Coutu leads founder impact quest

Founders4Schools connects schools and their students with entrepreneurs from the tech business community. In our video interview, founder Sherry Coutu CBE tells Shivvy Jervis about the impact F4S is making – and what worries keep her up at night.

School students are three times more likely to select science, technology or maths for future study if they come into direct contact with entrepreneurs from the technology community.

It is this strong influence on students of direct encounters with employers that lies at the heart of Founders4Schools, a charity that helps students aged 10 to 18 bridge the skills gap that bars them from entering work.

F4S works by connecting students to a growing network of technology business leaders, who offer both wisdom and inspiration. Since starting work in 2011 F4S has created nearly 150,000 student-employer encounters, helping teachers select from 15,000+ business leaders. It prioritises students from disadvantaged backgrounds and deprived areas.

“What we have found – and this was an unintended consequence – is that when we take people from the tech community and put them into schools, three times the number of children choose a STEM subject afterwards,” Sherry Coutu, founder of Founders4Schools told us.

What started out as a manually curated idea to bring inspiring entrepreneurs into schools, F4S has worked with the likes of LinkedIn and DueDil to develop a platform using AI and big data.

Founders4Schools recently launched its new Workfinder app to boost student work experience opportunities.

Coutu is one of the UK’s most respected angel investors but in the last three years has shifted her attention towards campaigning and philanthropy. F4S is her hands-on response to the tech talent challenge facing UK education and industry. The project is driven by a belief that entrepreneurs can inspire students to take up tech careers.

“The most magical thing is when parents come up to me and say do you know my child is now doing this and they didn’t even think about it before,” she said. “Because you introduced them to some really amazing people who allowed them to see a pathway that previously was closed to them just because they hadn’t thought about it.

Coutu admitted that school take-up of the F4S offer was her single biggest worry.

“The hardest thing that really keeps me up at night is getting adoption by schools and by teachers. I think they have so many things available to them and being thrown at them and they are so busy doing their really hard work,” she said.

“We depend on viral – teacher gives another teacher a recommendation, gives another teacher a recommendation. And that seems to be what works. If you think this is great, tell another teacher and do it again.”

Earlier this month, F4S was the winner of the education & skills category at DigitalAgenda’s Impact Awards, in recognition of its innovative use of data to help it deliver its work most effectively, and at scale.

In March Coutu published new research for Founders4Schools that showed that UK firms led by women were growing fast, especially in digital.

In 2015 she led the set up of the non-profit Scale Up Institute to help UK businesses scale up and promote the pivotal role of scale-up business to economic growth.

Jervis has worked as head of digital content at Telefonica, as well as on her own video and presentation projects. Her focus is on the technologies that are helping to transform lives and the world around us.

Video produced by Joe Madden at Paradigm Creative