Inaugural Tech Trailblazers Showcase fireside chat

For the first year ever, the Tech Trailblazers Awards teamed up with the London Enterprise Tech Meetup to host an event where some of the top of the crop of entrants could showcase their award-winning businesses. As part of the evening there was also a fireside chat with three of the judges of the Awards: Dave Cartwright, Jacqui Taylor, and Jennifer Steffens, hosted by Ian Ellis and moderated by our very own Chief Trailblazer, Rose Ross.

Listen now to our esteemed and experienced judges as they cover topics such as inclusion, diversity, bootstrapping startups, AI, machine learning, security, green tech, and how COVID-19 is driving women from the industry. 


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Interview transcript

Ian Ellis: Hi, everyone. Welcome to January’s London Enterprise Tech meetup. We will get going momentarily, in about 30 seconds. Just letting everyone join and welcome to 2021. Happy new year!

Hi everyone. Happy new year. Welcome to the January 2021 London Enterprise Tech meetup. We’re very excited today to be collaborating with the team from Tech Trailblazers to do a showcase of some of their highly innovative award winners from the 2020 Awards. In addition to that, we’re very pleased to welcome several of their thought-leading judges who are going to speak to us and give us a bit of an outline about the Tech Trailblazers in the first half of the event.

And then we’ve got four demos coming up with flash talks, four flash talks coming in the second half of the event. And so we’ve got quite a lot to do in the next hour and a bit. So what we’re going to do is I’m going to pass straight over to Rose, who’s Chief Trailblazer from the Tech Trailblazers.

I’m going to say that, it’s a bit like a tongue twister. But Rose is going to moderate the fireside chat for us, and we’re going to kick off with that first. So I’ll pass it over to you, Rose. We’re very excited to have you guys with us and let you introduce some of the judges, and we’ll go from there.

Rose Ross: Thanks. Thank you Ian. It’s great to see you. Happy 2021 to you too. And we’re excited because we’re heading into our 10th year. So it will be our 10th Tech Trailblazers. So just to give you a very quick overview, if you’ve not had an opportunity to check us out in the past, we’re a global award for enterprise tech startups.

So any up to the age of six and Series C funding and below. So yeah, so I’m delighted to, for the first time ever, either on a virtual or a real stage, I’m delighted to bring together three of our fantastic judges. And I’d like to introduce first Dave Cartwright, who’s in the Channel Islands in the UK.

Hi Dave. Thank you for joining us.

Dave Cartwright: Good evening. Thank you very much. Good to be here.

Rose Ross: Cool. Well, if you want to just give everybody just a really quick overview of your career, I know it’s really hard for everybody these days, cause we’ve all done, you know, having, you know, being 32 or something like you are, you know, you’ve had a couple of jobs already. So just try and do that quickly for us, Dave.

Dave Cartwright: Certainly. So, so being quite old, those of you who were around in the mid nineties in IT will remember a thing called Network Week, which I was one of the launch team from. Since then I’ve done a variety of things, through corporate technology and still lots and lots of writing. I’ve been judging awards since 1996. I think it was the first, the first ones we ran. I also co-founded the Jersey Tech Awards, which we started three years ago. And right now I am head of IT security for the Channel Islands branch of a bank.

Rose Ross: Brilliant. Thank you, Dave. Thanks for joining us. And Dr. Jacqui Taylor…

Dr. Jacqui Taylor: Hi there everybody. Happy new year to you all, as well.

Delighted to be here, Rose. Good to see you too Dave. And, just a little bit about me, I’m CEO and co-founder of Flying Binary. We’re a deep tech company that changes the world with our pioneering web science. I’m an aerospace engineer by background, but I’m also one of the original 250 Tech City founders. Founded the digital economy in the UK. So yes, I’m one of that Shoreditch rabble and look how far we’ve all come.

So today, I’ve been with Tech Trailblazers pretty much from the beginning. It’s a delight to be included, and see the aspiration and ambition. It’s actually 10 years, Rose, since I did the first ever mentoring in Tech City, two days ago.

So Tech Nation reminded me that it’s 10 years, keep going.

