Teentech and The Duke

maggie20philbinMaggie Philbin, CEO of TeenTech CIC, explains how The Duke became Patron of TeenTech, and what his involvement has meant for their cause.

TeenTech are delighted to have HRH Duke of York as our patron. It all began on a very cold day in January 2012. The Duke was touring Accelerator, a space for tech start-ups in East London. I was dressed for the weather, wrapped in a duvet coat that had seen better days, never imagining we would meet.

I’ve since witnessed how the Duke approaches these visits with genuine enthusiasm, questioning, listening and taking his own direction if intrigued. Very luckily for TeenTech he’d picked up on a brief mention of our organisation in an opening speech and asked if he could be introduced. So, much to my surprise there I was, giving my elevator pitch to the Duke and his Private Secretary in a corridor. I’m not sure you can call it an elevator pitch when you talk non stop for 15 minutes but the Duke asked lots of questions before being swept back onto his schedule with his Assistant Private Secretary thrusting a card into my hands, saying, we’re interested, do get in touch.

To be honest, I thought there might be a polite exchange and that would be that. But an email received an immediate warm response, asking me to visit Buckingham Palace to explain more.

Obviously we’re deeply proud of what TeenTech is doing and the fabulous support from hundreds of company volunteers who make our events such a life-changing experience for the teenagers who participate. But I had no idea how long I would have to explain the detail of what we did, how we worked and the ambitions we had to scale our impact. The Duke’s team listened carefully, asking intelligent questions and after I’d finished asked, “How can we help? We like what you’re doing”

I wasn’t prepared for that question. It was a game-changing offer and I asked if I could come back with some suggestions.

I returned with my fellow directors, this time for a lively meeting with HRH Duke of York, who spent nearly two hours with us, making many very helpful suggestions. He offered to set up meetings with people he thought would be supportive and to keep his eyes peeled for more science, engineering and technology companies who might want to run activities at our events.

As we walked across Green Park towards the tube, I turned to my fellow founder Chris Dodson and said, “Did I hear it right, did HRH Duke of York just offer to hand out our flyers?”

He did and he kept his word.

Introductions were made, meetings set up and thanks to the connections the Duke has provided, we’ve built fresh relationships not only with global organisations like Infosys, Fujitsu and Parrot who are keen to find ways of encouraging teenagers to see the real opportunities in their sector but organisations like CodeClub, who may work in a different way to us but share our aims. In the future this will make for some very powerful collaborations.

He was also keen to visit a TeenTech day himself and two months later delighted three hundred teenagers and 140 engineers and technologists in Basingstoke. He toured the event, spent time with global companies and start-ups, using the opportunity to understand their issues whilst chatting to teenagers and encouraging them to think about the skills that would help them in the future. One teenager remarked in the feedback “I knew engineering must be important if the Duke of York was there”

One of the discussions we had was how best to nurture to nurture the teenage enthusiasm ignited at our events. We wanted to create an Award scheme which would channel enthusiasm and encourage students who would normally never dream of entering a Science competition or developing an technology project.

We especially wanted to raise the aspirations of students growing up in families where no-one had gone on to further education or worked for generations. We agreed it was really important for the Awards to benefit every student and school who took part rather than just those who won.

HRH and his team worked with us to develop the idea. – one where the categories would be areas where there would be jobs in the future, where teenagers would be allowed to reach out to companies and universities for support and where they would also be able to collaborate internationally.

The Duke also suggested that the winning team should be invited to tea at Buckingham Palace.

The competition has been a great success, encouraging a large number of high quality and imaginative entries. Best of all, the feedback from teachers and students has been wonderful. You can imagine how thrilling it is to receive an email from a teacher saying “Thanks so much. The TeenTech Awards have really inspired 6 of my pupils this year like no other challenge has…It has been a great experience even for me. The great thing is the two new enterprise start ups based on their viable project/product ideas will continue and hopefully you will see us again and again”

That chance meeting in a corridor has taken our organization forward in many different ways. HRH Duke of York is very determined to make a real difference in this area and with his support which is hands on, responsive and practical, we are now helping thousands of young people across the UK understand their own potential and reappraise industries they thought were dull and boring. As one teenage girl said

“I always thought scientists were quite tall with glasses and boring. And old. And usually men. But here they’re so full of life and funny”

TeenTech is benefitting hugely from the experience of the Duke and his team, who are encouraging us to be ambitious, in the same way we encourage every young person to be.

Maggie Philbin, CEO, TeenTech CIC

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