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Discover the women in tech behind Digital Catapult

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

We recently spoke with three women in tech at digital catapult about their careers so far. Read their stories.

DANA ELMAN, INNOVATION PARTNER, AT DIGITAL CATAPULT 

DANA ELMAN, INNOVATION PARTNER, AT DIGITAL CATAPULT

I am an Innovation Partner, originally from Israel, with more than ten years of professional experience in innovation management, programme management, business lobbying, consulting and policy research. I am a mother of two children and I’m a believer that women can have all they dream of if they plan ahead with time and support. 

Oprah Winfrey has a famous speech about how she always needed to be ‘sitting in the driver seat of her life and career’ and that strikes a chord with how I grew up. I grew up in a city near Tel-Aviv, in a family of medical doctors who instilled in me the ambition that I can do whatever and be whomever I desire. I am grateful for the support I have from my partner, family, friends and colleagues because I have been able to ‘sit in the driver’s seat’ of my career and life, and pursue my passion for working in international teams and cultures, and promote cross-collaboration and innovation that benefits society. 

Prior to Digital Catapult, I worked as a Senior Policy Advisor in business associations including the UK’s Federation of Small Businesses and the Manufacturers Association of Israel. I have worked in the innovation policy space for six years, between 2013 and 2019. Here, I informed policymakers in the UK and Israel about what small businesses need to be able to access finance, grow and trade internationally. I also represented the small business voice with OECD, World Trade Organisation, the European Union and various Government officials. Prior to that, I was a consultant in what is now Deloitte Analytics, Israel.

I have volunteering experience with underrepresented groups, including female social entrepreneurs, immigrants, and young victims of sex crimes.

I hold a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the London School of Economics, LL.B. (law) and MA in Conflict Resolution from Reichman University in Israel and a Graduate Certificate in Conflict Resolution from Stanford University. I was a certified lawyer in Israel and I speak four languages.

HOW DID YOU LAND YOUR CURRENT ROLE? WAS IT PLANNED? 

I had set my attention on Digital Catapult a couple of years before I actually applied for a role here. I was fascinated to discover the type of projects that Digital Catapult focuses on after attending a showcase for immersive (Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality) applications in healthtech developed for people with Dyslexia and with disabilities recovering from aneurysm. 

I then set out to learn as much as possible about the organisation and met with people here before I joined, to learn about the culture and other projects. 

After being interviewed for the role, I was offered a temporary role as a contractor only, due to my limited experience in the tech industry back then, having only worked with Israeli tech entrepreneurs. I decided to take the offer and accepted the fixed term contract opportunity. I embraced the opportunity and not long after the short-term contract was transformed into a permanent contract. Since then, I received a couple of promotions and now I lead two teams: the first team consists of innovation practitioners working closely with the director of the Digital Supply Chain Hub, and the second I’m the programme lead for a deep-tech research programme called Digital Security by Design – Technology Access Programme.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR BREAKING INTO THE TECH INDUSTRY WITHOUT A TECH BACKGROUND?

My advice is to believe in your own ability to learn, ‘figure it out’ and transfer your skills from one area to another. Transferable skills and a growth mindset were key enablers in my journey to adapt to the tech industry. My first project in Digital Catapult was about the Internet of Things (IoT) and I wrote a blog on it here. It brought to light my experience with investors before joining Digital Catapult, which helped me to ‘work to my strengths’ and prior experience despite the IoT focus.

DO YOU THINK LACK OF TECHNICAL SKILLS CAN PUT WOMEN OFF FROM APPLYING FOR ROLES? 

Yes, but there are many ways to learn how to develop new and technical skills that are useful in the tech industry. From my experience, each technical problem starts with a business problem. It is feasible for all women to develop the skills required to translate a business challenge into a technical question and work with technologists or subject matter experts on potential solutions. 

Since day one of my career, I’ve been pushing myself out of my comfort zone so that I could develop a diverse set of skills, from data analysis, statistics and econometrics to public speaking, communication and leadership. I am no statistician, technologist or data analyst, but I am able to work with professionals who are, to help translate our clients’ needs into more technical challenges. Lack of technical skills should not put women off from applying for roles, and the concept of ‘life long learning’ is something I truely believe in. 

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN RECRUITING NEW TEAM MEMBERS? TECH SKILLS? SOFT SKILLS? ANYTHING ELSE?

