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International Women’s Day: 10 women blazing a trail in business in the Cambridge region

To mark International Women’s Day this March, the Cambridge Independent shines a light on the local women blazing trails in the world of business.

Maria Manion, chief executive, Cambridge BID

Cambridge BID chief executive Maria Manion. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge BID chief executive Maria Manion. Picture: Keith Heppell

Maria says: “Over my working life I have had the privilege to work with so many inspirational people and have loved all the jobs I’ve done – there have been a few! When I took up the position at Cambridge BID, it was the first time in my career I’d stayed in the same sector. I am a firm believer that skills can be developed and transferred as long as the individual is willing to embrace and learn about the business and sector.

“So where has my career taken me? I have worked for the Health & Safety Executive as a legal and technical editor, Northumbria Police in press and PR and the former Alnwick District Council as Head of Regeneration. I spent a couple of years in Italy where I taught art at the local primary school.

“On returning to the UK I worked as a cusiness consultant; a memorable project was sourcing a building for a youth hostel, opened by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. I then worked for Newcastle City Council on the redevelopment of a number of tower blocks, reintroducing city council mortgages. From there I spent nine years in Watford, seven of them as chief executive of Watford BID.

“The work environment can introduce you to so many different people and personalities, to creativity and diversity. You should enjoy what you do: your career may not define you, but it certainly contributes to the essence of the individual.”

Web: cambridgebid.co.uk and love-cambridge.com / Email: info@cambridgebid.co.uk

Oremeyi Adeola Akah, chief customer officer, Interswitch Group, and graduate, Cambridge Judge Business School

Cambridge Judge Business School - Oremeyi Adeola Akah
Cambridge Judge Business School - Oremeyi Adeola Akah

“Despite early career success in Nigeria's electronic payment industry, I felt a compelling need to expand my international business perspective,” says Oremeyi. “Opting for Cambridge due to its renowned reputation and multicultural focus, I pursued the MBA programme at Cambridge Judge to enhance my strategic skills and contribute to Sub-Saharan Africa's development.

“Winning the Hult Global Case Challenge with my Cambridge MBA peers and engaging in live projects, such as defining market entry strategies for Sub-Saharan Africa, provided invaluable international business exposure. An internship at MasterCard Advisors further honed my strategic analysis abilities.

“My experience at Cambridge Judge not only enriched my academic knowledge, but also facilitated personal growth through interactions with world leaders and equipped me to lead business expansion projects across Africa. Today, I'm back at Interswitch, focusing on expanding into other regions in Africa, leveraging the practical experience and international perspective gained at Cambridge Judge.”

See for yourself how Cambridge Judge Business School is developing the next generation of women leaders like Oremeyi, with its suite of programmes, by joining them on March 8 for an evening of talks, panel discussions, a programme open fair and networking.

Web: jbs.cam.ac.uk/events/ Email: wlc@jbs.cam.ac.uk

Dr Oriane Chausiaux, co-founder, Heartfelt Technologies

Heartfelt Technologies’ Oriane Chausiaux
Heartfelt Technologies’ Oriane Chausiaux

Dr Oriane Chausiaux is a distinguished figure in the medical research, medical device development, and digital health sectors, boasting 20 years of extensive experience. Her academic background in biology, with a keen focus on physiology, has laid the foundation for her innovative work.

As the co-founder of Heartfelt Technologies, Oriane is pioneering the future of heart failure telemonitoring through the development of an automatic, AI-supported, non-contact solution that seamlessly integrates into patients' lives. Her dedication to addressing patient non-adherence has led to the creation of devices designed to be universally accessible, facilitating consistent data collection that enhances patient care and reduces the need for hospital admissions.

Oriane has run 11 clinical trials and pilots, securing CE marking for 12 devices, and successfully navigating six devices through FDA approval processes. Oriane's commitment extends beyond product development to include a strong emphasis on regulatory compliance and project management.

Her innovative approach to medical device development not only aims to solve the £25 billion problem of patient non-adherence, but also represents a significant leap forward in the way patients with heart failure are monitored and cared for, making healthcare more accessible and effective for everyone.

