Donegal-based founder and investor Mary McKenna MBE loves to juggle a few projects at once, but it’s this variety of business life that she loves the most.
The Tyrone native with an exciting portfolio is now focusing her work on empowering female founders.
In 2020, Mary co-founded AwakenHub, along with 4 other women, Clare McGee, Mary Carty, Sinead Crowley and Denise McQuaid. AwakenHub is a community for Irish female founders and it provides a learning and mentoring environment for women who are starting businesses that they intend to scale from day 1.
The motivation to create the social enterprise came from the goal of “making strong and successful female role models much more visible to younger females.”
Mary explains “Since we started almost 2 years ago 2,000 women have engaged with us and attended our online monthly events. We’re currently running Ireland’s only cross-border accelerator, SheGenerate, for a cohort of 56 women. We’re also about to launch our AwakenAngels investment community for angel investors interested in backing Irish female founders.” These programmes help the All-Ireland network to nurture and develop female founders to help accelerate their business to the next level.
Scanning through Mary’s LinkedIn, one can see she juggles her work at AwakenHub with many other roles. In 2018, she became an Expert Advisor to the EU Commission on MedTech, EdTech, Pharma, ICT and Advanced Computing. She also enjoys her role as mentor with the University of Oxford, entrepreneur in residence with Catalyst and non-executive directorship with the Millennium Forum and Mind of My Own, to mention a few!
“Only about half of what I do is listed on LinkedIn. I love everything that I’m involved in these days and that makes it less like work and more like fun. Keeping a lot of plates spinning is certainly a challenge but I’m a people person and I love the variety that my wide range of business interests brings me.”
Joking on her busy lifestyle, Mary says “years ago when people asked me where my office was, I used to point at my handbag and that hasn’t changed!” The hectic lifestyle and wealth of experience makes her the perfect ambassador for entrepreneurs.
Now residing in the fishing village of Greencastle, Mary loves to call the North West her base; “After years of city life in London, it really does feel like heaven.”
Getting started is the key when starting up your business according to Mary. “A lot of people wait until something is perfect and you know what they say … perfect is the enemy of good. There’s so much uncertainty with a new startup and there’ll be so many pivots and tweaks that you end up making, that it’s better not to delay and waste time. Just get started and you’ll figure it out as you go along. My favourite saying about entrepreneurship is “leap and a net will form”.
When asked what advice she would give to upcoming entrepreneurs, Mary’s favourite is a Steve Jobs quote stating, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the unsuccessful ones is pure perseverance”.
In Mary’s view ‘’persistence and resilience are great qualities in an entrepreneur” Given her experience and success, these are qualities worth noting for any entrepreneur.