The scene was set. Santander Work Cafe, International Women's Day. I had six incredibly impressive, impeccably dressed women sat in front of me waiting to be interviewed. I silently wished I'd worn more deodorant as it silently vapourised. It was a small room. 

Fast-forward 2 hours and the seven of us (plus a few members of our Media Isle of Man team) were swapping stories of our experiences in the workplace with the ease of group of gal pals at an old school sleepover. I did suggest taking our bras off at one point, but that was deemed unprofessional and inappropriate. 

If you haven't heard of Startup Grind, it's an organisation designed to help and support new entrepreneurs by putting on events where green-behind-the-eared business owners and aspiring innovators can pick the brains of less green-behind-the-ear business owners and successful entrepreneurs. 

The original idea was built in California and has expanded to have ‘chapters’ all around the world, now including the Isle of Man. Sat before me was some of the team running that Isle of Man chapter. 

Meet the Team

Katie Nicholson

In a navy blazer with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows - a look I desperately wish I was cool enough to pull off - Katie came across as someone who could command a room with ease and a wit so dry it'd make the desert feel damp. 

Jessica Le Merle

Strikingly blue eyes accompanied by a generous nature and desire to help others. 

Carroll Taggart

Someone with a natural ability to make others feel comfortable with an air of one who would be a fiercely loyal cheerleader of her peers.  

Leanne Harker

A quietly brave nature, and someone who radiated warmth.  

Elizabeth O’Hanlon

Fashion icon, dressed to kill, and someone who clearly knew their s**t after working in the business tech industry for 40 years. 

Hazel Alvarado

Quietly confident, a business owner and ex-Wall Street worker sitting on a treasure trove of stories and knowledge I'd happily spend hours asking about until someone told me it was 3am and I'm on the cusp of the interview slipping into a hostage situation. 

Creating Community

Though differing in their occupations and backgrounds, the common thread linking these women together were two things: 

  • A sense of wanting to be part of a community - Members discussed the glamourisation of entrepreneurship and the reality of the process, which many found to be lonely and isolating. 
  • A desire to give back to that same community - Startup Grind. 

The Isle of Man Startup Grind chapter came onto the scene in 2019, launched by Katie Nicholson and Alex Wilson, and ended up winning an award while attending the Startup Grind Annual Conference in Silicon Valley in March 2020, for Best New Directors and a nomination for Best Stage & Lighting. (Step aside Christopher Nolan. And while I have you, 3 hours is too long for a film. Think about the watchers who had to awkwardly climb over rows of people to get to the toilet in the cinema during that time). 

The Manx chapter aimed to host 5 or 6 events on the island a year, including guest speakers to support and inspire budding entrepreneurs, however Covid ended up thwarting much of that plan. So now, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it's going through a re-launch and the new team behind it wants to hear from you. Yes, YOU. You future Oprah Winfreys and Richard Bransons. What do you need to see from Startup Grind Isle of Man? What are you struggling with? What do you want to learn? The team wants to know so it can help you take steps towards achieving your aspirations. 

Maybe you've been thinking about leaving your current job and starting your own business for a while - there's a massive gap in the market for umbrella hats that you're keen to swoop in and fill - but you're unsure where to start. Understandably, it's a big step. But this is exactly the sort of thing Startup Grind wants to help you with. Maybe Leanne's story can provide a bit of inspiration. 

Breaking Stereotypes and Taking Action

Though women are frequently fed messages through the media in the vein of ‘feminism has fixed everything! WOMEN! YOU CAN NOW HAVE IT ALL’, Leanne is one of many who have learned the reality. Even the richest of women with fantastic support networks would still struggle to ‘have it all’ while still finding time for self-care. Having always been career-focussed, Leanne's decision to go solo followed a realisation of how difficult it was to find the right balance between being a parent and leading a full-time career. She became increasingly aware of the injustice of the ‘women, you can have it all’ message being sold as something easily achievable. But instead of letting it beat her down, Leanne used the realisation as fuel to the fire of her own empowerment. She used the challenges to embolden her to create her own path knowing, only then, would she achieve her full ambition while healthily balancing her family life. She now is part of the IOM Startup Grind team in the hope that she can inspire other women to take action just as other women inspired her. 

Finding Allies

Hazel spoke of similar experiences across the pond. She recalled a moment in her first corporate job when the woman training her told her not to learn how to use the coffee machine, because being one of the few women around, she'd be asked by the men to make coffees. 

Hazel ended up working on Wall Street where she was one of a handful of women among the classic male suits, mentioning how she was frequently overlooked as a ‘tech person’ with most people assuming her male colleagues knew more than her. 

However, Hazel did talk about the importance of having male allies in the workplace. Ones that will be in your corner to call out sexism and misogyny, so the educating of colleagues doesn't solely rely on the shoulders of the discriminated. 

These gender imbalances and gaps are things the Isle of Man chapter of Startup Grind is hoping to help bridge by encouraging more female entrepreneurs to action. 

The organisation is made to support the economy and promote local brands, while building a community of like-minded innovators who can then learn from each other while eradicating the sense of isolation that can come with entrepreneurship. The whole ethos is about giving back, making friends, and helping others. In short, it's delightful. 

Often society has pitted women against women, especially if there's a minority of females in the workplace. Startup Grind hopes to embolden women to take a leap of faith in themselves whilst also looking out for one another.