International Women's Day

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1st March, 2020

Dr Annie McAuley: Transforming lives through tech

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down for a cuppa and a chat with some true business Wonder Women. From climbing the corporate ladder to starting social enterprises, these fab females shared their insights, experiences, and kick-ass advice on all things ‘women in business’.

Through her inspiring ed-tech startup, TalkiPlay, Dr Annie McAuley is helping children learn to talk using the power of technology. But the idea that’s changing lives across the world began a lot closer to home, when Annie’s own daughter faced speech difficulties and the former lab scientist decided to take matters into her own hands.

With a background in STEM (she has a PhD in medicine specialising in triage for eye disease), Annie is no stranger to succeeding in a male-dominated industry and breaking stereotypes along the way.

We chatted to Annie about her journey from scientist to startup queen, the challenges she sees female entrepreneurs facing, and how her role as a mother has had a profound impact on her business.

Tell us about the inspiration that led you to start TalkiPlay. How did it all begin?

My daughter was the sole inspiration for TalkiPlay. After trying everything I could to help her with the struggles she faced learning to talk, I developed my own solution using technology which would go on to have incredible benefits.

Once other people became aware of what I’d created, it quickly became apparent that there were so many families in the same position. This is an issue that affects practically every other household. That’s when the idea of turning TalkiPlay into an actual business came to life.

The funny thing is, up until that point, I’d been very private about what we were experiencing with my daughter. There was a sense of “maybe I’m not doing enough” and, of course, the ridiculous ‘mum guilt’.

It was only when I began sharing my solution and my story that I realised what I’d been going through was far from uncommon. Bringing TalkiPlay to a wider audience made it clear to me that the more we share our problems and experiences, the more we realise we’re not alone.

What do you see as the biggest challenge faced by women in business? How do we go about overcoming that challenge?

As a society, I think we tend to associate innovation and entrepreneurship with young people. We see lists like “30 Under 30” or news stories focused on wildly successful entrepreneurs in their 20s, and we subscribe to this misconception that once you reach a certain age – and especially once you become a parent – you’re ‘past it’.

But I’d argue that parents, in particular, are in the perfect position to deeply understand their own target market and create solutions to the problems they encounter themselves. It’s our life experiences that allow us to identify challenges and find creative ways to solve them.

So we really need to rethink the notion of risk-taking and innovation being the sole domain of youngsters. Women in their 30s and 40s have deep knowledge, experience, innovation, and are primed to make a huge impact on the world.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What motivates you to keep going on a daily basis?

Honestly, I just absolutely love what I do. I’m very fortunate that from a young age I was always encouraged to pursue things in my passion zone, from playing sports to becoming a lab scientist. When you’re doing something you’re passionate about, it’s easy to stay motivated. Plus, it’s so exciting to be working on the cutting edge of tech.

Our aim at TalkiPlay is to empower children with access to language literacy. I often say we’re a bit like scented soap – we’re good for you and scientifically proven – but we’ve also made ourselves cute and adorable. I’m constantly inspired by finding ways to bring this concept to life.

I’m also lucky to work with an amazing team who I look forward to collaborating with each day. I literally get out of bed feeling excited to share my new ideas with them. When your job makes you feel like that, you know you’re on to a good thing.

What words of wisdom would you give to your 10-year-old self?

When I was younger and people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had this idea that ‘growing up’ meant becoming serious. Think about it, when you tell someone to ‘grow up’ you are often asking them to stop playing.

Well, I’d love to tell my 10-year-old self to keep doing what you’re doing right now – playing, learning, creating, having fun – because you don’t have to ‘grow up’ to be who you want to be! Hold on to that carefree, bubbly spirit and don’t ever think that growing up means you have to let go of what you enjoy. You can be fun and creative, and be taken seriously.

We actually use play a lot in the business and I believe this is really important for fostering a creative environment. We also understand that coming up with ideas or working productively doesn’t always happen in the office, so we encourage team members to take walks, do puzzles – whatever they need to do to tap into their creative zone. Playtime isn’t just for kids.

And if you could offer one piece of advice to women thinking of starting their own business, what would it be?

Take the risk. I think as a mother it is difficult to leap in and engage in risk-taking to start a business. We worry it impacts not just ourselves but also our families. But what is the risk if we don’t do it? We risk not being a leader in our field, we risk missing that opportunity to grow, we risk not being seen. The truth is, if we take the risk to benefit ourselves, we improve the lives of our families and the way our community views the value of women.

So if you have an idea, and you’ve got passion and drive (and trust me, you’ll need both to keep you motivated in business!), then go for it, because you really are worth it.

I’d add that it’s also important to be realistic about the fact that your risk won’t always pay off. And that’s totally OK. Because you will still grow and be a leader in your field. Whatever you do, don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from taking the first step.

 

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