In episode 19, Ruth shares her journey inventing a product at age 16, launching a business rather than going university, and the many endeavors she’s working on now, including a mission to get more young people interested in STEM.
Ruth Amos is a British entrepreneur and inventor, having invented StairSteady at just sixteen years old. She has won several awards including the Young Engineer of the Year award in Britain, Britain’s “Heroines For Hard Times” 35 women under 35, and was the first ever Women of the Future “YoungStar” award winner, among several other distinctions.
Ruth is now Managing Director for StairSteady Ltd, StairSteady Products and DROLS toys. She’s also Trustee for Young Engineers, is on the Your Life Board, a project aimed at getting more young people into STEM, and is regularly in demand as a public speaker.
- Required to take a technology subject in school.
- Took a materials class, was one of two girls. Was expected to design a jewelry box.
- Her teacher’s father had a need for help getting upstairs after a stroke, but need a full chair lift.
- She invested a mechanical solution which was a bar that can attach to the wall, move up the wall while the person using it ascends, but lock if the person falls or needs to put weight on it.
- Teacher introduced a local manufacturer who helped make it
- Just considered it a GCSC project until she won the Young Engineer award for Britain, it got a lot of publicity, that she realized there was market demand for this product.
Decision to start the business rather than going to University
- Had always wanted to be a barrister, had already planned her university path and it wasn’t related to engineering
- Linda Sanford, VP at IBM, was involved in the competition. Didn’t look like a typical engineer. Meeting her and others helped Ruth see that women can be engineers too. Made her think differently about engineer as a potential career path.
- People also wanted to buy the product.
- Figured she could hold off on university, try the business for a few years.
- Was hard to tell her parents but they were very supportive. They could see she had very little to lose at this point.
Now’s the time to take risks.
Figuring out business and relationships with no experience
- “I was very naïve and strong-headed.”
- Had a strong support network – people she could bounce ideas off,
- Was a slow process, putting things in place bit by bit, didn’t have investment initially
- Learned through trial and error
- Often determined to do things herself – people were generous with their time and taught her how to do things
- Asked lots of questions and still do
I would recommend any [young person] – whether they have another job or not – just give it a go, start a little business, doesn’t have to be a big thing. You learn so much.
- Funding – there were times when they approached the “cliff edge” and needed help. They thought they would need investment but then they would get a licensing deal.
- Have always had multiple businesses, so even if one is doing well there’s always one that needs help.
- Have made mistakes, worked with people she probably shouldn’t have
If everything runs smoothly, you never learn anything.
- When things go wrong, you figure out a plan and start working again. Some people just give up.
Not quitting is usually the hardest route.
- Parents always very supportive – worked hard and set good examples
- Had strong positive female role models
Never really realized that being a woman in industry made me any different, until I was confronted in it.
- Mentors with existing successful businesses or peer mentors in a similar stage – always had a lot of people to turn to
- You need to be careful about who you spend time with – you feed off of eachother
You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with… they reflect on you and you reflect on them.
Other ventures / projects
- DROLs Toys – app + physical toy aimed at helping children learn through play.
- Signature – website company
- Kids Invent Stuff – online TV show about engineering
- Podcast – Discussing small things in life that make a big difference.
- Has to be careful not to spread herself too thin. But gets to work on things she enjoys.
- Lucky to have flexibility to take on new opportunities that come along, tries to make the most of that.
I want to spend 80-90% of my time doing things that make me really happy and that I’m really passionate about.
Getting girls interested in STEM
- STEM = science, tech, engineering & maths. Area that is underrepresented by women
- Have lots of jobs in STEM but need more people studying it
- Not enough women are studying STEM – we don’t understand it or know much about the industry
- It’s important to talk to young people about this. Why should they go into, what the careers are
- Also interested in STEAM (+Arts)
- She and her two siblings became engineers. Parents encouraged them to build, to do different extracurriculars, took them to museums, challenged them in the same way regardless of gender.
- Parents should take advantage of activities offered by schools, museums, non-profits – engineering workshops, etc. Try and see what interests your kids. Point out what makes math, science, etc. fun and useful.
- Find a way to incorporate math and science into what she’s passionate about
If you have a passion, you should do all you can to make it happen.
- Strive to find that happiness, even if it’s a project on the side.
- Important to think about how we deal with situations that don’t go as planned. Find the positive in the situation and you’ll be happier.