EdTech and empowering the future of learning


As a CEO and owner scaling up my business, working in the technology sector is an exciting place to be.
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My current focus is on transforming education and training using gamification and Virtual Reality. This has required a mix of problem-solving skills, creativity, the ability to demonstrate a clear vision and a value proposition.

Many entrepreneurs lose out because they do not articulate a compelling value proposition. Yet establishing a substantive proposition is critical if you want to start the journey from your “idea” to building a successful company.

Michael Skok, who writes for Forbes magazine on both entrepreneurship and innovation, describes how you can test a breakthrough idea through the 3Ds. Does it fit with one or more of the following:

Discontinuous innovation - offers transformative benefits over the status quo by looking at a problem differently;

Defensible technology - offers intellectual property that can be protected to create a barrier to entry and an unfair competitive advantage; and/or a

Disruptive business model - yields value and cost rewards that help catalyze the growth of a business.

It is a good sense check to use. It is important if you want to engage investors and the most sceptical of potential customers; something that I have learned from building two businesses. It has been critical recently as I look to reach out to angel investors for SEED funding for my new venture.

My new business, PurpleSmartie, was born from a deep dive into the simple fact that the future of work and the future of learning are strongly connected. A unique personalised training platform powered by ongoing skills data with a global perspective; it is an EdTech solutions business.

Put simply EdTech (education technology) is the study and practice of designing effective instruction using technology, media, and learning theory. While #edtech solutions open up a whole range of possibilities, to be fit for purpose they need both a software/platform delivery model, and content. The quality of the content determines the quality of the learning and development experience.

We have been successfully using Gamification Skills Analysis programmes with a range of clients, including those in the tech sector. We have developed a 30-minute, mobile ready leadership game. It uses typical gaming elements, such as point scoring, competition with others, rules of play, to engage and challenge users to solve problems.

It enables 100% skills gap analysis, business-wide; provides an unbiased skills analysis across departments and can assist with succession planning. With it you can obtain accurate skills data analysis, before and after training. We use it in this way so the client training we provide is focused on a high ROI. It is scalable, cross-generational and cultural, exciting and innovative.

Cloud and mobile computing, artificial intelligence, and increasing automation have created the potential to transform nearly every aspect of a business; learning and development included.

The industry analyst group Gartner produced a paper last year which cited nearly 40 per cent of Chief Information Officers report they are leaders of digital transformation in their enterprise.

What is more these CIOs are being given the opportunity to lead not only in managing delivery, but managing talent and executing effective leadership.

Interestingly, the importance of having both ‘soft’ skills and leadership capabilities as well as expert knowledge is something that I built my first business around. Skills4Stem Ltd is now a mature and successful corporate training business, working within the UK, UAE and further afield. Sister company, Skills4Stem Ireland Ltd, is building on the continued success of Skills4Stem in a growth territory that offers further opportunity and possibility for innovation.

Innovation and talent are closely linked. To encourage new talent into the tech sector we need to get better demonstrating at its practical benefits and multiple points of entry. I did not study Computer Science or Games Development, my first qualification was a BA (Hons) in lighting design.

My career has developed from there because I have an appetite to learn, evolve and am passionate about making a change. Government and educational initiatives are in place to help address the skills shortage in STEM sectors, but I wanted to bring some commercial perspectives to this issue.

Three key points of practical advice to pass on to others:

  • I had the benefit of a senior sponsor who helped me earlier in my career. Mentoring and sponsorship internally within an organisation is something I support as a beneficiary of this approach myself.
  • Networks and the ability to network are also important; and I value the input and feedback I get from these opportunities.
  • Career development and leading your own business requires some risk-taking and advocating for oneself; to paraphrase Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, traits that girls are sometimes discouraged from exhibiting. But we can make a change – person by person.

About the author:

Sarah Davis FCIOB MCIoD, CEO, Skills4Stem Ltd sarah davis

With many years’ experience in the built environment sector, Sarah Davis founded Skills4Stem Ltd in 2014 with the objective of helping to address the current shortage of skills within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with a focus within the Built Environment.

As a graduate herself in the engineering field of Lighting Design, she is well placed to understand the issues that are currently being faced within industry.

Sarah is an FCIOB Chartered Construction Manager. Sarah was instrumental in setting up the CIBSE group: Women in Building Services Engineering (WiBSE). She was a member of the Royal Institute of Architecture (RIBA) Barriers to Women in Architecture Task Force in 2014 and is a current member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Built Environment Executive.

She was also a key member of the Government Task Force on Gender Diversity within the Built Environment with Meg Munn MP, which produced its Building the Future – Women in Construction report in March 2014. Today Sarah has an active role in the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Women in Enterprise.

Sarah was a finalist for the 2015 Women of Achievement in Construction Awards and she was on the judging panel for the European Women in Construction and Engineering Awards 2015. In February 2017 Sarah won Bedfordshire Business Woman of the Year 2017.

Inspirational Woman: Melissa McBride | CEO & Founder, Sophia

Melissa McBrideMelissa McBride is a mum of three and has 16+ years' experience as a teacher.

