Tuesday 21 November 2017

Startup pioneer wants quotas to get women in IT

Fewer than 10 per cent of speakers at the summit were female – but that's all changing, Pat Phelan tells Roisin Burke

Roisin Burke

Pat Phelan is a little out of breath. "That bloody train!" he exclaims.

The locomotive in question is the Startup Express, which the irrepressible Corkman helped commandeer to bring 180 startups and venture capital firms to the Web Summit, complete with heavy-hitting passengers like Microsoft's Cathriona Hallahan and PCH's Liam 'Mr China' Casey on board.

He's rushing around before the departure of what he wisecrackingly calls "the mile long club". Startups even jetted in from Europe to Cork to avail of the opportunity to join a posse of investors and get a special mentoring session by seed-funding specialist Techstars en route to Dublin.

Phelan's company, Trustev, announced in the summit that it had raised €2.2m in what he says is the biggest seed funding round in Europe this year, to finance the fraud-busting software company's rapid expansion.

Among the new investors are early Skype backer Mangrove (which also backs Irishman Brian Maccaba's Waratek) and Greycroft, which recently exited a company called Braintree, which sold to PayPal. Not bad going for a 10 months post-launch financing round that Phelan says was "massively oversubscribed".

The startup veteran will permanently relocate to New York in January to run Trustev's US office.

Earlier this year he drew not a little opprobrium for a blog on women in tech and a rather knuckle-dragging throwaway comment on Twitter: "Bra's [sic] being burned in force tonight". But he's keen to underline how vital it is to boost the number of women in the sector.

"We certainly need more women in tech. There are extremely smart women engineers but we need more of them. At the moment so many women in the industry are in marketing, and they are amazing in those roles, but we need more of them to be amazing in engineering.

"I don't know that enforcement or regulation work as a way of boosting numbers, what I think we need to do is change things ourselves.

"One of my senior people is a female former Microsoft engineer and I've genuinely never seen sexism in the business," he maintains. And yet, at the Web Summit, there were fewer than 30 female speakers out of 350 at the event and women were sparse enough on the ground there. What does that say about the industry?

"It's something that Paddy [Cosgrave, Web Summit's founder] worked very hard on for this event to bring women on board," says Phelan. "It reflects the numbers in the wider industry – I think it's a generational thing.

"Web Summit looked for more women speakers. Who wouldn't love to see Sheryl Sandberg speaking? I've read her book and I'm a big fan."

He has a radical proposal to combat this anomaly for future generations.

"I'd like to see some form of quotas in the universities to push girls towards the science and science-based subjects."

Accelerating fraud concerns like the cyber attack on Adobe recently enhances the need for services like Trustev's, whose clients include two big telecom giants. Trustev aims to manage 10 million transactions a week by year end.

Phelan along with his code ninja partner Chris Kennedy are determined to build Trustev into a big global company. Expansion will continue in both the US and Irish offices, with plans to add five more people to the current 20 staff by the end of this year.

"We will be profitable by early 2014," he says.

Sunday Independent

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