By @SimonCockingGreat interview with Mari Cahalane, head of BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE)

What is your back ground?

I have been with BT since the early 90’s where I worked in BT HQ in London in Shareholders services and Public Affairs. I first started working in events in London when I worked for public affairs and was part of the team that worked on political party conferences with my last role working on the G8 summit in Cardiff. I moved back to Ireland in 1998 to join OCEAN Communications, the joint venture between BT and ESB as PR and Events manager. In late 2000 BT purchased Esat Telecom and I moved to Esat Business to work in PR and Events and that is when my relationship with the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition began. I was an employee volunteer for 2001 and 2002 and then became involved in the day to day running of the exhibition for the 40th anniversary in 2003. I was asked to head up the exhibition in 2009 moving away from my role as head of events for BT Ireland.

What is your role with BT young scientist – what does a year round role involve?

The first thing we do when we finish in the RDS is to make sure that prize money, certificates are sent to winners and that any queries are dealt with. We run a Bootcamp in Nova UCD for 30 students in late February working them on patents, innovation skills, presentation skills and much much more. In tandem with the Bootcamp we start work on the next exhibition. We already have plans in place for the 2018 exhibition and we will start working with our suppliers and partners on these straight away. The first thing that is put in place each year is the mailing to all second level schools about the event in 2017, this normally will be sent to schools by late February.

Also in 2016 we will see the first Young Scientist Abu Dhabi in May and I will work with the team there to give them advice on their exhibition and competition. We are continually working with media to get information out about the exhibition and also do a lot on social media to promote the event. We also recruit over 200 people internally in BT to volunteers at the event, these redcoats are the backbone of the exhibition each year and this is a massive task in itself working across all of BT in Ireland to get this done. Of course when the schools come back in September we work at a break neck speed to get the entries in screened and results out so we have our 550 brilliant projects in January at the RDS.

Looking back what have been some of the most successful ideas that have come through the program?

There have been many, but I think two really stand out for me. One is the BT Young Scientist Business Bootcamp which BT developed in 2009 and the other is Young Scientist Tanzania which is now heading towards its 5th year of operation. You can’t look past the young people though that have come through the doors in the RDS they have been doing it for 52 years and will hopefully do so for another 52!+

What can we look forward to in the Jan 2016 event?

Interacting with the young people who are exhibiting, some amazing ideas will be displayed in the RDS. The special acts, where else would you find battling robots in a big top, a mentalist doing a show and a 3D Theatre teaching us about the cosmos. We can’t look past the amazing stands from the ecosystem of partners that we work with on BTYSTE, RTE, Intel, Analog Devices, Emergency Services, EMC and many, many more that are promoting their companies in a fun and interactive way. I would add: Visitors can plan their visit to the RDS in advance by downloading the FREE BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition app, available on Android and Apple devices. For more information, log onto www.btyoungscientist.com

We will also be running a number of business and technology events throughout the course of the week with some great panellists including leaders from the worlds of business and sport.

How did 2015 event go, anything you’d change / do differently?

The event was the biggest one to date, with almost 60,000 coming through the doors to the exhibition. In the last five years we have seen the visitor number double for the event, so one of the things we change every year is how we get people in and out of the exhibition. We have a new area for schools visits to book into the event and a traffic management plan in place to keep the traffic flowing around the RDS.

Your tips to exhibitors?

For our young scientists, know your project inside and out and relax and enjoy the exhibition. For the ecosystem partners wear confortable shoes, gets ready for a really invigorating time in the RDS.

What have been the most useful innovations from BT’s point of view?

BT has been behind some of the world’s most iconic innovations in history, since the company’s origins back in 1846. From the opening of the first commercial telephone exchange in 1879 to the launch of the radio, then the TV, then colour television and most recently the internet, BT has thrived in its ability to innovate and evolve to the changing pace of technology and consumer demand for over 170 years. And every day we have over 10,000 scientists and technologists across the globe leading the way in developing new communications technology that will enhance our lives. It’s why we are so passionate about the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition – we truly believe that science and technology has the power to change our lives.

What do you think about the Irish startup scene? Is the future bright?

Yes I think it is extremely bright, the one thing I love now is that young people are getting the chance to work on their ideas and get the support and advice to start-up companies. In fact this year we have given shared stand space to four companies incl Restored Hearing and Fenu Health that have started up through student’s involvement in BTSYTE.

What tech do you wish could be invented / available to make your life easier?

This close to the exhibition a device that will read my mind and organise all of my thoughts about things that need to be done and do them for me!

Women in tech – at the junior scientist level there is usually a high % of female involvement, do you think we will see more women in tech in the future as a result or not?

Yes I definitely feel that we will, I can see the changes in my involvement in BTYSTE with more young female scientists and technologists getting involved in our judging panel. Also, the great work that organisations that BT are members of like Connecting Women in Technology and 30% club are doing will make a difference long term.

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked you?

The BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition is the national and international success it is because of a number of groups of people. My colleagues in BT Ireland who live and breathe the event every day of the year, the charitable trust that is Young Scientist of the Year Limited who BT work with to run and organise the event. The countless thousands of young people, their teachers, schools and families that take part or visit the exhibition each year and keep the interest and passion for the event in Ireland alive. And finally the co-founders of the exhibition the late Rev Dr Tom Burke and the quiet and understated force that is Dr Tony Scott for founding this national treasure.


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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