She’s held various senior roles in London, Canada and the Middle East and became one of the youngest headteachers in the country (at age 29!). After a ‘Sunday morning crisis moment’ over the Maths homework of her own daughter, she left her successful career and set up her own business.  She is the founder of an Edtech app Sophia has been recently featured on Channel 5.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

CEO and Edtech startup Founder of the UK’s first on-demand App for Private Tuition, Sophia.app. Mom of three!  Doing my best to wear a cap and tiara at the same time.

Canadian Trained Teacher - came to the UK in 2005 to teach.  Joined Thomas’s Battersea in 2006 where I developed my teaching career as a teacher, Head of Department and Head of Year.  In 2012 I was appointed to my first Headship as Founding Head of SW London Independent School and went on to open as Founding Head of Primary a British International School in Dubai. In 2016 I supported the opening of King’s College, Doha before returning to the UK to work as Project Advisor to the CEO of a Global Schools Group and leading a 6m pound expansion project as Headteacher for one of the Group’s Independent Schools.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Full disclosure - I never wanted to go into education. At least not during the years leading up to and including my undergraduate degree at University. My mom constantly told me that I would be a great teacher and I told her constantly I'd never go into Education. But I’ve always been an ambitious, ‘what’s next’ person.  Even in my high school days, I worked as a coach and leading was what I was good at. Leadership and team development have become my special skills and I attribute much of my success in my career to building excellent teams.  I can’t say I’ve ever planned out my career, and I certainly would never have seen myself as a Co-Founder and CEO of an EdTech company, but I’m a big believer in ongoing learning and seeking new challenges in order to grow.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

From wrong turns, U-turns and searching for new routes - all of these experiences have shaped my career.  I try not to look at challenges as a failure, more as opportunities for learning.   I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason and if you have a creative positive mindset and surround yourself with a great team, any challenges can be overcome.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’ve been fortunate enough to feel like I have had many achievements.  Being appointed as one of the youngest Independent founding Headteachers in the UK when I was 29 and taking that school to ‘Outstanding' in our first inspection was one of the highlights in Education.  CoFounding an EdTech startup has been another exciting journey.  To lead from the front and bring best practice in safer recruitment in Education to an unregulated private tuition market is fast-paced, challenging and exciting. Seeing the first client book our services and receiving the excellent feedback on tuition sessions  has been a huge highlight after more than 18 months of hard work to make it happen.

’Safety of children’, a topic which seems to be everywhere, yet nobody had thought about the lack of regulations in the private tuition sector. This is something which Sophia, your brainchild, aims to change. How did the light bulb moment come? 

The idea for Sophia actually came one Sunday morning when I was sat at the breakfast table trying to help my daughter with her Year 5 Maths homework. You would think that my background in education would have put me in good stead but the reality is you don’t fully understand the stress and pressure that is put on our children until you experience it first hand with them. Needless to say that particular incident ended in a tantrum and tears (mine and hers) as I was not able to ‘teach her in the way she understood’.

So as with many people, the best ideas to start your own business come from your own personal struggles. What did concern me when I began to investigate private tutors was the lack of regulation. I realised that this sector lacked the Safer Recruitment Process used in schools. Therefore a private tutor working 1:1 with children in their own homes does not need to be suitably qualified or verified with professional references!

So my main aim with Sophia was to deliver the regulations that we expect in our education services replicated in the private tuition sector: Enhanced DBS Checks and Insurance (Public Liability and Professional Indemnity).

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My ability to develop great teams.  Leading from the front, making people feel valued and developing their skill sets.  I always attribute my success to the hard work and involvement of the people who have worked alongside me to make our vision a reality.  Strong leaders are those who can mobile their team and build trust.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

My top advice would be to be open to learning, ask questions, admit when you don’t understand and never be afraid to ask for help.  Be willing to be a lifelong learner and don’t be afraid to get into the weeds to develop your understanding of unknown tech areas.   You don’t need to be an expert, but it helps to have an understanding of the concepts or flow of your design strategy.  Do your research and take your time when making tech appointments; if you get it wrong, own up to it, but take a decisive call and then find the person you need in order to be successful.

Also, being agile is extremely important. What’s exciting about technology is how fast-paced it is and you need to be constantly adjusting to the current climate and market demands. Say for example now, with everything happening around Covid-19, many children, students and parents are looking for ways to minimise disruption in their education and reduce stress from future assessments. Sophia has now launched 1-1 online tuition for clients in London and the wider UK. This wasn’t our initial plan at all, but we’ve identified the need and had to adapt quickly.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I think there is always room for talented people; male or female.  Tech requires you to wear many hats, draw loosely and plan widely.  Women are often experts at multitasking and managing multiple relationships required in tech.  I think we are well-suited to this industry and now that the door has been opened, it’s up to us to go through it and change the dialogue of gender equality in tech.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

So many groups are setting on diversity and gender groups - it’s not about just women in tech, it’s about all minority groups being represented. Starting at the school level, companies can begin to change the narrative amongst children and students regarding opportunities for girls and boys in tech. Breaking gender stereotypes is an opportunity to provide role models and guidance on career opportunities in tech fields.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Provide more opportunities for girls to be introduced to tech from a young age.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Networking events are great, but it’s hard to beat great books which outline the experience of fellow women in the industry.  Join a blog, follow LinkedIn pages of tech women in tech.