I look for soft skills first, such as understanding how one communicates with others, articulate one’s arguments and views, and how a person works both with and within a team. 

Digital Catapult provides a fast-paced work environment, because we are constantly engaging with our industry partners, academia, technology innovators, investors and our Government stakeholders. Therefore, when I recruit new members to the team, I’m looking for people who are capable of dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty, despite the pressing deadlines and various types of clients and stakeholders. 

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON CURRENTLY? 

Since returning from maternity leave in Autumn 2021, I have been working on two main high-profile programmes:

1. The Made Smarter Digital Supply Chain Hub that aims to bring about the adoption of advanced digital technologies that improve supply chains’ resilience, collaboration and sustainability. The hub is a £25M initiative  and we have been engaging with innovators from the tech ecosystem, Government stakeholders, industry leaders such as BAE Systems, Nissan, and Sainsbury’s, as well as academia to improve supply chain resilience, efficiency and sustainability. For example, we ran innovation competitions to fund innovators to improve the visibility of supply chains through the adoption of digital mapping tools, and to improve supply and demand balance for better planning to build efficient, resilient, and sustainable supply chains. 

2. Digital Security by Design Technology Access Programme. I am the Programme Lead for the Technology Access Programme, which is part of a multi-million cyber security initiative funded by Innovate UK/ UK Research and Innovation. It is designed for developers and organisations to experiment with a new prototype technology that is ambitiously trying to improve digital infrastructure. The technologies included in Digital Security by Design are called Morello and Cheri – this is Arm’s Morello prototype board incorporating the University of Cambridge’s CHERI architecture.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER, SO FAR? 

I have marked three moments here that I’m particularly proud of in my career: 

  • The first one was when I led a movement that I founded aimed at mobilising young professionals to support underrepresented communities in the Israeli periphery. By motivating, recruiting and supporting young leaders, we helped numerous citizens with tax reimbursements and supported them by lobbying for their rights at the Israeli Parliament. By mobilising a group of young professionals and aspiring leaders, together we created a series of interventions of support, which resulted in influencing policymakers as well as establishing new summer camps for children with PTSD in the periphery, education programmes and skills-enhancement bootcamps for teenagers. 
  • The second moment I’m proud of was when I was part of a team that influenced Israeli policymakers at the Treasury to improve access to finance for small businesses. This resulted in  legislating a new regulatory framework to set up a 30 days payment period before a penalty for late payments can be enforced. Back then, I lobbied for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) from the manufacturing industry and promoted their interests with the Israeli Small Business Agency at the Government, as well as members of Parliament. Our work was also marked by the OECD in its report on SMEs in Israel.
  • The third moment was when I joined Digital Catapult, which marked an official invitation to join the tech industry in the UK. It felt like I found my new professional home and it marked a milestone in my career, transforming from a policy development career for innovation and trade, into innovation management focusing on the acceleration of tech ventures and digital technologies. Through this journey, I learned a lot about the tech industry and grant funding in the UK. Since then I’ve been promoted within the organisation and I have been able to support more junior members of the team to develop their careers.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT WORKING AT DIGITAL CATAPULT?

Digital Catapult provides a wonderful and positive business environment. It is full of collaborative and nice people from all across the UK, with more than 20 nationalities represented. It often gets very busy, because we’re working on really complex projects and programmes, with many stakeholders and novel technologies. However, I enjoy working with my amazing teams and accelerating the adoption of new and advanced digital technologies with the inspirational men and women from Digital Catapult and our networks.


PHILLIPA SPENCER, INNOVATION PARTNER, AT DIGITAL CATAPULT 

PHILLIPA SPENCER, INNOVATION PARTNER, AT DIGITAL CATAPULT

Originally from Liverpool, I studied an undergraduate Physics Degree and then a Masters in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Liverpool. I then started my career as an Engineer for Rolls-Royce plc working in their Aerospace sector.

I had a number of different roles throughout my 7+ years at Rolls-Royce, working on some of their large engine projects such as the Trent 7000, Trent 1000 and the UltraFan, before joining Digital Catapult as an Innovation partner in March 2021. Here, I drive the adoption of advanced digital technologies with the UK ecosystem.

WHAT DOES AN AVERAGE WORKDAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU? 

