It’s back to school in the UK this week but it’s not just pupils who have been returning to the classroom. Increasing numbers of successful business leaders are also going back to school thanks to a fast-growing initiative called Founders4Schools.
Founders4Schools connects teachers and schools with founders of growing, successful businesses in their local area with the aim of igniting new ideas about careers. Open to all 11-19 years olds in the UK, the organistion makes it "super easy" for schools to set up an event with an inspiring speaker who will introduce pupils to the wide range of jobs emerging in our new technological landscape. The world of work has changed, and these role models are perfectly placed to say, 'Do as I do' and then help the next generation discover the skills and qualifications they need to do it.
Founder4Schools was set up by Sherry Coutu CBE, one of Britain’s most successful angel investors, and founder of several successful companies herself including LoveFilm and LinkedIn. I first heard Sherry talk about Founders4Schools at TEDx Houses of Parliament in July 2014. As a parent myself, her comments about the way our children were being prepared, or rather not being prepared, for the emerging digital and STEM economy, really stood out for me:
“I don’t understand how we can have one million new science, engineering and technology jobs being created in the UK by 2020 and 5.8 million people forecast to be needed to create and design apps in the next four years alone. I don’t understand how it’s possible that children come out of school and university prepared for jobs that were and not for the jobs that will be or even are. This is a problem that made me feel nervous and I wanted to try to change it."
And change things Sherry did. In 2011, she put a group of highly successful entrepreneurs in front of 2,450 students as part of a series of industry events called Silicon Valley Comes to the UK. Experienced, inspiring thinkers were connected with young minds with striking results, and the idea for Founders4Schools was born.
I was fortunate to meet Sherry recently and asked her what she'd seen in those early events that convinced her to expand Founders4Schools into a national network.
“I saw the events make a profound difference,” Sherry said. “At the end of just one session, these small groups of pupils had significantly changed their aspirations and improved their life chances. There are 3.7 million pupils in secondary education in the UK and I became very excited about the prospect of creating impact at scale.”
While the first London events featured iconic celebrity entrepreneurs, Sherry believes local entrepreneurs can be just as impactful in terms of inspiring young people who are considering their next steps after school – if not more so. “If you grew up within 20 or 30 miles of a school, you will understand the challenges young people face as well as the scope of exisiting and emerging opportunities in that area,” Sherry explained.
Speakers are also carefully selected so schools need not fear any Apprentice-style ‘You're Fired!’ antics when they open their doors to their local business community.
Sherry herself is well known for her positive and nurturing attitude in business; she has a renowed ability to bring out the best in growing companies. These qualities clearly carry through to her latest venture. Founders4Schools is set up to be straightforward and non-intimidating for everyone involved: schools, parents and most importantly the pupils.
The service is also free; there is no cost for a school to sign up. Oh, and we can vouch for the "super easy" bit too. The website says it can take as little as 4-minutes to register interest for an event and it does. We tried it. Parents can also sign up on behalf of a school, and from early 2016 there will be a dedicated Parent Portal on the Founders4Schools site.
While there are very obvious benefits for schools and their pupils in setting up an event, I wondered if there was a common theme among the super successful business leaders in terms of what they wanted to get out of going back to school. Sherry said: “One of the biggest inhibitors of growth for successful British companies can be lack of available talent. So business leaders benefit from giving their time to nurture future potential employees. Founders4Schools really is a win/win situation for everyone."
Before we ended our chat, Sherry shared a statistic that really brought home the impact that Founders4Schools can have on school community. At the end of a recent talk, 54% of the students said they wanted to find out more about business planning or technology skills, compared with a national average of just 24% of pupils who currently continue STEM subjects post-16. This was after just one event.