TechSPARK has teamed up with Manchester Digital to deliver you Digital Her, a project from the Institute of Coding. We want to showcase talented women and non-binary people from across the entire tech and digital sector who are doing amazing work in the South West.

The objective is to create a platform of role models for young women and non-binary people to encourage and inform anyone who may have been dissuaded away from tech about the opportunities in our region. Through talking to a range of individuals with various roles and experiences, we want to highlight the various career paths available whilst reaching out to people who didn’t know there was a perfect role in tech for them.

This week, for Scale Up month, we spoke to SME innovation expert Aimee Skinner. To find out more about how she helps businesses reach their full potential, check out the interview:

What do you do?

I am Innovation Manager at Future Space in Bristol, but I work for a company called Oxford Innovation (OI). OI manages Future Space on behalf of the University of the West of England (UWE). At Future Space we support a community of circa 50 high-tech, deep-science, and engineering businesses at any one time, with around 300 people employed across them. 

In my role, I am driving forward the innovation and business support agenda, aimed at helping these innovative start-ups and SMEs to reach their growth potential. 

What skills do you use in your role?

Communication, creativity, and problem-solving are hugely important. Having strong experience in data and analytics has helped me with things like designing the wireframe for a new member website and updating our content. 

The skill that I find comes in most useful is the ability to build connections and make introductions into the innovation ecosystem, and beyond. There is a fantastic innovation network in Bristol and lots of support out there for start-ups, if they know where to go and who to ask. This network has given me a great launchpad for building Future Space’s advisory programme, as well as exploring UWE collaboration opportunities for businesses, such as internships, MSc projects and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

What’s your educational and work background?

I have a varied career history, from being a health care assistant, to continuous improvement and project management – I left school without A-levels, so I waited until my mid-twenties to explore my career properly. I studied a foundation science course at UWE, and then completed a degree in Environmental Science. 

Out of university I joined a Graduate Leadership Programme in the Water Industry. One of my first roles was carrying out an R&D project in the Innovation Team. It was a totally different experience to university – I was carrying out lab experiments in a small lab at the wastewater treatment works, wearing a hard hat, high-vis and steel toe-capped boots to walk my samples to the oven. The real-world application of these techniques was fascinating. 

I had a great opportunity to learn from Ernst & Young consultants the Lean Six Sigma methodology – the use of these tools and techniques set me on my pursuit for continuous improvement. I worked my way from assisting continuous improvement projects, to becoming PRINCE2 Practitioner qualified and leading the MI and Analytics workstream of a large-scale transformation project, before moving into Innovation-focused roles.

My whole career has been about seeing things that don’t work, or could be done better, and identifying new ways of doing things. Innovating. 

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve worked on in your career so far? 

One of the most interesting projects I have led in my career is Bristol Water’s Open Innovation agenda, including a small business incubator and an inaugural event. The event was high-profile, designed to bring together start-up businesses, local companies, universities and wider innovation experts. It was this work that opened my eyes to the Bristol innovation ecosystem, and the start-up world. It ignited a passion in me to pursue a career working directly with these businesses. Businesses that are changing the world in which we live. 

That’s the thing that I enjoy most about working in this sector – seeing the real impact that new tech and services are having, and the potential for them to change our futures for the better.

My passion project is Bristol Innovators’ Group – I co-manage this network of over 300 innovators and change-makers in Bristol and beyond. We are getting more and more members each week, and we have some exciting plans to assist projects in our local community that benefit people and planet. 

What advice would you give to young people thinking about a career in digital and tech or unsure what to study?

Don’t be limited by traditional tech subjects – there is a role for everyone, from business development and marketing, to innovation and engineering. It’s about how you apply your skills. For me it has been an organic journey. One where I say “yes”, and then see where it leads. Trying to be brave and accept that I will fail at some things, but others will succeed.  

I advise that you find a subject which you are passionate about and find a company who aligns to your values. That will give you the best chance of success.

Thanks to Aimee for taking the time to talk to us about her career and best pieces of advice! You can find out more about Future Space on their website, or give them a follow on Twitter here: @Future_Space_.

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.