Rose Ross: Fantastic, that’s brilliant Jacqui. Thank you. Hi Jennifer in Seattle. Hello?

Jennifer Steffens: Hi Rose. Hi everyone. Really great to be here. I’m very excited about the awards program. Like Rose mentioned, I’ve been in security longer than I care to admit. I’m currently the CEO of IO Active. We’re a security consultancy and research firm.

But the first half of my career I spent in various startups, like I said, several successful, some not successful. You learn a lot from the failures though. So I know just how important these awards can be. So excited to hear more from the winners and was really excited this year about the quality and size of the entrants.

Rose Ross: Hmm. Yeah. We have had a bumper year which is fantastic. And I think, you know, unfortunately virtual has become the new black when it comes to awards and events. So the impact of those types of lack of physical getting together. So, but it’s still great to do stuff like this. So brilliant.

Thank you so much guys. And you and our other judges spend so much time looking at all the fantastic entries we have, and four winners that we will be seeing later on. So I know that a lot of the people here, we’ve only got half an hour to discuss things, but I thought it’d be great just to maybe get a couple of top tech trends that you guys are seeing. If you’ve got one or two of those.

And if we go in reverse order, Jennifer, maybe you’d like to pick that up, as what are you guys seeing at IO Active over there?

Jennifer Steffens: Yeah. I mean, there’s so many trends, like you say, I mean, we’re really excited about some of the stuff that’s coming out in AI and machine learning and especially as it can relate to the cybersecurity industry, and really help us stay ahead of some of the more sophisticated attacks.

So I think that’s one of the ones where we’re really watching very closely these days.

Rose Ross: Cool. Fantastic. And Jacqui, what are you seeing in your area?

Dr. Jacqui Taylor: I’ve got a bit of an inside track in my UN advisor, G20 advisor role and my new Firestarter role in Europe. So I see what 180 governments are doing to facilitate our ecosystem.

And I’m pretty much G20 agreed to go on inclusion agenda in February. So actually I’m seeing that as being a driver going forward. And what that means is some of the big challenges that we see today, some of the reasons we’re not tackling them as we should is we’re not inclusive in either our approaches to market and the way our teams are built, in the way our tech is built.

And I think that the realities of as where we move forward from now, my new UK role is actually looking back at the web that I helped move from Web 2.0 to where we are now, Web 3.0, with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, actually where we got to. Is it good enough? And the answer’s no. So the UK has made a commitment and we, as we start the G7 presidency in January, to deal with a duty of care online.

And I think all of the mentoring I’m doing to supplement funding and technology is around that ethical approach to what we do, that inclusion approach to what we do. We need to build for the world we need to live in. And that’s not where we are. So there’s a myriad of things, but I’m seeing a societal force driving with the 180 governments I’m working with. Not so much the technology piece. Technology is the enabler, but the driver is the societal change.

Rose Ross: The human aspect is always really important, definitely. Dave, how about yourself? Thoughts on AI and inclusion, or are you going to go and throw it all up in the air now?

Dave Cartwright: They’ve completely nailed AI and machine learning. I completely agree with that and if I’d got there first I’d have said it. I will be an old cynic, because I’m old and I’m a cynic, and say that there are two sides to that. There’s the stuff that really is AI and machine learning. And there’s the stuff that claims to be, and really isn’t, but hey, that’s marketing and just puff pieces for you. The one thing I’m seeing a lot of, and in fact with my Jersey Tech Awards hat on which I’m literally run off to finish judging tonight, sustainable technology, green tech is actually now starting to get there.

It’s long, long, long overdue, but it’s something that we really are now starting to see some genuine inroads in. It’s a new category in one of the awards I’m judging, and we’ve actually started to see a great deal of interest and long may it last, because we need it.

Rose Ross: Sustainability is a very important thing as well. So inclusion, and I know that’s something Jennifer, I think, probably was jumping up and down there, cause I know she’s been an advocate of diversity and the inclusive element of the tech space. And there’s been talk for… Oh! (reading a viewers comment out) “Dave, please go deeper re green tech.” Would you like to just pick that one? We’ll do that one live, very quickly.

