20 under 20
In January 2015, the Journal.ie published their 20 Under 20 list for the year, a selection of Ireland’s “most promising young talent,” from budding sportstars to young scientists to teenage entrepreneurs. I was over the moon after seeing myself on the list and got plenty of congratulations from people who knew me. However, there wasn’t much more in making the list and I quickly forgot about it.
Later that year, I was introduced to Paddy Walsh, who runs Dogpatch Labs. Paddy mentioned he’d been on a similar list in the past (Irish Independent’s 30 Under 30) and what he got from it that was of noticeable value was an event organised by Will McQuillan, from Frontline Ventures, to get the members of the list together for a few hours and introduced to each other – maybe I could consider for the 20 Under 20. Paddy introduced me to Will who gave some advice on putting the day together.
Fast forward 3 weeks to 22nd August and we had an event. Dogpatch provided the space and help with organising and I sorted the invites etc. Roughly 20 people attended (mainly science/entrepreneur crowd, though all members of the list were invited) a half-day of group activities and chats (great sandwiches too) with opportunities to hear from some adults who were well-versed in the tech and start-up areas. We had Des Treanor (Intercom), Paul Kenny (Cobone), Tony Ennis (ex-Web Summit CTO), Jayne Ronayne (KonnectAgain) and Paddy and Deirdre from Dogpatch there and it was a fantastic experience, with a lot of stories and valuable advice shared.
After the event, myself and Will kept in touch and had some discussions about following up with another event. After a few months I got back in touch with the Dogpatch team, and myself and Liz McCarthy (same surname, no relation!) set to putting a day together. An initial date was set for late June, but between Leaving Cert clashes and scheduling conflicts the day was pushed out to August 24th. For the second event, we focused on bringing in a large group of mentors with plenty of insights and expertise. Through Will, Frontline Ventures gave sponsorship for any catering costs, and Dogpatch organised and hosted.
On August 24th the total group of 30ish people got together – split half and half teenagers and mentors. It was a brilliant few hours. We were the first event to use the Urban Garden, a new space upstairs in Dogpatch Labs, and it didn’t disappoint, providing a bright and spacious area for the activities.
We had two panels and keynote from Giustina Mizzoni, Executive Director of CoderDojo, who are Dogpatch residents. Giustina gave the group a look at her journey to date and some tips for the future. Her main advice was to look after yourself and enjoy what you do. Along with this, there was plenty of group discussion and activities.
The panels were made of people from a wide range of companies. Jayne Ronayne, MCed the first panel, on which we had Claire O’Connell (Irish Times), Gennadiy Nissenbaum (Google), Brian White (Intercom), Kevin Holler (Shake), and Tony Ennis (ex-Web Summit CTO). The panellists had a diverse range of experiences and journeys to draw from and this made for some truly engaging chats involving making good decisions, managing failure and again, looking after yourself. The same held for the second panel, held at the end of the day. For this panel, Liz facilitated and we had Will McQuillan, Mark Ryan (Intercom), Gavin Fogarty (Mustard), Karima Merchant (Twilio) and Menno Axt (Dogpatch). They talked mainly about where to get advice. A recurring theme was picking the right mentor, which popped up a lot throughout the day.
For the group activities, the day started with the marshmallow challenge, which soon brought out a competitive streak in a lot of the attendees and got the teams (mixes of young people and mentors) working well with each-other. The second activity was later on – an innovation workshop run by Debs, from Pivotal Labs (another Dogpatch resident). The four teams had to come up and pitch a product to tackle obesity, working on flip charts in the Urban Garden. This one seemed to really get the team members co-operating as there was more communication involved.
Overall, the day turned out a smashing success. Personally, I found the mentors’ openness in sharing and partaking with the younger group to be particularly inspiring. The teenagers (myself included) got talking fairly rapidly after the opening sandwiches and marshmallow challenge, but the mentors participation brought more to the event. Their integration in the group enabled us to get to know them and be comfortable in asking any questions we had, which was the main aim of the day.
We’re looking at another event in a couple of months’ time. Until then, the group is going to keep in contact as we try to figure out a focus. I think it’ll be across the lines of a mentor and support network for teenagers that are holding their own in science/tech/startups. I know myself how beneficial it is to have people I can reach out to for a helping hand when I’ve a problem I can’t seem to get my head around, and perhaps something similar would help teenagers in situations similar to me. We’ll see how it goes.