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27-year-old CEO: taking down the gender barriers to tech with Natalie Pilling, MSc Strat graduate

German-Italian alumnus Natalie is a tech CEO and enthusiast, as well as a leading mentor to women in the industry as the founder of the competitive Dare IT mentorship program in Poland. Graduating in 2015, we’re celebrating her success as part of the 30-year anniversary of our MSc Strategic Management. 

Natalie may only be 30, but looking at her resume, you wouldn’t think it. Steeped with a deep passion for technology, she not only became CEO of a successful software development agency 2.5 years ago, but feeling it was her duty to empower more women to join the tech space, she also founded the highly-competitive woman-to-woman mentorship program, Dare IT. At her young age, she’s already well on her way to creating her legacy. This is her story.

Learning business on the ground

When Natalie finished her undergraduate degree in International Management at the University of Warwick, she knew she wanted to gain a more practical approach to business. “Coming from an Italian-German schooling background, I’d always been used to a very academic, textbook-heavy approach to learning”, she explains. “I was looking for a hands-on Master’s degree in which I could really see and learn things for myself, which the MSc Strategic Management seemed to do.” And, she says, she was right on the money.

“The MSc Strategic Management puts a huge emphasis on applied learning. It taught me how to tackle difficult problems that don't have a black and white answer, which is what I now deal with daily. It teaches you real business life.” 

Start-up life: her calling

With her Master’s degree in hand, Natalie decided to check out the entrepreneurial world. “I took a few entrepreneurship classes at HEC, which piqued my interest in the area. Looking back this is something I really appreciated, as there aren’t many schools that offer that in the same way.”

And she couldn’t have found an earlier-stage start-up. Natalie joined 4-week old ClassicFinder, a company building a trading-platform for classic cars. Clearly taking to start-up life like a duck to water, within two weeks, she was promoted to a team lead position, leading a team of seven people. 

“I was only there for four months, but I knew from then on that I would spend my career in start-ups and fast-moving companies. I absolutely loved the energy of it”, she raves. 

Tech-head

It was at her next job – in business development for travel-software start-up Comtravo – that her passion for tech was ignited. 

“In tech, I love that you can create something so quickly. I'm very driven by self-improvement and evolution, and I love that in software you can do that too”, she explains. “You tweak a line of code and it changes something so tangibly.”

After a year and a half, having set up Comtravo’s back office operations and finetuning their product offer, Natalie was ready for a new challenge in senior leadership.

27 year-old CEO

Enter: EL Passion, the Polish software development agency Natalie’s been heading up for the last two and a half years. Joining the company as Chief Growth Officer, she was promoted to CEO within a mere three months, and she’s brought the company on leaps and bounds since then. Among a myriad of successes, Natalie redesigned the entire marketing and sales strategy team, which the company has reaped a bounty of rewards from.  

Leading 75 people at EL Passion, Natalie is helping to grow the business substantially every year.

Gender diversity: her passion project 

Natalie is passionate about her industry and how it can change the world for the better. However, while working, she often feels like there’s something missing. She explains: “being in tech, I’m very often the only woman; not just the only woman in a senior position, but I’m the only woman in the room. I felt strongly that I could encourage and support more women to enter the industry, and that’s why we founded Dare IT.”

“Tech impacts every aspect of our daily lives. If these products are predominantly being built by an undiversified workforce, we run the risk of them being biased and exclusionary.”

Founded by Natalie and a colleague, the program is animated by 40 female mentors, helping 40 women to enter the tech market every year; in order to ensure that all members receive thoughtful and thorough guidance, the program has only one mentee to every mentor, making the program highly competitive.

“We received 2000 applicants for only 40 spots last year, which is incredible – but it means that there were still 1960 women we weren’t able to help”, she explains. “My aim next year is to grow the program and find a more scalable way to help even more women enter the tech space, and to take down those gender barriers to tech, one by one.”