Natalie Walsh, LaunchPad NUIG

13th August 2019

As part of our WMB Gender Diversity Ambassador series, Natalie Walsh tells us about her role at LaunchPad NUI Galway, her thoughts on diversity and her vision for the future.

Describe your current role at LaunchPad NUI Galway

I am the Executive Director of NUI Galway LaunchPad.  LaunchPad is a campus based entrepreneurship program, supporting students, staff and alumni to develop and accelerate their entrepreneurial skills in NUI Galway.  Our program is part of the TechStars global network; a network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, develop skills and has a hugely successful accelerator program that we are proud to be part of.

What’s the size and scope of the operation?

NUI Galway Launchpad is a multi-award winning entrepreneurship program for students, staff, and alumni. LaunchPad accelerates the practice of entrepreneurship and innovation by providing aspiring entrepreneurs from all Colleges with access to coaching, events, workshops, networks, mentoring and competitions that enable them to develop, test and refine their entrepreneurial skills.  Since 2016, LaunchPad has supported over 6,000 students, coached over 2,500 individual sessions, organised over 250 workshops and events and awarded over €200,000 in funding to support student ventures and internships across the NUI Galway Campus.

How important is it to have role models?

Since we launched our program in 2016, we have focussed on ensuring that our program is inclusive and diverse.  Role models are a key part of delivering on that objective, particularly for our younger students who are developing their professional identities.  Role models encourage and support, they are aspiration and can also act as mentors for our students.  Most importantly they help us to see our potential, what we can achieve and project our future selves without barriers and limitations.

Can you tell us about your career choice and journey?

Until the age of 29 I honestly think I held jobs rather than was focussed on my career.  On leaving school I had made a wrong decision in terms of my CAO course choice, on completing my course, I worked in both convergent billing and IT companies but felt that whilst I learned a great deal, I had yet to find a career path that excited me.  At 29, I returned to education and things changed very quickly.

Since then I have focussed on developing both professionally and personally to achieve my goals.  I have worked in multiple units in the University and thrived in all, in particular roles within the research and innovation space felt like home to me, I was hugely supported and empowered by my units leadership.  The opportunity to work with LaunchPad was something I was passionate about, the role intersects perfectly with my professional background and my personal interest of entrepreneurship.  It also enables me to work with students, staff and alumni across the NUI Galway campus.  I feel very privileged to be part of such an inspiring community.

How important is it to invest in 3rd level education especially in relation to entrepreneurial activities?

I think Ireland as a country is hugely entrepreneurial.  However, investment in primary, secondary and third level needs to increase, particularly in the entrepreneurship and innovation space.  Nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset enables us to solve ordinary problems in extraordinary ways, it gives us a lens through which we can solve the world’s problems creativity and drives curiosity.  We see our students flourish and grow in a matter of weeks on our program and this is something every student should have the ability to experience regardless of their future paths in life.

One of our programs unique features is partnership across our campus.  We introduce students to excellent mentors and coaches who can support and empower them.  Our successes are all the result of strong partners who work alongside us.  We have in recent months been awarded the Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneur of the Year award 2019, The Ireland Fund/NDRC Business Plan competition for 2019 and one of our student teams has just been awarded over half a million Euro in funding to develop a technology in the chemotherapy space.  Our students have the capacity and capability to change the world, with  investment we could harness our innovative abilities increase our innovation potential exponentially.

What aspects have helped pave your way to the top?

I think having a positive attitude has been hugely beneficial to me. Seeking out opportunities, finding colleagues and friends with different perspectives and opinions has taught me so much.  Also, having strong leadership with a clear vision and seeing my own contribution map to that vision has helped me to transition from a management role to leading student innovation and entrepreneurship on our campus.  Role models and mentors have also played a key role throughout my professional journey.

How important is it to have other women visible at management level?

For me, it is critical that women are visible and have a voice at every level of the organisation. It ensures that decision making is inclusive and representative. It also ensures that diversity is part of the organisational culture.

How has NUIG evolved to accommodate the changing needs of its students and its employees?

NUI Galway is a regional university with global impact.  The institution is hugely ambitious and focussed on developing and nurturing talent within our students and ensuring that they contribute fully to society.  We are constantly innovating and have excellent links with industry to ensure that we are empowering our students to take their next steps.  As we evolve and grow as a University, we listen to our community and work together to make Galway one of the best cities in the world to study and live in.

What attributes should a person have to succeed in his/her career or entrepreneurial aspirations?

I think self-belief is critical, you have to be confident in yourself and your abilities.  Being positive, kind and respectful are hugely important.  Being open to learning and knowing when to ask for help are also vital attributes for success in life not just our careers.

Best piece of advice?

I think it circles back around to self-belief, imagination and confidence, I love this quote by J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”