Dave Cartwright: Oh blimey! Yeah, everything from…I mean the main thing you see is that there’s kind of two sides to it. One is powering the stuff in the first place. How do you keep the lights on and do so in an environmentally-friendly way and using the greenest power that you can use? And the big one that I’ve seen for years and years and years, I used to work at a university in Norwich back in the early nineties and we had a bunch of guys in the physics workshops who would dismantle old kit and recycle all the copper out of monitors and goodness knows what. Now this is back in the nineties, but yeah, that was an exception and has been for years and years and years and disposing of old tech is a massive, massive, massive issue. And no one’s really doing it very well yet.

So, those two things keep keeping the lights on while you’re using it and then disposing of it in a green way when you’re finished using it are the two that I see as the biggest challenges.

Rose Ross: Cool. Brilliant. Well, hopefully maybe that’s something that Scott will bring to the after party, a bit of more of the green tech side of things. And, obviously diving in on the… I mean, one of our pillars is diversity and something we’ve been very keen on and we were hoping to have the female Tech Trailblazer of the year, Stephanie Fohn from NeuVector, with us but unfortunately she wasn’t able to make it, but hopefully we’ll be able to do some thing in the not too distant future in a podcast with her.

But perhaps, Dave, you’d like to talk a little bit about diversity inclusion from where you sit at the moment, and then we can pass that to Jennifer and Jacqui as well.

Dave Cartwright: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s the way forward. I’ve never quite understood why people didn’t do diversity and inclusion because you should kind of take it as read.

You know, you get the best person for the job regardless of who they are. It’s, I mean, in some ways it’s kind of frustrating that you have to make a conscious effort to do the diversity and inclusion. So one of the things we do at the Jersey branch of the BCS, the British Computer Society, for instance. We have a set, a kind of a standard, committee position for the chairman of the local ‘women in tech’ group. And so we deliberately forged formal links in that respect because the community over here understands that you’ve got to do the diversity thing and why wouldn’t you.

I’m maybe just a bit unusual because I’ve never really understood why people don’t do it inherently anyway. So it took me quite a while, probably 10-15 years ago and it was starting to become a thing, to start saying to myself “why are we having to try so hard at this?” But hey, if we do try harder to do it, then it feels like we’re making some progress. And I’m sure Jacqui and Jennifer will have something to say about that.

Rose Ross: Yeah, definitely. I’m just going to address that Scott’s just put another thing up in the green tech side of things. We’ll skip over that, Scott, but definitely will pick that up later on, because we’re on a diversity inclusion wave at the moment.

Jacqui, from your perspective, any quick thoughts on the diversity inclusion discussion.

Dr. Jacqui Taylor: So I’m visually disabled and so anything I do, as I do what I do, has always been part of the issue with the tech that we have. We put live for her Majesty’s government yesterday, the first accessible service that actually goes across the education ecosystem for England. And, for me, it’s I understand what Dave’s saying, but the realities are, we’ve got any number of barriers and gatekeepers on it. So when I dropped the rock in the pond in Davos to say, they asked me to speak on the future of cyber security and I said there wasn’t a future. Took two sentences and then went on to inclusion because I wasn’t fussed about being invited back. But I was essentially saying that we’re not even thinking about it within the tech we do, never mind the wider world. So when that led to the opportunity to write the G20 plan for the Japan presidency, essentially I focused it on that societal piece that I did in my intro.

But again that didn’t cut it. So when I got to go back this year to do it, I actually focused it on inclusion and (as though questioning herself) “how did you get that to happen, Jacqui?” I did it on a growth basis. I laid down the evidence of why it’s a great opportunity. There isn’t a government or a board around that won’t go for growth.

If you can show a future digital economy that grows by 4.4%, which is what I did, they’ll listen. So at the end of the day, I understand the quota thing, which actually as a female founder I’m pretty ticked with, I don’t like. It’s that we make it on our merits and we, you know, it’s our style world and that challenge, like our failures, actually makes us the best.

So, I don’t really have a lot of truck with it. I understand it, but it’s not something I’ve done. But for me, we’re actually using the wrong levers. So I’ve used a growth lever and nobody disagreed with me and here we are. And then obviously I get to do my work in the UN to actually look at that for delivering the net zero agenda for 2030.

