in getting the tech ecosystem in Northern Ireland started and passionate about how we could help Northern Irish entrepreneurs succeed globally. I love the fact that it doesn’t matter where you start, and that you can create a really successful startup from anywhere. You just have to be committed to doing it.

That evolved to me joining RepKnight as the number two there, which in turn led me to represent the security sector through a number of trade associations. I was part of the founding team of the Security and Resilience Growth partnership and was the government minister’s appointee representing SMEs. That ultimately created the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) in the Home Office. Which is how I came to join Boeing, as their secondee to JSaRC before moving full time into supporting the growth of Boeing’s UK National Security team.

Now, at Boeing, I specialise in using all my knowledge around tech ecosystems and building startups, to work alongside innovative companies using technology to advance aerospace. We recently launched applications for Aerospace Xelerated, a three-month programme that invests in world-class startups solving challenges for the sector, ranging from autonomous navigation to reduced workload. You can find out more information here.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. It was a complete accident! While it wasn’t planned, it has been great in terms of having so many different experiences. Now I feel like I’m ready for my second career in this corporate world. It wasn’t necessarily natural to make that transition into corporate but you go with the opportunities that are presented to you as they come. It’s good to be challenged.

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

I’ve always worked in male-dominated environments. We’ve only very recently appointed our first female Chief Justice in Northern Ireland, for example.

I actually struggled with what I thought about working in male-dominated fields and how I should approach that. It’s the same with the security sector, as well as defence and aerospace. But, it wasn’t until I was having a conversation with someone from the UK tech community, someone who was arguing for positive discrimination, where I began to appreciate that it wasn’t enough to survive and navigate this environment. We need to stand up and say, ‘no, this is not okay.’ We have a responsibility to those coming after us.

That conversation really changed my thoughts and my whole approach. I was used to being the only woman in the room. And I had almost built a personality around that in the sense that I knew that I had to come in and be the centre of attention.

But I started to behave in a more authentic way.

Rather than standing and smiling when inappropriate things are being said, I began actually expressing my displeasure at the way conversations are being held or women were being treated. I’m being significantly more proactive about promoting the other women around me in the sector. Before we would almost stay apart because you had to be the only woman in the room. You had to stand alone. That idea of women standing together, particularly in the defence sector, wasn’t something that would have been acceptable

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I think if I’m honest, the thing that I’m most amazed by is actually having an American corporate venture company committing to invest in and support the growth of early-stage companies across the world. Not just in the United States. Right now, I think we have a real opportunity to leverage all of the resources that the Boeing company has in a way that I don’t think anyone has ever been able to do before.

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

Tenacity? Grit, I suppose? And maybe just being creative. One of the things that I notice that is severely lacking on the corporate side, which you see more on the entrepreneurial side, is the ability to look at disparate activities that are going on and actually pull the common thread.

Timing too. I think that it’s almost been a bit of a perfect storm for me in the sense that I’ve come into the business at a time when we were very cash-rich. So that allowed more side projects, which gave me the first opening with the UK program. I don’t think that would’ve happened if Boeing hadn’t been as successful as it was at the time. And Leadership. Brian Schettler, who was our VP and now leads AEI Hx, was very keen to try and do more and grow things, his ambition level is very, very high. So that provided more opportunities.

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

Build a network. I think the most valuable thing that you can do is know where to go when you need specific help because I think that the challenges that you’re going to face are much more varied and much greater than you can imagine when you’re starting off. And if you have people that you can go to that have been through it, that understand it, it’s very helpful. Having a range of sounding boards to let off that steam, because otherwise, it’s just too overwhelming. And then you make really bad decisions, both personally and professionally.

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

I think there are. I mean, all the numbers are telling us that in a very stark way – in terms of the amounts of money that women are raising and the numbers of women that are able to raise, for example. But I also think that even more fundamental than that; is how do we get more women into a place where they are of a mind to actually start something scalable?

I also think women are still being told that you can only have half a career because you have to have children, you have to be a wife, and you have to do all that. You’ve got all these other things that are entirely on your plate. I think that idea is still very much alive.

I was always very conscious of how I was being perceived by others because I was trying to do something else. I felt judged by other mums in the playground when I collected the kids whilst also being on a conference call. If the judgement doesn’t come from external sources, the internal dialogue society has given us also means you judge yourself. I think that that’s a real challenge that comes from parents and family. So we face our own internal barriers, as well as external ones.

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

I think that what companies can do first off is to acknowledge the problem. Acknowledge that it is actually a thing that needs to be addressed because I think that for so long, it hasn’t been.

When you think about it, it’s only very recently that it’s now unacceptable to say, I don’t think that women belong here. That’s really recent. It’s not something that’s been around for a long time as an accepted school of thought.

The race incidents in the US last year kick-started a series of conversations where Boeing required all of our managers to have regular conversations with their teams around D&I issues.

Now going forward, we have an initiative called ‘Seek, Speak and Listen’. And it’s about trying to understand the issues that other people are facing because still, the majority of those in our organization are white males from a specific socioeconomic background.

Companies and people have to show acknowledgement and hold their hands up and say, we don’t know how to fix this, but we are ready to listen and act – it’s the first step to actually fixing it.

One of the other things that I’m really passionate about and one of the things that I’m really proud of from a UK perspective is that we require large companies in the UK to publish their gender pay gap statistics. And I think that is something really, really important because – as I say to startups – the only metric that matters is revenue. People can drive change with where they spend their money.

There are currently only 17 per cent 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?

The description for ‘tech’ or the ‘tech industry’ needs to change. We have to move past the idea that tech means engineer. Tech underlines so many sectors now and requires more than just technical people. The definition of what a woman in tech means needs to change so we make the sector more accessible to a greater pool of women.

I also think what is probably the most important thing for any woman in tech is to find her tribe. Your own personal tribe of women. Not just an organisation. The people that if you spend time with them, they inspire you to do more. Then be the inspiration other women and girls need to see. Think big.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Find the people that are at the grassroots of the ecosystems that you identify with, or that you’re interested in. Not just the big names in tech, but the people driving change and making an impact in your ecosystem.