From an idea to a social enterprise

Find out how attending Teach First's Innovation Booster led Tom Harbour to create his social enterprise, Maths with Parents.

It’s an understatement to say that Tom Harbour has had a busy year. As a Teach First Ambassador who continued to teach after completing the Leadership Development Programme, Tom’s story started when he noticed a problem in his classroom, namely how low attainment linked to low parental engagement.

Having reached out to Teach First’s Innovation Unit, Tom decided to take action by attending the Innovation Booster in the summer of 2016. Hear from him about the impact this one-day event had on him, and how he subsequently went on to win the Innovation Award 2017 with his idea Maths with Parents (@parentmaths).

What motivated you to attend the event?

Before the Innovation Booster, I had formed an idea for helping parents understand the maths that their children were learning at school. I initially thought I would make a set of resources that I'd give away to schools for free. When a friend pointed out that I could never do that sustainably, I figured I needed some advice on how to make a real, self-sustaining social enterprise out of my idea.

What were your highlights of the Booster?

I think the most exciting thing for me was being in a room with lots of other people who had also identified problems in the education system and wanted to have a go at fixing them, and experts who knew how to go about it in reality. The highlights were definitely the 1:1 conversations I had with experts and fellow attendees throughout the day, and the contacts that I made. After the sessions, I stayed in touch with several of the experts, and made new links that are still useful today.

What is your biggest tip for anyone attending the Booster?

Plan your time carefully in advance. There are too many useful sessions going on to attend them all. I was very fortunate that my friend volunteered to come along with me; they went to all the sessions that I couldn't and we compared notes afterwards. 

Could you tell us how you felt afterward?

Honestly, I felt a combination of inspired and overwhelmed! I went to a few sessions (like one on pricing) that didn’t have direct relevance for me at the time, but have become more useful as I progress with Maths with Parents.

What was your journey after the Booster?

One of the key ideas I got from the Booster was to pull together a Minimum Viable Product, which you can then start testing with real schools. By September 2016, I had five trial schools using a very basic version of Maths with Parents. I was emailing every teacher to find out what they were teaching, then I uploaded my videos and games to match the material, and I sent them back for the teacher to distribute to parents. Because parental engagement is such a challenge for schools, I learnt that even this basic version of Maths with Parents was proving useful to teachers and parents. Once I had a product in place, I was able to get IT support to help me develop a much better system. By January 2017, the Innovation Award was the perfect fit. As one of this year’s Award Winners, it gives me the opportunity to really dig down into the impact that Maths with Parents is making, make our solution as good as possible, and of course, the six months’ salary is a big help until the organisation becomes self-sustaining!

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