Belfast Telegraph

Inspire girls to study Stem subjects, says Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sarah Friar

By John Mulgrew

More must be done in schools, backed by the Government, to attract girls and young women into technology and science-related careers, a top Northern Ireland-born female Silicon Valley entrepreneur has said.

Sarah Friar, who is from Strabane in Co Tyrone, said additional investment in schools will help attract all children into science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.

She's now chief financial officer for digital payments business Square - a Silicon Valley tech firm which now employs 2,000 staff and has recently expanded into the UK.

The former Strabane Grammar School pupil was in Belfast to help launch a new £500,000 technology and entrepreneurial hub at Ormeau Baths.

"The answer and the way to change things normally lies within us, and within the community," she said.

"What makes it (Silicon Valley) so special is people, it's input, but it doesn't define who you are or what you are going to build.

"I think that's the spirit of Northern Ireland. It's always been a community of innovators and builders. Look at the ship builders, and Harland & Wolff... that spirit of engineering that kept going all through the 60s, 70s and 80s.

"There is a lot of deep engineering and innovative skill here, but it's just never been harnessed in this newer global economy.

"I think it starts in school. I was blessed to have a phenomenal maths teacher.

"It was never a thing, that girls didn't do science, which is some of the things I hear now. I would love to see investment in the schools around Stem.

"I would like to see a focus for girls, especially because I think they need a push to see that it is for them.

"I would love to see more role models and mentor-ship coming back into the community. I'd love to see the Government sponsoring in all of those places."

The new Ormeau Baths space represents a £500,000 investment and is set to turn the historic building into a thriving start-up and business hub, after sitting empty for five years.

Firms setting up at the centre include insurance platform Trov, Frankly, drone company Flyte, along with a financial services business.

Those behind the scheme include entrepreneurs Jon Bradford, Aaron Taylor and Steve Pette, as well as being backed by FanDuel co-founder Nigel Eccles.

Companies and individuals can secure space in the centre from £99 each month, rising to £249 a month for a permanent workspace.

Co-founder Aaron Taylor of Frankly said: "There is a nice mix. The key thing for us is, we are less concerned about the vertical of the company.

"Fundamentally, what we are looking for is companies that have the mindset to avail of what we have... companies that want to succeed."

Ms Friar said: "My mum and dad still live here and this is very much still home. I wanted for a long time to figure out how to give back to the community here - on so many levels.

"The Baths will give a space, and a community with like-minded people... and putting a little money back into the province."

The team are also set to work alongside both Queen's and Ulster University, as well as liaising and bringing in schools.

The hub is also set to include a large events space with top-end projection equipment and audio.

Around 40 to 50 of the desk spaces are expected to be filled when the doors open on June 12, but the hub can accommodate up to 140 workers.

And Ormeau Road coffee business Root & Branch is also setting up what will be its second cafe as part of the overall Ormeau Baths development.

Meanwhile, Barclays is launching its own business incubator as part of the tech centre. The bank will become a major partner in the new Ormeau Baths venture.

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