Web: hftech.org / Email: info@hftech.org

Fiona McLeman, managing partner, FM Family Law

Fiona McLeman, of FM Family Law
Fiona McLeman, of FM Family Law

Fiona says: “In 2011 I set up my own legal practice. Many have since said I was brave, but I didn’t feel brave. I’d decided it must be possible to work flexibly, be successful and stay happy. I wrote a modest business plan and set up with no clients, no office and the barest of office equipment. I invested in digital technology, using a cloud-based client management system. The client base grew, I stayed happy, and my clients liked my work, sending referrals of friends and family.

“Fast forward 13 years and the business has 12 staff, three offices and is the largest specialist family law firm in East Anglia. Notably, the team are women. An all-female firm wasn’t the plan, however modest growth came from opportunities along the way and it just so happened that this created an all-women firm. Continued success comes from being agile in our business decisions, and most of all my frankly brilliant team. As to the future? Who knows. I do know that I am still pinching.”

FM Family Law specialises in all areas of family law and mediation. FM Family Law has offices in Cambridge, Newmarket and Norwich.

Email: fiona@fmfamilylaw.co.uk / Tel: 01223 229933

Shaina Galvin, owner and director, The Willow Tree

The Willow Tree - Shaina Galvin
The Willow Tree - Shaina Galvin

After graduating from her hometown university of Liverpool with BA Hons in media and cultural studies, Shaina spent 15 years in London developing a successful career in marketing, event and content production for international brands including Adidas and Playstation. On relocating to Cambridgeshire, she simultaneously operated multiple businesses across both hospitality and interior design.

The focus these days is on The Willow Tree in Bourn and her 10-year-old twins Bo and Fifi - avid footballers, training with Cambridge United girls. She is also currently devoting time to upscaling her skills in interior design and art with renewed creative ambitions. A property renovation project - Willow Hideaway Cottage - is coming to Bourn later in 2024.

The Willow Tree is testament to Shaina’s combined creative and commercial acumen. A unique Cambridgeshire venue that is somewhere between pretty country pub and stunning event venue, perennially popular for weddings, it offers magical dining domes; outdoor events, including cinema screenings, disco brunches and Mad Hatter’s tea parties; and creative workshops in the teepee. Spring is packed full of exciting experiences.

Proud to work with local suppliers, representing good ethics and quality controls, there's a focus on sustainability for The Willow Tree in 2024, working with Allia to move the business towards a net-zero plan. Says Shaina: “We all have to play our part in making changes, even inconvenient ones, for the sake of our children and our future planet.”

The Willow Tree is open for lunch, dinner or drinks, Wednesday to Sunday.

Web: thewillowtreebourn.com/ Tel: 01954 719775

Sarah Hartwell, owner, The Hartwell Blind Company

The Hartwell Blind Co - Sarah Hartwell
The Hartwell Blind Co - Sarah Hartwell

Born in Doncaster, Sarah started out working with horses (her biggest passion, along with sheep). She then got a ‘proper’ job as a PA in the plywood and building renovation sector for 10 years, which kickstarted her interest in interiors.

In 2006, she met Andrew - Mr Hartwell - who had been working in the blind industry for 16 years. With each other’s support, they decided to develop their own business by opening their first showroom in The Traverse, Bury St Edmunds. It was a huge risk, but got off to a great start; this led to the opening of the Newmarket showroom.

“The customer-facing aspect is the best part for me,” says Sarah. “Helping them transform their homes - or even just one tiny window - makes my day. Their feedback means everything and makes me love what I do. The challenges can be huge, but that keeps it interesting!

“The most important part is those who support and share the workload: it is only possible to run a successful business with a great team alongside you. Our team are exceptional, and we are very lucky. Doing the VAT return with a pet sheep helps - it keeps me sane! Lambing starts later this month too.”

Web: hartwellblinds.com / Email: sarah@hartwellblinds.com

Andrea Burrell, founder, Covet Interiors Ltd and Covet Clothing

Andrea Burrell, Covet
Andrea Burrell, Covet

Andrea was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. Throughout her adult life, she has always possessed an entrepreneurial spirit, starting her first business when she was only 20 years old to fund university studies.

After taking a career break to raise her two (now teenage) daughters, she founded an interior design firm on Vancouver Island. Her work on several significant residential projects earned her numerous accolades and recognition.

