What was your motivation to set up coolest projects 5 years ago?
2011 was the height of the recession in Ireland, a lot of people were out of work, but V Swerve couldn’t hire enough people.
Coderdojo was looking to teach coding and spread it globally. It’s cool to teach someone how to code, but it’s even cooler if you can turn them into a creator, an innovator. The focus for me was to enable the concept that in 10-20 years we’d have young minds going on to start businesses and they could start hiring.
How do you rate young people as problem solvers?
It was fascinating to see that young people think and solve problems better than the adults. It’s inspiring to see that. If we can enable this platform and see so many of the projects and products that they create come through, I think we could see something really successful.
What have you learned about the young innovators you work with in Coolest Projects?
What’s lovely is young people’s view and ability to adapt. I find that quite inspiring. The fact that they can learn technical concepts really quickly has been really impressive.
What I’m most impressed about is seeing kids with the execution. That they’re coming to the RDS every year with a product someone can use, is what’s impressed me most. That’s the level of ability we have in this country. The question is, how do we support and enable that, because in some ways they’re further than some of the mature start-ups out there.
Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that by the time we reach adulthood we’ve been educated out of using our imagination, so we close ourselves off to possibilities?
That’s certainly true with the younger kids. Later in school life and early college, they’re learning about certain business things, and they’re told not to do this or not to do that. I think some of the younger kids look at the positive. There are no barriers to the kids when they’re solving problems. So when it came to starting the event, that’s the philosophy that we wanted to have.
How does Coolest Projects assess the young innovators?
Every year 50% of the judging criteria is on creativity – kids coming up with something that no one’s ever thought of before. It’s not a coding competition, although the product is important, it’s about looking at the world around you and trying to change it in a way that no one has ever though to before.
How important was it to build a tribe of supporters around you in the beginning? And how have you managed to do that?
I’ve always believed the best characteristic is the team – that not one person achieves everything; it’s whom you work with. During the interview process, I look for the spark – that they love what they do, that they’re people who are passionate, who are good communicators – if you can get people like that you’re in a really good place. In the work place, I’d never sacrifice a position for someone I’m not sure of. If it took me a year to fill 10 positions, I’d prefer to have the right people than having wasted time.
Please define a Great Life
Build your life around things you love and enjoy it. If I ever walk into work one day and I don’t want to go in – it’s time to leave the company. Outside of work, most importantly, is family. Having a little one to get you out of bed in the morning, that’s a great life.