My work day can vary a lot depending on the types of projects and technologies I am working on. As Innovation Partner, I design and deliver Innovation programmes including project proposals and propositions, managing a team of individuals within the company (e.g. technologists, product design, engineering) to deliver the projects. These can range from working with an industry client to develop technology adoption roadmaps, through to designing and delivering large scale innovation programmes that focus on at least one of our technology areas to connect the whole ecosystem from Start-ups to Academia.

WHICH QUALIFICATIONS HAVE YOU FOUND TO BE THE MOST BENEFICIAL FOR SECURING ROLES IN YOUR FIELD?

The thing I love about the Innovation Partner role at Digital Catapult is that everyone comes from a different background and has different qualifications. Having a background in Physics has helped me to better understand technologies such as AI/ML, Quantum, Distributed Ledger Technologies, etc. This, coupled with my experience in a large industry, helps me to better understand the need and the importance for driving emerging technologies in different sectors and the opportunities they can open up.

Digital Technology has so many opportunities and it is the future enabler to Net Zero. Having a STEM background. whether it be something like Physics or Engineering or Technology, opens up so many avenues. A qualification in these subjects provides you with the skills to be able to analyse information and to think. It’s then up to you to apply that knowledge in a way that can be beneficial to the Digital sector.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON CURRENTLY? 

Today I am leading on Digital Catapult’s Quantum portfolio, where I am working with industries to identify the opportunities that Quantum technology will bring and the importance of early engagement with the technology, through collaboration with technology partners in the field. I do this through designing and delivering different Innovation programmes; from educational workshops to technology roadmaps, and right through to Technology Access programmes.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER, SO FAR? 

I have a number of small ‘proud’ moments throughout my career. The first one was being offered my first leadership role after only 18 months at Rolls-Royce. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to grow and accelerate my development with great support from the management team I was a part of. The second was being a runner up for SEMTA Skills Graduate of the Year in 2017, which was fantastic recognition for my achievements. I am also incredibly proud of the fantastic projects and programmes I have been involved with. and I still feel a sense of pride when I see a Rolls-Royce engine overhead.

At Digital Catapult, I am incredibly proud of the work I have done to get our Quantum portfolio off the ground. With it being an early stage technology, it has been amazing to carve out our role within the ecosystem and to build strong relationships with partners to really drive the adoption of this technology. I feel proud to work for a company that is constantly driving innovation and technology forward.

WHAT MAKES DIGITAL CATAPULT SUCH A GREAT PLACE TO WORK?

Digital Catapult works in a truly fascinating position within the ecosystem translating deep tech into tangible benefits to business. The programmes are so varied depending on the collaborations, the technologies, the industries and therefore provide a great opportunity to develop and grow as an individual. Digital Catapult is also a growing company so it is a great time to be part of the organisation, to help shape the future of the company, the projects and the strategic areas as it grows.

Digital Catapult is a fantastic place to work as it has a great culture; from company social events to work life balance, to the everyday working culture – it really feels like you are part of a great big team.

WHAT QUESTIONS DO YOU THINK TECH WOMEN SHOULD BE ASKING AT INTERVIEWS REGARDING DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION?  

  • What is the culture like within your organisation i.e. is there a ‘speak up culture’ or a ‘zero tolerance culture’?
  • What initiatives do you have within your organisation to promote D&I i.e. Employee groups, Leadership acting by example etc?
  • What is the makeup of the Senior Leadership team? And, if it’s not diverse currently, what are you doing to address this?
  • How do you enable everyone to ‘bring their whole self to work’?
  • Do you have flexible working? What is the work life balance like?

NASTASHA VELASCO, SENIOR INNOVATION PARTNER TEAM LEAD, AT DIGITAL CATAPULT  

NASTASHA VELASCO, SENIOR INNOVATION PARTNER TEAM LEAD, AT DIGITAL CATAPULT

I am a problem solver, people lover, and solutions builder. I seek to make leaders and teams reach their full creative potential and to make a real-world impact through technology.

I’m originally from Caracas, Venezuela. I studied two undergraduates – economics and political sciences. I completed two Masters – one in Public Management and another in Public Policy. I have 13 years of experience. I have served 12 FTSE clients, and more than 120 companies through the companies I have been a part of. 

