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Joy Foster has long been a risk taker who, like all entrepreneurs, is good at taking advantage of any opportunity that presents itself.
Her journey from the trading desk to founding TechPixies, an award-winning start-up which aims to give women the digital skills they need in today’s workplace, has been a long time in the making.
Joy started her career in finance in the US, but when her father died she decided life was too short. She wanted to do something she was passionate about. She had always dreamed of being in the Olympics. Although she was an experienced rower, she didn’t make the US team so she went through all the Olympic sports she might be able to pick up easily and settled on archery. It was the kind of risk-taking, dream-chasing approach that would stand her in good stead when she became an entrepreneur.
Joy was a member of the United States Archery team from 2004 to 2007 and set about marketing herself to raise funds. That included creating a crowdfunding-type site before crowdfunding became the norm, giving her valuable skills in digital marketing.
She met her husband, a gold medallist rower, and the couple moved to Switzerland so he could take up the head coach position for the Swiss. Joy got a contract to work at Deloitte in Switzerland where she oversaw the implementation and further development of Swiss Smartnet, Deloitte’s CRM software for all the company’s Swiss business contacts. When the contract ended she was pregnant.
Joy discovered that many of her peers who were expatriates and having babies felt lonely and isolated so she invited them to meet up at her house on a regular basis. Those meet-ups evolved into a blog called Living in Luzern which got 436 hits in the first year. Within five years it was getting 130,000 hits and reaching a community of 5,000 expatriates. In 2018 it celebrated it’s 11th year as a community-led non-profit organisation and has since added a community centre and has a bi-annual magazine.
In 2014, the family moved to the UK and Joy applied for an UnLtd grant to set up a social enterprise in Oxford, building WordPress websites for charities, non profits, social enterprise and small business. At the time she was running a social enterprise in Oxford, building WordPress websites for charities, non profits, social enterprise and small business.
In its early days, Made with Joy provided nearly 3,000 hours of free digital training and helped provide part-time jobs to 18 individuals who had been previously unemployed for an extended period of time. Joy noted an interest from local mums in upskilling. The mums couldn’t get to London to attend workshops there. They needed something more local.
So Joy worked with Oxfordshire Business Support’s Network Navigators service which helps local businesses connect with the tech industry and started setting up a digital skills network. The first TechPixies pilot course was held in 2015 and was funded by the Government. There were 12 women and five men on the programme, which was led by Joy and aimed to give them a range of technical skills, from social media strategising to website building. She had initially intended to get an external expert to design and run the programme, but she realised she could do it herself alongside fundraising for the business.
It was hard work and Joy was anxious that it wouldn’t impinge on family time. So she worked with a coach who helped her find a balance between her previous stay-at-home mum role and her role as an entrepreneur.
She worked intensively while her children were at school and did a lot of late nights, building her TechPixies community around her children, now aged seven and eight. The mums she is trying to reach tended to have had an analogue childhood and a digital adulthood so she has had to use both traditional ways to reach them such as the media, word of mouth and taster sessions as well as more modern methods such as social media. TechPixies offers both face to face training in Oxford and London and online courses where people can pace themselves. It is also currently piloting group online courses. The network element is important and there is a Facebook group where alumna can keep in touch and annual Christmas and summer parties.
The courses cover social media, digital marketing, SEO and WordPress and TechPixies is currently investigating developing a pay per click course. It also has a free life coaching toolkit to help women think about where they are now, where they want to be and how they are going to get there.
Joy says she loves keeping in touch and seeing how her students have progressed. They include a woman who took a two-year career break and is now global head of communications at an international corporation. Some alumna have recruited other women from TechPixies. One used her skills to set up an antiques website in tribute to her late mother. Others come on the courses so they can keep up with their digital native kids.
Joy says social media training is “a good starting point for getting more women into technology” in part because there is a knock-on impact on the daughters of mums on the courses. “Getting women into technology starts with mothers,” she says. “They need to role model that they are tech savvy and that it is a career option for their daughters.”
Joy likes to set herself measurable goals so she initiated a crowdfunding campaign last year to upskill 100 women through TechPixies. Her target was five thousand pounds – she raised seven thousand. Word got out about what she was trying to do and the campaign even got a mention from Theresa May.
By April this year, TechPixies had reached its target. Joy wanted to take the site further and has now raised over ninety-one thousand pounds which is being invested in building the platform so people can do the courses from anywhere in the world to reach a wider audience.
Since the organisation was launched, Joy and TechPixies have won several awards, including the Institute of Directors Start-up Director of the Year 2018 (London and South) and ‘Start-up of the Year’ at the Women in Business Awards 2018.
In addition to the online expansion, Joy has set a 2020 target of helping over 3,000 women gain the digital skillset and confidence they need to go back to work, change careers or launch their own business.
Joy says she is very proud of TechPixies’ achievements. She says: “It is a real programme that changes real women’s lives.”
*TechPixies taster sessions will be running in central London on 21st November 2018, 5th December 2018, 16th January 2018 and 23rd January 2019 from 10am to 12pm. To book a slot visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/techpixies-taster-session-london-tickets-51991256247
The TechPixies six-week face-to-face courses start in London on 30th January 2019. For more information visit: https://techpixies.com/events