Digital Skills Academy
Graduate Ciara Shields: My Startup and Entrepreneurial Journey

Graduate Ciara Shields: My Startup and Entrepreneurial Journey

Ciara Shields is an international business and marketing executive who graduated from the Digital Skills Academy with a 1st Class Honours Degree in 2016. She specialised in digital project management during her time on the programme. Ciara thoroughly enjoyed her experience and believes the skills she acquired propelled her into success over the last 10 months.

What is your background? Why did you decide to take the course?

I have a BA in Graphic Design from the UK and a postgraduate in International Business from Smurfit’s Business School. I had been working in London for a few years as part of a team who were winning contracts for an Irish company. I visited the Enterprise Ireland office in London a lot and I saw Irish start-ups regularly. I wanted a slice of the cake! I headed back home to set up my own business. Back in Galway, I felt something was missing from my skillset to transition me over to the world of entrepreneurship and I stumbled across the BSc Honours in Digital Technology, Design and Innovation.

It was exactly what I needed - I could participate from home, do most of it in my own time and still be engaged. A 12-month commitment seemed daunting, but the time flew by and I was able to juggle some other projects in the background. I was also on maternity leave with a 3-month old baby when I started, so I needed flexibility.

What was the highlight of the programme for you?

Without hesitation I can answer this - the people!

The people I worked with on projects all had a big impact on both my enjoyment and my learnings. There were ups and downs during the ‘forming, storming, norming and performing’ stages of the team work. Everyone wanted to succeed and any challenges we faced we were guided through by the mentors. The mentors were very skilled and knowledgeable and the best part is they never gave us the answers, they showed us how to overcome obstacles ourselves.

What was the online learning experience like?

This was not my first time undertaking online training. In the past I felt very isolated and unmotivated when life got busy in the background. That is why I was so impressed with how involved I felt at all points in the programme, interacting with the other participants, the lecturers, and the staff at Digital Skills Academy.

What were your goals when you started the programme and did you achieve them?

I achieved my main goal to upskill in digital project management and work across multidisciplinary teams. My other goal pivoted! Originally I hoped to take an entrepreneurial project from idea to commercialisation. However, I saw a great industry project pitched and I knew I would gain a lot from working on the project. I led a cross-functional team that successfully delivered a website and App for a start-up company.

What are you doing now and how did the Digital Skills Academy help you to get there?

Since completing the programme I have founded a company and built a healthcare App for family carers. I used the lean start-up principles and customer development process I learned at Digital Skills Academy. Enterprise Ireland have supported me with an innovation voucher, and further training, and we are looking to trial the App next year.

In September 2016, I was selected for a pilot Fellowship in NUI Galway called TechInnovate. We are following Stanford BioDesign's process to identify needs and create innovative solutions that really answer customer needs. It is a fascinating process led by John Breslin, co-founder of Boards.ie. I am the business executive. I work alongside an engineer and product designer working on Agri-Tech. I now carry wellies in the car with me as well as my laptop! One unexpected development is that we have been delivering innovation workshops to final year master students. It’s great to be able to mentor with such up to date skills and knowledge. Finally, I have been selected for ACORNS, a national development programme for rural female entrepreneurs.

All in all, I feel I have been on a rollercoaster of success since finishing with the Digital Skills Academy less than 12 months ago. All of my previous learnings were fine-tuned during my time with the Digital Skills Academy. I can see how my learnings benefit me both in terms of soft and hard skills. For example, I have always been a good organiser but now I am an experienced and successful project manager taking ideas right through to commercialisation.