I have led more than 52 teams from nine countries, across eight industry verticals, and three technologies (AI, DS, and Cyber). I was the Founder and CEO of Brainy Consulting, a 2019 Accelerate EY Social Entrepreneur, 2021 Mundo COO for EF and a 2022 KERNEL Fellow. I’m the Founder of the +1400 members Growth Vikings community, a 2022 Mubadala Capital FutureVC winner and was a Data Products Consultant for Mubadala Capital. Currently, I serve as Senior Innovation Partner Team Lead at Digital Catapult.

WHAT DOES AN AVERAGE DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU AT DIGITAL CATAPULT? 

An average day for me is vibrant and exciting. Usually, I can’t wait for the next day, so I only sleep for the minimum time required. In a normal day I might be: 

  1. Co-designing value propositions and BIDs with my talented team members.
  2. Supporting my team in their leadership journey and making sure they have space for autonomy, mastery, and expressing their authenticity.
  3. Helping our Head of Innovation with strategic intelligence, coordination, or support for decision making that moves us forward.
  4. Engaging with clients and partners to deliver technology that the UK needs to be a world leader.
  5. Designing and experimenting with new products and services that delight.
  6. Mastering conflict and negotiating expectations to identify integrative solutions.
  7. Exploring what is around the corner. This includes untapped opportunities within Digital Catapult and also the UK Innovation Ecosystem that we serve.
  8. Exploring interesting connections and networks to make.

Out of all of these activities, I mostly enjoy supporting my team and the exploration and experimentation of new opportunities.

WHAT DREW YOU TO A ROLE AT DIGITAL CATAPULT? WAS IT THE ROLE ITSELF? THE CULTURE? PEOPLE?

As a previous Founder, and someone used to setting things up from scratch, I thought Technology Innovation would be the ultimate challenge and the right place for me to be challenged. Technology Innovation also aligned with my long term career goals. I wanted an organisation that allowed me to live and breathe Technology Innovation, while having a positive social impact. I came across Digital Catapult, and the work and values  of the company really resonated with me. I am ambitious, curious, open, and optimistic. I thought it was, and still is, the perfect place for me. It is my second home. 

HAS THE ROLE LIVED UP TO YOUR EXPECTATIONS? WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART?

They say that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. At Digital Catapult, roles are not boxes. They are just starting points that can be redefined. I have developed my role with my manager, peers, and organisation in a way that fulfils my goals. My favourite part is seeing creativity come into play, as my team members grow as leaders. In addition, I enjoy finding insights that can be leveraged to unlock value to our clients, partners and organisation. I enjoy seeing people develop and catalyse strategic growth.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON CURRENTLY? 

Several things. At Digital Catapult, I am serving my team in the consolidation of their offering and aligning it with all the great work and efforts of our value proposition team. I am also leading the innovation team within the Energy Efficient Networks Project. This team aims to create a resilient telecommunications network that will support the growth of connected devices, using the latest techniques and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, I am closing a fascinating discovery project within logistics that is redefining the use of empty space. Finally, I am learning what it means to be a Team Lead with my Team and Head of Innovation. That is exciting!!

Outside of Digital Catapult, I am experimenting with tech venture design, working with my  toddler on her Spanish, and updating my strategy toolkit at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER, SO FAR? 

Being the Founder of Brainy Consulting and the Chief Executive Director for the Superintendency of Credit Unions. The challenges were complex, with national impact, but it allowed me to be exposed to a lot of market intelligence, economics, key people, and sophisticated political games.

ENTERING THE WORLD OF WORK CAN BE DAUNTING. DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE FEELING OVERWHELMED? 

As an immigrant, and a Mum in the UK, I had to go back to full time work just 7 days after having my daughter. I knew that if I wanted to give her the best opportunities, fearing the challenges ahead was not an option. My daughter made me realise that we are our only limit. We have the power to define where we can get to. If you feel overwhelmed, my advice is to trust that you can do it and if at first you don’t achieve it…persist. It’s hard to beat a person who simply never gives up. Don’t give up the power you have to create the future you deserve. You only have one life.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN WANTING TO REACH THEIR CAREER GOALS IN TECHNOLOGY? 

Be aware of your strengths. Be aware of your purpose. Be aware of what you need to improve. Listen and be open to your peers and their experiences. Leverage your family and communities. Be continuously learning to keep up with the pace of change. Get comfortable with not always being right and not always being the smartest person in the room. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious. 10X your goal and as you enjoy every step of the journey remember: gradatim ferociter. 🙂

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