The Wick - Interview London Tech Week Leader Carolyn Dawson OBE  The Wick - Interview London Tech Week Leader Carolyn Dawson OBE 
Monday Muse

Interview London Tech Week Leader Carolyn Dawson OBE 

Carolyn Dawson OBE
10 June 2024
Carolyn Dawson OBE
10 June 2024
She’s a former President of a FTSE 100 company who was recently appointed an OBE in recognition of her contributions – Carolyn Dawson is undoubtedly one of the most highly regarded leaders of the Tech world today. For the past seven years, Dawson has been especially involved in the development of the British Tech industry as the leader of London Tech Week – which kicks off today at Olympia.

Dawson is the Chief Executive of Founders Forum Group where she oversees global strategy for events that bring together peer-to-peer networks of entrepreneurs. They’ve hosted more than 40 forums in 20 cities around the world since 2005 – and Dawson is hoping to see that number grow, citing exciting scenes in Southeast Asia and the Middle East with huge potential for growth in the near future. Watch this space.

At the global gathering at London Tech Week, three days packed with events, Dawson shared her passion for greater inclusivity in her industry with The Wick, her favourite culturally curious place to visit for inspiration, and why Steel Magnolias always provides a boost when times get tough.

The Wick:   What new innovations are you looking forward to hearing about at London Tech Week this year, and how are we seeing the arts and technology come together?

Carolyn Dawson:   I’m excited to see all the latest innovations and applications around artificial intelligence – we will have many across Tech Week and it’s fantastic to see how companies are starting to deploy AI to support their productivity and growth. The UK is a world leader in the convergence of art and technology and this continues to captivate me with new digital art forms and immersive experiences redefining creativity. The gaming sector takes a natural lead at Tech Week though we see many examples in music, design and film throughout the week too. Artistic integrity, intellectual property, interaction of AI and creativity, and the applications of all of these things to different creative industries including music, visual arts, audio, video are top themes of the week.

TW:   What does a typical day look like as CEO of Founders Forum Group?

CD:   There is no typical day! Our focus is always around what we can do to support and connect founders globally but this can vary from meeting founders, investors and government to hosting the ecosystem at our events or planning the next one anywhere in the world. My work also encompasses supporting our portfolio of businesses, and expanding the businesses in our group so we offer the most comprehensive set of services designed for founders across legal, talent, marketing and communications. I spend my day working with our team and meeting so many fantastic people in the tech ecosystem – no day is the same and I thrive on variety!

TW:   You’re on the board of 01 Founders, a free-to-access coding school. How does education sit within your wider mission to make tech more diverse and inclusive?

CD:   I’m passionate about education and particularly around encouraging more people into tech. As someone who fell into tech unexpectedly, I appreciate all the opportunities that tech can give for an enriching career and opportunities you may not expect so I really believe in pushing the potential to those who don’t easily discover it, no matter how pervasive technology already is in our lives! Through initiatives like 01 Founders, we aim to provide accessible education and opportunities to underrepresented groups. By equipping a diverse range of individuals with essential tech skills, we can create a more inclusive and innovative industry.

TW:   You have spearheaded London Tech Week for eight years and also taken tech festivals to other regions beyond – where would you like to develop next?

CD:   I am excited about the potential in Southeast Asia and the Middle East for founders right now. Both regions have dynamic tech scenes, high levels of investment and youthful populations which present tremendous opportunities for growth. By creating platforms for local talent and fostering global connections to investors and corporations, we can accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Through initiatives like 01 Founders, we aim to provide accessible education and opportunities to underrepresented groups.”

Carolyn Dawson

TW:   As a global leader in the tech industry, what changes are you hoping to see in terms of inclusivity in the coming years? And what can other tech leaders be doing?

CD:   I hope to see a significant increase in women in senior leadership roles, fostering a culture of inclusivity and diversity. Key changes include implementing unbiased recruitment processes, providing mentorship for women, and ensuring equal opportunities for career advancement. Tech leaders can support these efforts by pushing for policies that promote transparency in promotion criteria, and by creating a safe, supportive environment where diverse voices are heard and valued.

Additionally, they should actively participate in and sponsor events and initiatives aimed at empowering women in tech. By prioritising inclusivity, we can drive innovation and create a more equitable industry.

TW:   Your favourite Culturally Curious spot in London and why?

CD:   My favourite culturally curious spot in London is the Barbican Centre. It’s a vibrant hub of creativity and innovation, offering a unique blend of art, music, theatre, and film. The Barbican continuously pushes the boundaries of contemporary culture, making it an inspiring place to explore new ideas and perspectives.

TW:   How did you get into tech, and what has made you so passionate about harnessing its potential to make the world a better place?

CD:   I really fell into the world of tech through my work in events & intelligence in the tech sector at Informa, where I witnessed firsthand the transformative power of technology across various industries. My time there exposed me to groundbreaking innovations and the brilliant minds behind them, sparking my passion for harnessing tech’s potential to drive positive change. This has now led to Founders Forum and I love supporting founders who are building businesses and services using tech to address global challenges, from improving education and healthcare to promoting sustainability and economic growth.

TW:   Can you share a recent favourite success story with us you’ve witnessed of a young tech entrepreneur?

CD:   One of my favourite recent success stories is Tamzin, the founder of ‘Where You At’ (WYA), an app designed to keep people connected in disconnected spaces like events and gigs without signal.

Tamzin started WYA while studying at Oxford, motivated by the prevalence of harassment and assault in busy night time venues. She built the app to help people stay connected and feel safer in crowded, signal-challenged environments. Recently, Tamzin pivoted the app to address challenges faced by venues, focusing on enhancing event safety and connectivity.

Although WYA is still early in its journey, it aims to provide peace of mind at events. I have had the privilege of mentoring and helping her throughout this process, and her innovative approach and dedication earned her a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

TW:   A film do you always go back to for inspiration in challenging times?

CD:   In challenging times, the film Steel Magnolias is a go-to for me. A heartwarming story of resilience, the power of friendship and family and human spirit! It’s a powerful reminder of the strength found in community and friendship, and how adversity can be faced with grace, humour, and unwavering support.

TW:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

CD:   If anyone isn’t sure about their Monday Muse, look no further than Erin Platts. She navigated through the collapse of the bank she had worked at her entire career, leading her team and clients through an unprecedented period and emerging on the other side. She put her clients and her team first, demonstrating sheer grit and resilience!

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