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Grace and Femi Owolade’s ‘Tech London Advocates: Young Entrepreneurs’ to be launched at UAL CCI

Grace and Femi Owolade
  • Written byKat Smith
  • Published date20 September 2021
Grace and Femi Owolade
Grace and Femi Owolade

Hosted by UAL’s Creative Computing Institute, the Young Entrepreneurs branch of Tech London Advocates - founded by tech educators and advocates Grace Owolade and her 15-year-old son, Femi – will launch 23 September during London Tech Week. They hope that UAL students will join this exciting new network that promises to showcase their talent to a global audience.

Tech London Advocates are a collection of tech leaders, experts and investors. The Young Entrepreneurs (TLA:YE) branch will be a space for the new generation within the group. The mission driving it is to inspire, support and connect young entrepreneurs and innovators by building an inclusive ecosystem, working towards the United Nations’ sustainable development goals and to facilitate and promote young entrepreneur networks globally.

The launch event will feature an impressive panel of young tech entrepreneurs from around the world, discussing success and failure, as well as lightning talks from an array of tech leaders, ending in a micro-masterclass from TikTok on how to promote your business on the platform.

The mother-and-son team behind the new branch of Tech London Advocates have become key players in the tech community over the last few years, ever since Femi wandered off to the computers during a maths conference to play Minecraft at just 8 years old. He was shown how to manipulate the code of the game using Python and found that through just a few lines of code, he could change the contents of the game.

From there, Femi and Grace got into coding using Raspberry Pi - a credit-card sized computer you can use to learn programming through practical projects. Grace became a certified Raspberry Pi educator and before they knew it, they were running physical computing workshops around the UK.

Around 6 years later and having led countless workshops and keynote speeches for both corporate companies and public organisations, Grace and Femi have become a formidable team. They have founded a youth-led inclusive Young Coders community and worked with Tate Modern as part of their group South London Raspberry Jam – an autism and Tourette’s syndrome-friendly branch of the Raspberry Pi network – here in the UK. They have also shared their expertise globally, with Femi delivering a coding bootcamps and keynote speeches in San Francisco all the way to Bosnia and Bangkok. At the age of 12, Femi was named as one of Tech London Advocates’ ‘25 under 25’ – its list of the capital’s young tech talent integral to the future of the UK digital sector. This is just naming a few of the pair’s amazing achievements and projects.

UAL spoke to Grace and Femi about TLA: Young Entrepreneurs, getting young people into tech and why it’s so important to do so.

What is the Young Entrepreneurs branch of Tech London Advocates, and why are you launching it? 

“TLA:YE will be an ecosystem of young entrepreneurs - for young entrepreneurs to network and showcase their work and for stakeholders to come in and interact with them. Often, young entrepreneurs are the early adaptors and disruptors, adopting new technologies and embracing new ways of working.

We want to build a peer-to-peer community - these amazing young innovators can sometimes feel a bit isolated. What we want to do is provide that community where they feel comfortable to ask questions, make comments and discuss their experiences within a tight-knit community.

We’re also going to build a directory of young entrepreneurs so investors, employers and clients can see who they might want to work with - who wouldn’t want access to that? The tech industry really wants to tap into this young talent - it's crucial because for them to future proof themselves, they need to attract this young talent.”

We want to make sure that, at its center, it is about diversity and inclusion - we want to make visible those underrepresented groups. We focus a lot on diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias and things like that. That's part of our DNA, and I feel like it’s part of CCI’s as well, so it's very natural to have our Tech London Advocates branch launch at CCI.”

What are the barriers for young people getting into tech? 

“Some young people have very low expectations of - and aspirations for - themselves. They feel that the tech revolution is not for them – when it so is, 100%. We need to help them raise their expectations and aspirations, and to do that they need positive role models that look like them, who they can relate to. They can see that someone has not come from an affluent background and didn’t get great schooling, but they’ve set up a Fintech company. We really want to have these role models that absolutely show you can make it.

There are also other areas like human capital and not knowing the right language to use. Geography is also a factor – the great thing about what we do is that, quite often, we do remote stuff so we can work with any local community. We have people from China joining us, from India, from Ghana so it’s not about geography – we can work in any area. It’s all about levelling up in your community, rather than it being a drain.

We hope to overcome some of the indirect and direct discrimination, because we can build those networks and connections for people that those in certain privileged groups may have and take for granted.”

A group of young people holding certificates that say '25 under 25' - they are young entrepreneurs in the tech space
Tech London Advocates 25 under 25, including Femi Owolade. © Tech London Advocates

Why is tech important for the next generation? 

“It’s such a big area – the tech industry – you could be an artist, illustrator, graphic designer, you could do sales, customer service, UX. It’s not just about being a coder or a developer – we've learned that in our community, we always go wider than that. We think that 21st century skills is what people have to build on – and that’s all about critical thinking, collaborative problem solving, networking, upskilling, lifelong learning and developing soft skills.

We feel that TLA:YE works on those skills – when you join, they're the skills you’re developing. And we feel that these are everyday skills that you need in the future – we should all have them, actually. It's much wider than coding.

Whatever career you go into, whether it’s medicine or transport, you do need tech skills. There are so many skills that are in high demand – AI, UX design, digital marketing etc. What it means is, you’re future-proofing your career. If you go into biomedicine but also do data science, you are going to be so much more employable if you have those tech skills.

It’s in the interest of everyone for us to remove barriers – there's such a shortage, if you remove the barriers, you get people from those underrepresented groups and more talent. It makes sense that the big corporates and the tech industry need to tackle the barriers into the tech industry.”

For a UAL student interested in tech – how can they benefit from TLA:YE? 

“We hope that UAL students will bring in that creative, dynamic, innovative perspective and energy. That is so important and is part of who we want to be.

They will be part of that amazing peer-to-peer community and global ecosystem – there are so many verticals in the tech sector.

They can also feel that connection - sometimes, as young people, when they’re doing really new and disruptive work as an early adopter of new technologies, it can be quite hard to find other people who are linked into that area. It’s really important to be part of that because you share your experiences and you learn together. Young entrepreneurs are really fast-thinking and might be around people who just don’t get them. We want people to be around people who understand them, who have similar life experiences, and connect with new people as well.

We also want to showcase them - show off their work and their talent.”

Book your place for the Tech London Advocates: Young Entrepreneurs launch event now

Find out more about Tech London Advocates