By Ray O'Hanlon
Empowering women is a theme of our times. It is also about time.
Back in the 1990s Ireland celebrated and clapped itself on the back when voters elected the first woman president, Mary Robinson.
More recently, countless American women took quiet satisfaction, or celebrated enthusiastically, when Kamala Harris became the first woman vice president of the United States.
But these are high profile stories. There are legions more pointing to the growing role of women in all aspects of global society.
And that includes, thankfully, society in Ireland.
Advances by women in all aspects of societal change does not happen in a vacuum.
And sometimes these advances are inspired in countries by women from other countries. In this instance it is women in Ireland being inspired by a woman from America.
Nancy Spears is the guiding hand behind GenconnectU, which describes itself as "the first EdTech platform to build a product pipeline which serves a global female audience, the largest market of self-directed, online buyers."
According to its website, GcU "creates, develops and distributes expert driven online learning to advance lives in the areas of career, finance, health, technology and inspiration. The courses are taught by masters and experts in a variety of topics. Most are focused on helping increase and advance soft skills such as leadership, management, sales, presentations, team building, confidence building, and owning your voice in meetings. The company also offers a variety of wellness and health courses as life balance is essential to long-term success."
GcU states that its mission and vision is simple and ambitious: "Through expert-led, on demand video-based learning and development we are in the business of empowering generations of women to build the extraordinary lives they imagine. Our vision is to create and distribute eLearning products for consumers, platforms and companies globally. Gender inequality is a persistent global issue. To end it, companies must embrace the true potential of women in the workforce. Continuing Education will get us there. GcU’s vision is to become a major online education resource for women around the world."
But leaving aside the world for a moment, where does Ireland enter the picture?
GcU's "target market" is a female audience aged twenty-two to fifty plus.
Age apart, Ireland, according to GcU, provides the ideal access to "scale back" into the U.S. as well as into Europe, the UK and Asia.
"The high concentration of technology talent in Ireland, and specifically the strong presence of Google, Facebook and LinkedIn in Dublin, serves as a natural resource to help scale our products and brand. With a firm footing in the U.S. media industry, we are driven to advance women and their careers on a global scale."
The firm U.S. footing has led to feet on the ground in Dublin, the footfall being made by Spears, an American entrepreneur with an impressive list of global corporate clients.
GenconnectU is Spears' second start-up. Her first was Creative Event Marketing (CEM) which she built into a lucrative multi-million dollar business with offices in six cities before it was sold to the Interpublic Group in June, 2002.
GenConnectU was launched in New York in 2018, but has now established a hub in Ireland. The Irish hub operation will develop and market online career content for professional women in Ireland, and elsewhere around the world.
GenConnectU employs 15 people in the U.S. and Spears plans to create ten jobs in Ireland having recently raised €500,000 from Irish private investors, and from the state agency Enterprise Ireland.
Spears describes GenConnectU as an “online education platform for women." It delivers courses in short-form video format on soft skills ranging from sales and leadership to broader life skills, such as mindfulness, health, and wellbeing.
“We target a female audience. Our entire mission is to help move women into more senior roles in their careers and advance their lives overall,” Spears recently told the Sunday Business Post newspaper in a recent interview.
GenConnectU.com sources course content from a roster of 3,000-plus experts around the world, Spears told the Business Post.
“We film courses with them, so we have a video library of about 10,000 short-form clips and over one hundred courses,” she said.
“Eighty percent of our course content is career-based and the rest focuses on health and wellness, because, I believe, that we have to be balanced in order to make clear decisions and direct our lives in a productive way.”
According to the Business Post report, GenConnectU has a distribution deal with LinkedIn, which gives the networking site’s premium subscribers access to course content under their monthly membership fee.
Spears said the majority of the company’s customers are in the U.S., where a lot of the company’s traction indeed comes from its LinkedIn partnership.
Its most popular courses on LinkedIn currently include "Working with Purpose and Passion in the Corporate World," presented by Sally Susman, executive vice-president of Pfizer, and "Lessons in Enlightened Leadership," presented by Carolyn Everson, vice-president of global marketing solutions at Facebook.
“Our biggest market is still very much the U.S., but we’re starting to see a bit more traction every week elsewhere in the world – in Ireland, the UK, Europe and even down into Singapore and Australia,” Spears said.
Spears relocated to Ireland in 2019 after a working holiday in Connemara, followed by a trip to Dublin.
She fell in love with Ireland and its people, she told the Echo in a recent phone interview.
But the openness of Ireland to outside investors and entrepreneurs was decisive when it came to seeing a great place to holiday as also being a viable and welcoming place to open a business.
“I was blown away by the technology scene in the city (Dublin). LinkedIn has a big presence in Ireland, as does Google and Facebook and there are quite a few ed-tech companies in the city as well,” Spears told the Business Post.
“We made a strategic decision to reposition the company and set up an Irish entity, so now we’re headquartered here in Dublin, scaling back into the U.S., into Europe and even into Asia.”
Spears closed her €500,000 funding round in Ireland at the start of this year.
“I’m on a mission now to get ten people hired here in Ireland over the next two years,” she said.
“We’ve made our first hire in Ireland in business development and we’re looking for someone to manage content. I want to bring that position from the U.S. over to Ireland. We’re also in discussions with various production teams to start filming here.”
GenConnectU, as described by the Business Post report, is a high-potential start-up client of Enterprise Ireland.
“Silicon Valley can be so tough for investment,” Spears told the paper.
“I’ve done so many of those meetings over there and we’ve been successful up to a point, but conversations with investors here have been, in some ways, much more palatable.
“There is just a lot more enthusiasm and optimism here. Right now, our big effort is reaching out to Irish women in leadership positions, whether they are C-suite or own their own businesses as entrepreneurs.
“The big push for the next quarter will be to film these women and distribute their wisdom back into the U.S. and around the world.”
Some of GenConnectU's most popular courses in 2021 include "teaching and polishing soft skills like leadership 2021, working from home, presenting live and virtually, running a meeting from anywhere, networking, storytelling and work/life balance."
Ireland seems to be a good fit in all these areas. The next couple of years will, well, empower the tale.