Way back in 2012, Anne Marie Imafidon had an idea. “I’ve always liked playing with technology, building stuff, creating stuff and problem solving,” she told us. “I got to a point where I was in a really great job and really enjoyed my role that I was working in, in technology in a big bank, and I realised that being a ‘woman in technology’ was a thing, and that actually there weren’t that many women in technology. I hadn’t noticed up until then, but  I realised that we had quite a big problem with the number of girls going into tech, and women working in it. So I decided to do something about it”.

So Anne Marie created Stemettes. She got started as an O2 Think Big project with £300 funding, and now the project has become an awarding-winning social enterprise encouraging and inspiring girls and young women to get into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

The team’s philosophy? It’s always free for the girls, it’s always fun for the girls and there’s always food for the girls.

Those are three things that we can definitely get on board with. So we caught up with the 26-year-old CEO and creator of Stemettes to talk entrepreneurship.

You followed your passions and now Stemettes is your full time job, would you encourage other young people to create their own dream careers too?

I’d definitely encourage other young people to create their dream if they have a vague idea of what it might be. I didn’t know that I wanted to run Stemettes when I started it, it wasn’t really a career thing it was just a ‘hmm, someone should do something’ kind of thing. So definitely just try it and see where it goes. You never know where it might end up, and if it’s something you’re interested in normally it will end up in a really good place because it’s something you’re really passionate about. People will respond to passion a lot more than maybe even skills or knowledge.

Did you ever dream that you would be a CEO at 26?

Maybe! Yeah why not? I figured I’d always be a CEO, whether I thought I’d be a CEO of Stemettes is a different question. Whether I thought I’d be a CEO at 26 is another question. Who knows?! I mean I don’t even know what I’m gonna do tomorrow so…

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Do you have any advice for other young people considering quitting their job and starting their own business?

Seek forgiveness not permission! That’s my go-to advice. I think that’s one of many attitudes that you need as an entrepreneur. It holds back a lot of people if you think that you’re not allowed to do stuff, and sometimes it is just in your head.

In terms of running your business, there’s a lot of things where there’s no one to ask permission from, so you just do it and see where it goes. If it was a mistake, you hold your hand up and say ‘it was a mistake, everyone makes mistakes’ and you move on. And if it wasn’t a mistake, you’re 26 and you’re running Stemettes!

If you approach life like that it will serve you so well in so many situations. As much as entrepreneurship is a big thing people are trying to teach, I think it’s really not that common for you to end up running your own company at 26. When you’re 13 there’s a lot of stuff that you’ve got to do, but when you reach 18 the bottom of that falls out. You don’t have to go to university, you don’t have to do an apprenticeship, there’s so many things that you don’t have to do but it’s seen almost like the safe option to do them, which is fine. If you want safe then that’s OK, but there’s lots of people who could be doing the unsafe thing!

If you feel like ‘yeah well I’ll just do it and I’ll say sorry if it doesn’t work’, then it completely removes the fear and you just go and do it. Or, you ask everyone for permission and when one person says no you sit back down in your chair and carry on just doing whatever.

What were the biggest challenges you faced transitioning from your previous job to making Stemettes your full time career?

I didn’t have as many challenges transitioning from my old role to Stemettes as you may think. Stemettes was running for two years before I decided to move over and so I wasn’t leaving my job to do something completely uncertain. I already knew that we were running, there were already people working full time, there was already money in the bank to pay for me, so I softened the move as much as I could.

I think the challenge is more around how you’re sensitive to both sides when you are in that period of transition. My previous employer were really supportive, and still are really supportive, of what I’m doing, but I still had a job that I was doing there. So how are you making sure that you’re honest to both so you’re giving everyone your all? Just ask for advice, seek out mentors, be really honest with people as well about what you’re doing.

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Women in tech is a huge conversation, do you think the secret to a successful business or social enterprise is identifying a problem and coming up with a solution?

The secret to a successful anything is identifying a problem and coming up with a solution! That’s the definition of success, so if you want a successful social enterprise or business you find the problem. The problem is there was no good fruit juice on the market so Innocent started up, the problem was people didn’t know where to buy their records, so Virgin started, the problem was people were getting shot by guns so this lady Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar and now we have bullet proof vests, so if you solve a problem then Bob’s your uncle really.

What are your top tips for young people who want to launch their own businesses or social enterprises?

  1. Seek forgiveness, not permission.
  2. Get started. Just do it!
  3. Work out loud. A friend of mine’s written this book called ‘Working Out Loud’. The idea is that when you start your business, you’re never gonna have the complete package, but if you work out loud as you’re doing it and you say: ‘this is what I’m trying to solve, this is what I think the solution might be, this is what we’re trying,’ and you own that narrative and put it out there, it’s more likely that other people will help you. Also it makes it easier for people to tell others and for your business to grow. So don’t feel like you have to hide it under a bushel until it’s fully formed, as long as you work through it out loud, the universe will bring people to you.

Feeling inspired? If you’ve got an idea for a project to help your community, O2 Think Big could give you the funding you need to get started. Find out more here.

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