A mentor's influence on Future Startup Now Founders

Mentee and Future Startup Now Founder, Sara Berkai explains the impact mentor Gabby Cummins had on her time on the programme

14 August 2020

Meet Sara:

  • Who is building Ambesa, a business which enables children to build the worlds they want to live in using STEM toy kits.
  • Has a background in edtech (teacher, researcher at UCL, data analyst at Stemettes, volunteered in edtech roles whilst at Cisco/Amazon)
  • Is commencing a MSc in Child Development at Oxford studying the role of tech-enhanced learning on refugee child development
  • Runs AOI (@agentsofimpact) social innovation workshops for 16-18 year olds

Meet Gabby:

  • Who works as Head of Operations at Learn Amp (an employee learning engagement platform)
  • Was previously Engagement Partner at Aula (a social learning platform that enables all educators to engage all students) and Head of Operations at Learnerbly.
  • Has prior experience as a teacher with Teach First and at the Department of Education

One of the main incentives in applying to the Future Startup Now Founders is being paired with a mentor as part of the Meet a Mentor scheme by Create Jobs. I was appropriately matched with Gabby who has an extensive background in edtech. We met at the end of my first week on the programme week and I felt instantly comfortable.

Session One:

In this first meeting, we built a personal development plan outlining my current situation, short-term and long-term aspirations (5, 10 years). It became obvious that the central theme of my goals is to democratise education and technology. Using this framework as a basis, I was then able to outline what I specifically wanted to get out of the course.

Action Plan:

Gabby helped me build an action plan with SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) for the next four weeks. We would then use this framework as a reference in each session to track progress.

In each following session, we reflected on the programme’s weekly activities; including minimum viable product, legal and financial essentials. It was incredibly useful to talk through the lesson content and how it relates to my business idea specifically. My tasks/goals sheet would grow accordingly.

Imposter Syndrome:

My personal development was largely tailored around confidence and interpersonal skills. A particular mental barrier to building a landing page or pitching to as many people was that it felt almost fraudulent. For example, my mission statement is “enabling every child to build the worlds they want to live in” but I would worry how am I doing that daily, i.e. actually doing something, always felt better than talking about it.

To combat this, Gabby suggested I write an ‘About Us’ page outlining my mission statement - creating a vision of what would be. This helped frame any communications/marketing but also meant I could use any outlined vision statements as a sounding board. Gabby would always remind me that done is better than perfect and to keep iterating as I go along.

Business model:

A stumbling block within this business development was focusing on a business model. Gabby used another framework to help simplify this process asking:

  • Who is the customer?
  • Who receives value?
  • What is the value proposition?
  • How do customers reward you?
  • Where does it reach them?
  • What relationship does each customer segment expect you to establish/maintain?
  • What key activities do you perform every day?
  • What key resources do you need to deliver value?
  • Who are your key partners?
  • What are your costs?

I was stuck between business models and after answering Gabby’s questions it became clear to me that I want to offer a similar model to TOMs shoes, where for every kit purchased in the UK, a refugee child out-of-school receives one for free. Going through this exercise with someone else meant

Pitch week preparation

In our final two sessions, I went over my pitch deck with Gabby who provided great feedback. My pitch deck drastically changed throughout these two weeks, making my story clear and precise. Thanks to Gabby’s encouragement I felt more prepared for the final pitch week!

In retrospect, having a mentor has been such an indispensable part of this programme, for the following reasons:

  • Accountability: Each week, I would have to discuss deliverables based on the framework we built together. Having someone to check-in with each week has helped me feel accountable and this was added motivation to do the work.

  • Challenges you: Gabby and I worked through different tools and I was challenged in areas I hadn’t considered as heavily (for example, price points or sustainability).

  • Resources: We worked through frameworks to help when I was stuck in my business development process and I received great recommendations of resources to look outside of our sessions (i.e. The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers and Learn If Your Business is a Good Idea when Everyone is Lying to You).

  • Encouragement: It’s also lovely to hear such kind supportive words each week and someone championing you as the programme went along. Excited to continue being Gabby’s mentee as my business develops!