And so I’ve just tackled it. I’ve done what I’ve always done really, turned it upside down, done it a different way.

Rose Ross: Brilliant. Jennifer, anything to add to what Dave and Jacqui had been saying.

Jennifer Steffens: I think both really kind of nailed it. I think it’s great having people like Dave even speak first and having more allies and more voices who might not understand why it’s important, but understand that it is important. And then even to what Jacqui was talking about in terms of growth and all the different types of diversity and inclusion. It’s not just any one category. Many of us speak from the one that impacts us the most, that we know the most about.

I can speak about being a woman in security. I can’t speak about some others, but I think especially at the startup point of view, a lot of what we’re talking about when we talk about diversity and inclusion ends up building diverse teams, diverse thought, diverse perspectives, which is really what’s going to help startups get beyond a lot of the challenges you’re gonna face.

If you have everybody looks alike, everybody thinks alike, talks alike, you end up with a group think that doesn’t do a good job challenging assumptions and all the various changes that are going to come, or curveballs being thrown at you on a daily basis. You want that diversity of thought, right?

That’s really also what one of the big values will be. And then breaking down some of the unconscious bias and systemic things that have built up a culture of lack of diversity and inclusion, is really just kind of the way forward. And I do like Jacqui’s focus on growth.

Rose Ross: Yeah. I think that impacts in a very positive way, right?

Scott has just shared some stats about, COVID has led to 20-25% of female technologists leaving the field, according to the CEO of Girls Who Code. That’s not a statistic I’m familiar with and I think that’s very high. I’m not going to say anything about that because I don’t know where that’s come from or what it’s referring to, but it will be interesting to see how COVID impacts the landscape.

Dave Cartwright: Certainly there was a piece on PM this evening on Radio 4, about not specifically the tech field but just in general of mums having to leave their jobs, because it wasn’t really compatible with COVID and homeschooling or whatever. So, I’m absolutely certain that there is an impact, but whether it’s 25%, I don’t know.

Rose Ross: Yeah, but…

Dr. Jacqui Taylor: I was going to say it is that high and in fact it’s across the board. As part of my pandemic response, personal pandemic response, I’ve been working with domestic violence situations as part of safeguarding our children and the increase on the incidence in that is huge.

But the workforce, the female workforce in the UK is taking the brunt of the COVID impact, if you like. We don’t have data for that across the world yet, but yeah, we’ve disinherited many and we’ve moved the diversity and inclusion agenda backwards. In some respects, and in other respects we spotlighted where it’s worst effected.

So some of the impacts of the domestic violence piece that I’ve been working with actually allowed us to put the evidence base in for government funding because it’s actually was an invisible thing, but once everybody was online, there were certain demographics that then were a focus of that.

So actually, in some respects it has shown a spotlight on the worst of everything. And of course the whole community response, I mean, as suppliers to her Majesty’s Government, we were invited as all suppliers were. Everybody, all the tech ecosystem for her Majesty’s Government stood up and delivered. So we’ve had a great community response, but equally it’s shone as much on the light on the things that are not yet done.

Rose Ross: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know that’s a huge topic. I’m sure we could basically talk about all of this effectively all evening, but unfortunately we’ve got, well, fortunately/unfortunately, we’ve got other things that we want to sort of dive into and I thought we’ve got about 10 minutes left of our fireside chat and my apologies, I’m just going to put another log on the fire, as we nestle down.

What are we learning? Because bearing in mind, obviously, Jacqui, you were still in a start up, Jennifer and Dave have both been in startups. What would you say, Jacqui? Because obviously you’re still in it. So it’s a little bit unfair, I can’t say “post startup”. What would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned that you think you’d want to share with people, but what would be, very succinctly, what would we see as being one of the key takeaways from the experience?

Dr. Jacqui Taylor: It’s interesting you say that. I’ve got series C and D funders that work with me that go “but you cheat, don’t you? The way you build your organisations, you cheat” which of course I do, because it’s actually a valuable lesson.

