How our start-ups are disrupting

When people think about the word disruption, they often think of major players such as Airbnb. But start-ups all around the UK are disrupting in their own ways, solving problems and issues with ingenious approaches. Here are three entrepreneurs supported by Virgin StartUp who are doing just that.

Jonny Pryn, One Third Stories

One Third Stories create bilingual storybooks using a unique method developed by the founders to teach children languages without them realising they’re learning.

Despite running a business that gets children learning foreign languages through storybooks, I’m not exactly a linguist myself. I hated French at school - and yet now I look at people like my co-founder, Alex, who speaks five languages, and I’m insanely jealous.

I don’t want children to grow up with the same negative experience of languages and only regret it when they’re old enough to hitchhike to Morocco, fall in love in Paris, or help a tourist with directions on the tube. We started One Third Stories so that children could get excited about languages at an early age and get a head-start on reaping all the benefits that go along with that. 

When you look at books from most educational publishers, it’s clear their focus is very much on the education side of things. Our approach is to deliver education through entertainment, which means the books we make have to be beautifully illustrated and loads of fun as a top priority. A big part of that is our unique Clockwork Methodology™, which allows us to introduce foreign vocabulary gradually through a story. Learning becomes a by-product when the book you’re enjoying starts in English and ends in a different language.

In the beginning, it was certainly very hard to convince people in the world of publishing and investment that we could make our idea into a viable business. But when we started sharing our book ideas with the people they were designed for, we suddenly had hundreds of home educators in a Facebook group wanting to try a prototype, teachers reporting great results in the classrooms, and ideas for our next story pouring in from children. That inspired us to launch our first physical book through a Kickstarter campaign, which ended up raising over £35,000.

I imagine I’ll still be plodding along to evening French classes when I’m in my seventies, and I hope that one day one of the teachers will begin the lesson by explaining that they started learning another language because of this book they used to read when they were a kid. They’ll pull it out and it will be this battered, faded, well-loved copy of one of our books. Inspiring just one person to learn another language would be an achievement, as far as I’m concerned.

But if we could do the same for hundreds, thousands maybe even millions of children? That’s the ultimate aim – to completely change current attitudes to language learning and make it something children absolutely love doing. 

Ceyda Sezer, SEZER

Ceyda Sezer is a plus-size model, entrepreneur and campaigner who’s recently launched her first premium fashion collection, which goes up to a size 26.

I had been working as a plus size model for four years, and realised the industry wasn’t moving fast enough. The options available for girls over a size 16 were limited and outdated, not to mention non-existent in the premium realm. So I decided I would try and change things myself.

From being a consumer and then a model working behind the scenes, the frustration I felt sparked an opportunity not only to create contemporary premium plus-size wear but a brand that ranges from UK 8-24, that merges the divide, and that makes it a norm to carry larger sizes.

I hope I can pave the way for other brands to go up to larger sizes. I also hope to stock SEZER in Selfridges, Net-A-Porter, Matches and other luxury retailers so girls of all sizes can finally feel like they are worthy enough to treat themselves. Lastly, by using a variety of sized models we want to be representative and hope this will have a positive impact on the self esteem and confidence of women who see this. 

If you want to change things, where there’s a will there’s a way. Work around the obstacles. Being an amateur gives us an important advantage - we're not capped by what an expert understands is possible. In fact we might have no idea what is possible, so the sky’s the limit. 

Sacha Atherton, Premier Parents

Premier Parents is a recruitment agency that aims to tap into the potential of parents looking for part-time and flexible roles.

I’m a single mum and have worked full time since the age of 16. Over the years I worked really hard to develop a career and a great skill set, despite huge challenges (I also lived alone since age 16), and I’ve always been proud of that.

Fast forward 12 years or so, and my daughter was starting school, a really exciting time for both of us and an emotional one for me! Long story short, my employer said I couldn’t reduce my hours - and I resigned. A few weeks later, through frustration at the lack of flexible opportunities and support for working parents available, I decided that recruitment was the missing piece of the puzzle needed to fix this problem. So I created Premier Parents, an ethical recruitment consultancy specifically for parents. 

Through my business I’m bringing awareness to exactly how bad we are at embracing diversity and equality as business leaders in the UK, and I’m also showcasing some of the fantastic untapped talent that I’m able to help employers attract.

It hasn’t been plain sailing, as with any business that challenges mindsets and assumptions. I have struggled to get employers on board with using my services, more than I thought I would. The key challenges are that there is a load of senseless stigma associated with working parents and the “baggage” that they bring, and employers that will consider taking more parents on don’t want to pay me for it - they think they’re doing us a favour. I actually had to start really promoting the fact that we are a recruitment consultancy - you know, a business - offering a very valuable and ethical service. Not to mention the fact that I’m a mum trying to earn a living and grow a successful, profitable business by myself.

But the response from parents and other community-focused organisations has been phenomenal, and shows the difference we’re making. I had over 100 candidates sign up pre-launch just through PR and word of mouth, and I now have around 300. I now have candidates who are really positive about the future and who are proactively going for jobs and interviews. This makes it all worth it for me because I am genuinely able to change lives through this.

My big goal is to move as many unemployed parents into employment, giving them a happy and healthy career and family life. We all love our kids but we still need something for us - we shouldn’t have to stop wanting to do a great job or pursuing our dreams just because we have children. There are so many benefits to employing a working parent, especially a highly skilled one.

If you want to disrupt, you need to have belief. Believe in your cause with everything in you. If you believe in something so passionately that it keeps you up at night and you know that it needs sharing with the world, you probably won’t give up on it no matter how challenging things get.


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