Women In Tech Interview: Cathryn Dillon

We often hear the barriers which deter women and girls from engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths are unconscious bias and a lack of diversity at board level. To celebrate the launch of Women Tech Founders, we are interviewing the female leaders involved with SETsquared Bristol to explore their career paths and views on issues faced by women in technology. Each of their stories is individual, some have a technical background, others are using technology to enable their business idea.

Dr. Cathryn Dillon, the founder of Medical Networking, the company behind GP+ Networking shares her story:

How early on did you choose your career path?

I was interested in how things work, including the human body! My talent was in art and I was quite a sporty child – and thought I would study design. By the time I selected my A-level subjects, I had chosen medicine as a career, which meant studying Biology, Chemistry, and Maths before going to medical school. After five years of my Medical and Surgical degree, I decided to specialise in plastic surgery. What inspired me was how the hand works – it’s always fascinated me how you solve problems with returning function. I moved from my first surgical training job in Birmingham to train further at a plastic surgery hospital in Broomfield, in Essex. In those early years, I moved around a lot, with posts in Leeds, back to Chelmsford and then in Manchester – which is where I decided to change to General Practice.

In what way did technology influence your goals?

We’ve grown up in an era where you can’t avoid being interested in technology, as it has so radically changed how we search and find information with the introduction of email and the Internet. Even in the medical industry, which was relatively slower to adopt technology than other sectors, everything has advanced rapidly from microscopes right through to using robotics. I watched the rise of social media and saw how it changed people’s approach to businesss, leadership, and innovation – to share their visions. Technology in medicine is possibly behind where it should be, but even in surgery there’s a huge movement to show how technology can help and improvements in how we log and share information in General Practice.

How did your story unfold?

When the time came for me to have my son, I needed more stability and flexibility to work part-time, so I moved into General Practice. Determined not to give up surgery completely, I sought ways to overcome the professional development hurdles involved in doing both. With the right support, I was able to continue to practice skin cancer surgery one day a week.

I soon realised it’s very common for General Practice doctors to extend their role in one direction or another. Some may take on leadership responsibilities, others choose a clinical specialism, or move into an industry like sports or work for the Police. Offering variety in our working week is a great way to solve the challenge which GP’s otherwise face: burnout from the overwhelming burden of understaffed practices, increased administration demands and chronic disease burden without increased resource.

What was the turning point which steered you towards business?

As I moved roles and locations, it was frustrating to witness how the medical industry is a small world, yet was very poorly connected. The NHS gives patients amazing value, however, we were lacking a central vision for the role of General Practitioners.

Every region was struggling with similar budget-related issues: do we need a diabetes expert, is there a local plastics specialist, can we sustain a role focusing on chronic diseases? Seeing these issues repeated time and again sparked the idea behind my current business. What we needed was what we were using in everyday life to stay connected – a social media platform!

To connect GPs and support collaboration across extended roles, I came up with the idea of a central resource for GPs to develop their professional networks nationally. I began with the GP+ Facebook page to develop the concept using social media and developed a private community to review the ideas behind the platform.

Which steps led to the business you have today?

I wanted to build GP+ Networking for the medical industry – to help increase the appeal of a career in General Practice. My first move was to present my ideas to the British Medical Association. In principle, they liked the concept, but there was no funding available for innovation. Among my friends and family, I carried on searching for help and eventually found a contact with experience of developing new businesses. He put me in touch with a software developer, and from there, I invested my own money to develop the product.

We worked together closely, with me drawing diagrams of how it would look online and what the user experience should feel like. He then built the GP+ Networking beta prototype with far more functionality than LinkedIn or Facebook offers. Technology has enabled my idea to work – it is a niche market so there’s greater trust that you’ll only be in contact with people you want to work with on GP+ Networking– but more importantly, technology has helped me to share the vision.

Somerset CCG was very interested in the outcome and provided a modest grant towards the development. I received small funds from local primary care societies, but there was no central funding available for private companies offering a service across the NHS. I joined SETsquared Bristol to solve the challenge of how to connect with investors and take the idea from a freemium offer to a paid membership or sponsored service.

What advice would you share from your journey, to encourage other women to go for it?

My idea began as something too big for a part-time person with two kids – people did say it was a hard task and a big vision, but I got started with small steps. You have to use your network to find the people who can help. It’s important to find someone with the right skills who will share your vision and inspire confidence.

Have your ideas validated by your community, by people you’re working with or by creating a new community for it – where you can test the water. I’ve done a lot of my development work around my children, and the flexibility has allowed me to think on a big scale, then it put down and reflect while I’m busy being a mum.

The opportunities are there for women and help is available – there is increased access to funding at the moment and you can work more flexibly because technology is something you can work with anywhere.

What changes would you recommend businesses make to encourage greater equality?

The struggle I had – I think it’s down to the culture of your organisation. You have to keep people engaged in a culture where they feel valued, making it okay to arrange your day to pick your children up or work remotely. So, organisations need to create an environment where people can be the best they can be and work around their children as a win-win.

Written by Debra Penrice. See more of her work at 27 Marketing