Rose Ross: Cheating is good.

Dr. Jacqui Taylor: Yeah, because actually I don’t use the business models that any of them expect. Why is that? Because I don’t need any funding. I’m a central banker and I work in the banking industry and there’s always a problem to fix there if we need some more money and that’s what we’ve done since we founded in 2009.

But it was interesting when Tech Nation said it’s 10 years since you did your first session. And I thought back to, well I looked at the notes of the first session, and what I talked about was the barriers to startups were technology and funding. And guess what I’m talking about today, as I did a session last Friday, was technology and funding. But different dynamics of it. So, because the changes at series C and D have come along as they have, that’s feeding, filtering back down the funding cycle.

And so we see the changes at A and B. We see the changes at, particularly at angel funding, not yet hit, but will do. One of the key reasons that startups fail is their tech. I mean, any of the ones that I mentor they get our tech, so that’s not an issue, but actually we still are not robust in those two areas.

And I find it quite incredible that 10 years on, I’m still having those conversations in the mentoring that I do. I don’t work as a nerd. I actually work as a mentor because I like to get my hands involved in where they might do more of a portfolio approach. But I think that’s true of the other mentors that I work with as well.

So I still think those are the two key pieces. And when you look at things like the duty of care changes and the whole impact of tech in the pandemic, essentially we had a zero day exploit because the criminals were ready. And so we actually have to look at those two things in quite a different way, in my view.

Rose Ross: Well, I’m not too surprised in some ways, because I think those, what you’re saying those important drivers, and we’ve been talking about the skills gap for like 20-30 years. But we’re still talking about the skills gap because I think in reality, even the problems, on a sort of a micro level may change, but the bigger issues are perhaps still there.

So the skills gap is there because the skills that we had, and I think Dave and I talked about this before, the ones that we needed 20 years ago are not the ones that we need now. So you kind of always catching up with yourself and obviously with funding, the models change, the what you need to fund now and what you need to be able to do are changing as well.

So yeah. How about you, Jennifer? What are you seeing? As your lesson, post-Sourcefire, you know, the ones that didn’t work and the ones that did work really well. Or the one that didn’t work, we won’t say which, no naming and shaming.

Jennifer Steffens: That’s okay. We don’t need to name names, but yeah, in Sourcefire it was great. And I was employee number seven and getting to see it through IPO. And then, Cisco acquired us for $2.7 billion. So certainly one of the winners, but we learned a lot the hard way. I think one of the things that really helps us be successful is to understand that less is more. We were really deliberate in our hiring.

I mean, it took a long time getting to know our CEO before he came on board, Wayne Jackson. He was amazing, but really making sure we were building the right team, taking only the amount of investment that we needed to get to the next level and really understanding our market and being willing to adapt to change.

When we started, we were solely an intrusion detection company and that was our focus and that’s where we were going. And then Gartner declared IDS dead. And you’ve got to be willing to just rather than fight, right, we came up with strategies to roll out our intrusion prevention very quickly.

You’ve just got to be willing to adapt, right? Have a plan, have a focus. Stay on that plan and focus, but keep adjusting it as the world around you adapts as well.

Rose Ross: Thank you. Right, last but by no means least. Dave, any thoughts from your startup days?

Dave Cartwright: Yeah, well, I’ve worked for a startup and I’ve worked for a VC, so I’ve sort of seen both sides of it.

Rose Ross: Everything’s going on, tick all the boxes there.

Dave Cartwright: Well, you know, I’ll try. The one thing that I can look at over the years where I’ve seen startups not do so well, is if you’re sitting in, particularly if you’re sitting in front of a VC saying “I’d like some money from you” or an angel investor, or your second or third round or whatever, you’re sitting there talking about barriers to entry, and I’ve seen so many startups where the barriers to entry for the competition is actually exactly the same as their barriers to entry, because they’ve basically said, we’re going to look in this niche where no one’s doing this, to which you have to ask the question, well, why is no one doing that?

You know, every so often it’s because no one’s thought of it, but actually most of the time it’s because it’s really, really, really hard and/or there’s no money to be made out of it. So yeah, there are a lot of over-optimistic techies who start these things in particularly, like, “Oh yeah, this is fine. We’re going to do it where Cisco or Microsoft aren’t clever enough” and of course that never ever works.

