I remember the first time that I was told that my idea would never make it. I was even yelled at by one investor and told I should give up and stop wasting people’s time. Or my favorite response: “education is not worth investing in.” Education is the second-biggest sector globally—what could be more important than our children?
Worldwide, more than 600 million children are not taught how to properly read or write. In the UK, my home, millions of children leave primary (elementary) school without these vital skills. This shocked me.
So, in 2013, I founded CENTURY Tech to harness the power of artificial intelligence to improve education, which, back then, was one of the few industries that technology had yet to revolutionize. My team built a product that combined AI, neuroscience, and learning science to personalize learning while empowering teachers to perform even better as educators. But more fundamentally, as a social impact enterprise, we simply wanted to make the world a better place.
However, as we all know, nothing in the world comes for free—and this is especially true in the cut-throat world of investment. How do you convince seasoned investors that your vision is worthy of their time, attention, and funds—one that will deliver a strong return on their investment? Any impactful, long-term solution starts as a bright-eyed, optimistic dream, but this means nothing if you fail to persuade investors that you can deliver results.
Validating Your Impact
It can be very challenging to convince partners and investors that your solution is the real deal. Investors welcome visionaries, but fundamentally they want proof: Does it work? How do you know? Who can vouch for you? From an investor’s perspective, education is far from the sexiest sector—returns can be lower and can take longer to materialize. Therefore, it was even more vital for us to validate our impact.
That’s where programs like MIT Solve come in. In September 2018, I flew from London to New York to pitch CENTURY at Solve Challenge Finals for the Teachers & Educators Challenge. After the Challenge judges grilled us on our technology from a technical perspective and our impact from an educational perspective, we were chosen as a Solver. We joined an illustrious list of companies that offer innovative yet effective ways of improving the world. It was a vital moment in our growth.
Going through such a rigorous due-diligence process—having your product reviewed in microscopic detail by such a renowned institution—was valuable validation of our impact. MIT Solve represents a true standard of excellence and signals that a solution is more than just a hopeful dream.
Opening Additional Avenues for Growth
Solve has connected us to decision-makers with the right resources as well as fellow entrepreneurs. MIT’s network and contacts have opened doors to avenues that we would otherwise have not been able to access. During the two-day event in New York alone, we met new partners to collaborate with, from Education Ministers wishing to deploy AI technology in their schools, to investors and contacts in harder-to-reach communities.
Since becoming a Solver, CENTURY’s headcount has doubled in size, funding has increased, and we have begun groundbreaking work applying our technology at a governmental level. We’ve helped Syrian refugees in the Middle East get a good education. Our technology was put under an international spotlight, increasing our global exposure.
Most importantly, the lives of thousands of teachers and students across the world have been improved—yet none of this would have been possible without Solve’s recognition and support.
Students learn on Century Tech's platform. Photo: Century Tech