Tech leaders inspire next generation of founders


“THERE IS tremendous opportunity for women such as you to start companies in the technology space,” a leading US technology investor told pupils at Coláiste Bríde girls’ secondary school in Clondalkin yesterday.

Megan Quinn, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, the venture capital firm that made early investments in companies such as Google, Amazon and Compaq, was speaking to the students as part of the Web Summit, which opens in Dublin today.

The summit will see more than 200 speakers, among them the founders and chief executives of tech giants such as Skype, Mozilla and Pinterest, as well as up to 3,000 delegates converge on the capital, and will contribute €12 million to the economy in investments, jobs, accommodation and entertainment, organisers say.

Women now make up an estimated 64 per cent of Facebook users, 58 per cent of Twitter users and a whopping 82 per cent of Pinterest users.

Ms Quinn told girls at the 940-pupil school that with more women now online than men, the best entrepreneurial ideas would come from those who were frustrated. “When you’re frustrated by something, think about how it could work better and do it.”

Coláiste Bríde, one of 10 schools in the city to host visiting tech heavyweights over the coming days, has 50 girls taking higher-level maths for the Leaving Cert. Four students from sister school Warrenmount in Dublin’s inner city attend the honours maths classes by video link, using a 100mb broadband connection.

The school, celebrating Maths Week this week, teaches 40 nationalities and about 40 per cent of the pupils come from recognised Deis primary schools.

“We can see how the bonus points for maths has really helped attract girls to take higher level maths,” said principal Marie Therese Kilmartin. “We are starting to see the numbers coming through from Project Maths initiatives too.”

Students were also addressed by 20-year-old Irish entrepreneur and software developer James Whelton.

Mr Whelton set up the computer-programming club CoderDojo while still in secondary school. There are now clubs in 22 countries where children can learn how to develop websites, games and apps.

“I started a company just a couple of weeks before my Leaving Cert, which is probably not a good idea,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in money. It was about getting tons of people to use the service. It’s about providing something really awesome, and later on you might make money from it.”

Asked how many points he got in the Leaving Cert, Mr Whelton said, “I sucked at school, but not being good academically doesn’t stop you in other respects.”

Head girl and Leaving Cert honours maths student Miriam Balfe said she was impressed with the talk. “I thought it was great, especially for the sixth years because we have all been kind of having a meltdown lately, we can’t see past the Leaving Cert. It’s nice to see young people, who aren’t like in their 40s, coming in to talk to us and saying you can do anything you want.”