Many people leave school relieved that they will never have to open a maths book again. Not Athena Analytics founder Emily Brick. Maths has always been a passion for her.

She had a wonderful experience with the subject both in school and beyond, something she credits her teachers and friends for.

“I was lucky that I had brilliant and enthusiastic maths teachers throughout school and great friends who also loved it.”

This positive experience led her to study Financial Mathematics & Actuarial Science in college, after which she completed a Master’s degree in Statistics. She became fascinated by data science, a blend of computer science and mathematics, and went on to establish the successful educational technology business, Athena Analytics. It uses mathematics and computer science to support schools in analysing their data.

The formula behind Athena Analytics

Entrepreneurship is not for the fainthearted, but Emily always wanted to set up a business in data analytics. Where other people’s eyes might glaze over at the thought of massive volumes of data, she wanted to transform all that data into something that would be meaningful and useful for an end-user. Having done some work with schools in Ireland analysing exam results, Emily went to Australia and worked in the Department of Education in Victoria.

“I could see there was a big gap in the analytical tools available to schools there versus here.”

This helped inspire her to set up her business in Ireland.

Women in STEM

Emily had a very positive experience with maths in school, where three of her best friends (female) also loved maths. They joined the maths quiz team and represented the school in competitions across Ireland. She believes she was probably lucky to be surrounded by lots of girls who enjoyed maths from an early age. “Our WhatsApp group is still called Mathletes today!”

Now that she works in the area of technology, however, Emily encounters far more men than women. She believes this means there are fewer female role models for young people.

“This may affect the level of new women starting off, but since starting the business I have found that people — men and women — have been so helpful and encouraging to me, as they are eager to increase the number of women working in STEM.”

Setting up a business in Kerry

Starting a company in Kerry is becoming easier as more and more businesses become established here. Emily was delighted with the support she received from other entrepreneurs and business leaders. Even though Athena Analytics was a completely new technology business, Emily received advice early on from founders and CEOs of hugely established and successful international businesses.

“This was possible because they are Kerry-based businesses passionate about creating employment and new businesses in the county.”

She also highlights other local supports in Kerry.

“KerrySciTech ( now Tech Industry Alliance) has been great for linking with other technology businesses and also offers great practical supports, like tools for recruitment. The Local Enterprise Office in Kerry is incredibly helpful and has been a great support to my business.”

The co-working scene is another advantage. “I am based in HQ Tralee, where has meant I was able to have a professional set up with high-speed internet from the start.”

Emily believes many highly qualified, ambitious people live in Kerry because of the great lifestyle it offers.

“This means for a new business setting up, there are great people available to work with you, who would not be available if you were based in a big city (they would be working at Google!).”

Encouraging the next generation

Inspiring young people to choose a career in STEM starts with showing them that technology is exciting. Emily strongly supports groups like CoderDojo, which teaches young people how to code. “These should be promoted and supported. They expose young people to the possibilities and fun side of technology from an early age.”

Her advice for anybody wondering about their options after school is to look at their favourite subject and pursue something general in that field. Maths is a good area to study if you enjoy it because it gives you a range of options in terms of careers. You don’t have to worry about specialising from the start. She points to her own experience.

“My main worry about studying maths was that I would spend all my time working at a desk. My job now is a lot more varied than that and I have also discovered that working at a desk is not boring — once you’re working on the right thing!”

She also recommends computer science as a career to pursue.

“It is an exciting field to work in, with huge possibilities. Kids now can start learning to code at such a young age, it is exciting to think of the ground-breaking technologies they are going to build.”

And, who knows? —they could end up working in Athena Analytics. Emily hopes to expand the company in Kerry, hiring more people in data science and computer science and building a bigger business with more products driven by mathematics and technology.