There is one other lesson that I learned about startups which are successful in getting funding, and that’s an organization I worked with and I’m still friends with the CEO to this day. I remember we got several million pounds in, through round funding. And the moment the fax rolled off the machine, that’s how long ago it was, his first words were “Right, okay, we’ve now got all this money in the bank. We need to be more frugal than ever”. And certainly in your middle rounds, once you’ve got over that step of getting some funding, you really don’t need to start spending money because it will soon be gone and you’ll fall flat on your face.

Rose Ross: Frugality is not a bad thing in any area. So, that’s great.

Dave Cartwright: Except when you buying me beer. Never be frugal then, okay?

Rose Ross: Okay. Well that’s fair. That’s fair. Well, it won’t be for a little while, I’m afraid Dave. So I’ll have plenty of time to save up my pennies. Is there anything else that you want to share? Any sort of final words before we sort of hand back to Ian and bring on our fantastic winners? You know, it’s an interesting area. We’ve all…. Oh, a hand up from Jacqui. Go for it.

Dr. Jacqui Taylor: Yeah. So I wanted to build on what Dave just said, actually. One of the things that I teach is bootstrapping, because actually if there was a bootstrapping mentality, then you don’t need the money because the money comes with strings and therefore you’ve got to deliver, nail on it, you are focused on exit and all the rest of it. And out of those 250 founders in Tech City, there’s 220 of us that didn’t do it that way. And the rest they took the exit, they bought Ferraris and the Vicarage and they’re gone, but the rest of us were in it for the change. And so bootstrapping’s your way forward and money should be the exception, in my view.

And so that’s the tough question. If somebody wants me to be included in my mentoring scheme, I have to ask how well they’re doing. If their first focus is “I need to pick up funding” and I’ve had so many of those requests in the pandemic, as I knew the changes were being fed through the funding chain, it’s like, “no”. It is what Dave said, it’s frugal, but have a system around it, have a business model that does it.

Rose Ross: Hmm. I mean, one of my things has always been that I felt that chasing the funding can become a road in its own right. And then you can lose sight of the fact that in reality, the most successful way, as you say, is the organic growth.

If you can do it that way, is to have happy customers who were buying from you and they’re the best investors ever. But, you know, it’s a difficult one, isn’t it? Because obviously that’s not always the mentality and that’s not always the right model because sometimes you do need that extra pot of cash, but you know…

Dr. Jacqui Taylor: Rose, we’re a deep tech company. They usually use millions to get to where we’ve got to and I bootstrapped it. So I don’t take the idea it’s difficult, from any founder. If I can do it in deep tech, you can do it anywhere.

Rose Ross: There’s a book in there somewhere. There’s “Flying frugal”, I feel is going to be..

Dr. Jacqui Taylor: Book 9 and 10 are already commissioned. I’m not commandeer to go to book 11 yet, but maybe.

Rose Ross: Very good. Thanks, Jacqui. Jennifer, any final words from you? Because we just got… you can have the last 60 seconds.

Jennifer Steffens: No, and I would just say building on what we’ve been talking about with the pandemic. I mean, now’s the time as a startup, you really need to know your audience, need to know your buyers. You need to know the value prop and the problems that you’re solving for them or with them, because in order to get our attention and in order to get us to commit time, it’s not as easy as offering to buy us a beer or bumping into us at a live event.

You really need to be laser focused on understanding your value proposition and getting it out quickly, in order to be able to hook us with a LinkedIn or any kind of request for an introduction or anything. Now’s the time to be laser focused on the problem that you’re solving.

Rose Ross: Fantastic. Brilliant. Thank you guys. That’s been really interesting and I’m really looking forward to looking at the other side of it. So, I’m going to hand it back to Ian now and thank our fantastic judges and look forward to chatting with them in a bit.

Ian Ellis: Great. Thanks Rose for moderating. Huge thank you to Dave, to Jacqui and to Jennifer. That was a truly insightful, very good panel. Good discussion.