In 2019, Andrea relocated to Saudi Arabia, but her passion for design could not be silenced. After settling in Newmarket two years ago, she launched Covet Interiors Ltd., providing full-scope residential design services. She is a self-described lover of light, colour, natural materials and bringing together things both old and new, always believing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In this spirit, motivated by her two daughters who are always shopping for preloved clothing, and believing that style is an expression of one’s personal brand rather than following trends, she launched her website covetclothing.com where she sells quality preloved designer fashion for women and children.

Her goal is to add a line of reclaimed, refinished and/or repurposed furniture and home accessories to the Covet brand.

Web: covetinteriors.ltd and covetclothing.com / Tel: 07508 079562

Clair Bryant (CMktr), founder and managing director, The Handy Marketing Company

The Handy Marketing Company - Clair Bryant
The Handy Marketing Company - Clair Bryant

Clair's career journey began with graduating in graphic and website design before moving into the dynamic world of marketing. After returning to Suffolk in 2001, Clair discovered her passion for marketing and deliberately shifted towards this field. Her unique blend of design sensibilities and marketing acumen have proved to be a winning combination.

Over the years, Clair has held influential roles in senior marketing management positions across various sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, leisure and tourism, and manufacturing, where she garnered recognition and acclaim for her strategic contributions.

In 2020, Clair launched The Handy Marketing Company, an award-winning marketing consultancy specialising in providing outsourcing services to a diverse clientele, ranging from startups to national brands. What sets her company apart is its exclusive collaboration with other renowned freelancers and consultants, allowing them to meet the unique needs of each business while staying agile and cost-effective.

In 2022, Clair achieved the prestigious status of Chartered Marketer, awarded by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, highlighting her commitment to staying up-to-date in the field and recognising her extensive experience and qualifications. Clair's career exemplifies her dedication, creativity, and expertise in the ever-evolving marketing industry.

Web: thehandymarketingcompany.com / Tel: 07734 329352

Isabelle Chappell, chocolatier and owner, Chocolat Chocolat

Isabelle Chappell, of Chocolat Chocolat
Isabelle Chappell, of Chocolat Chocolat

Isabelle grew up in London, with her French mother and British father, spending many summers with her cousins in Versailles, where she developed a lifelong passion for all things French, something she celebrated when she moved to France to run an international fashion business.

After a chance meeting with a French chocolatier, she switched careers and trained as a chocolatier in Paris and Brussels, and then moved to Cambridge to found Chocolat Chocolat where, combining her love of French flavours and flair for design, she created a range of chocolate loved by locals and visitors alike.

Isabelle has always been a supporter of young talent and has trained more than a dozen young chocolatiers. Over the years, she has also welcomed several thousand chocolate lovers onto one of her courses to learn about chocolate and/or make their very own handmade truffles. With courses open to anyone who wants a fun chocolate experience, they are also popular with Cambridge’s companies large and small, who have used them for team building or to develop customer relationships.

Isabelle’s chocolate birthday parties have also allowed younger chocolate lovers to celebrate with their friends and make handmade chocolates to share with their family.

Having moved to a new chocolate kitchen just outside Cambridge, Isabelle continues to act as a tireless ambassador for great-tasting chocolate, allowing individuals and businesses to share affordable treats for every occasion.

Web: chocolatchocolat.co.uk / Tel: 01223 778982

Zoe Plowman, audit partner, Ensors Chartered Accountants

Zoe Plowman, of Ensors Chartered Accountants
Zoe Plowman, of Ensors Chartered Accountants

Zoe says: “I’d love to say that I always wanted to be an accountant, but the truth is I stumbled into accountancy. As a school leaver, I had decided that I wanted to work in insurance and liked the idea of becoming a Lloyds Insurance Broker. Some misplaced agency advice later and I found myself interviewing at an insurance company - but for the accounts department! I got the job and started studying for the AAT qualification. A few years later, I moved into practice and started studying ACCA. In 2002 I qualified as a Chartered Certified Accountant.

“Nearly 30 years after starting, I am now an audit partner at Ensors, a firm I have been with for nearly 26 years. In that time, I have flexed, reduced, and then increased my hours to accommodate family needs as I juggled work around my (now grown-up) children.

“I think the key to success is hard work, determination, and most of all resilience. My role today is extremely varied with a mixed portfolio of owner-managed businesses, local authority-owned companies and a keen specialism in DB pension schemes. My role spans both the Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich offices.”

Email: zoe.plowman@ensors.co.uk / Tel: 01284 722300

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