Meet David Sobo, Chief Operating Officer at Ultra Education. Find out about Ultra’s mission to empower children and young people who suffer from disadvantaged backgrounds, and how Work.Life spaces have helped the Ultra Education team get together in-person.
Hi David! Can you tell us a bit about Ultra Education and your mission?
We exist with the mission to positively impact the lives of all children and young people (from as young as 7 years old to 18+), with a particular focus on those who might suffer from disadvantages due to social background, colour of their skin, how much money they have or where they come from.
We use entrepreneurship as a vehicle to draw out and increase confidence and to instil a level of resilience in children and young people; an understanding that failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing (actually in a lot of situations, it can be a good thing!)
But really, although what we’re doing is teaching children the fundamentals of how to start and run a successful business, what we are really doing outside of that is instilling in that cohort, a belief that they have the capacity to go beyond expectations.
The skills young people learn from our entrepreneurship courses and workshops are fundamental skills to any business that you go into. You’re telling them you could go into any business and take on a senior role; you have that capacity to go far beyond where you might believe you can go, irrespective of your background and what you look like, and where you come from.
What do the courses and workshops involve?
We have a curriculum that we work to, fundamentally based on a number of key principles.
One is that we define entrepreneurship as doing what you love and making money from it. So it’s absolutely underpinned by identifying; what is your passion? What do you really enjoy?
Then, once you can identify what your passion is, do some research to understand if there is a market for it. Who else is doing it? Are they successful or not?
We then teach the fundamentals of sales and marketing, and how you can start a business in the most cost effective way, how you can sell your product and or service, profit and loss and so on.
And then finally, we give them the opportunity to define, hone and practice their pitch thus enabling them to sell their products and services. We run an annual Youth Business Fair and we try to do these at really impressive locations like flagship banks, and shiny office buildings. We’re fortunate enough to be taking our 8th (yes, 8th!) Youth Business Fair to Wembley Stadium on 30th April this year.
And how do you deliver these courses and workshops?
We deliver in a number of different places. We do quite a bit of working in schools with class takeovers, after school clubs and assemblies, as well as with youth organisations.
We also have partnerships with some local councils that allow us to deliver in their areas, and with housing associations, who ask us to work with their residents. So there’s a number of different ways that we deliver the curriculum; it can be anything from an assembly in a school for an hour, all the way through to a 12-16 week program and these can be group sessions or one to one where we provide additional mentoring and support for young people at risk of being NEET (not in education, employment or training), entering the criminal justice system and also for those with special needs.
How many of you are there in the Ultra Education team?
There are 15 of us altogether, some working full-time and some part-time, plus a number of volunteers who support us through various initiatives.
We have an operational team, a project management office, an education team – a lead facilitator and then teaching facilitators delivering to schools.
David & some of the Ultra Education team, the Deputy Mayor for London for Business, Rajesh Agrawal and Councillor Muhammed Butt, the Leader of Brent Council.
How did you start working with Work.Life?
I posted a project on Matchable, an online platform which matches volunteering projects with employees. We’ve used it a bit in the past but the match with Sophie Turnbull, Commercial Director for Work.Life has been really helpful on a number of different levels.
Ultra have a number of different partnerships, but we don’t do anywhere near enough work with corporate organisations. Sophie and I have been spending time on a weekly basis coming up with a marketing plan we can use to share what we do for education with organisations that might be willing to provide a level of support.
It’s not about money, but sites. We talk about exponentially increasing the number of young people that we positively impact, and one of the best ways we can do that is to get more funding in to grow our reach. And it’s kind of a largely untapped territory for us, the corporate space – so working with Sophie is proving really useful, particularly for me to try and figure out the best way to design and build a campaign that we can use to target the corporate space.
How have Work.Life spaces helped Ultra?
The other key area Sophie has helped us with is providing physical space for our team to meet. We have access to use meeting rooms and workspace. Personally, I was looking for somewhere to get out of the house to work so it’s been really useful to use the Work.Life Flex membership and work from various different coworking spaces in London and Reading depending on where I am. Most of our work is based in and around London, so it’s quite nice to go in and just spend an hour or two doing a bit of work in a productive workspace that’s got some nice friendly faces as well.
I also try to bring the team together to meet in-person semi-regularly. Although we’re primarily remote for now, we run an in-person team meeting once a month. We’ve visited Work.Life Holborn and Work.Life Farringdon.
We spend the day brainstorming, working through how we can be more efficient, how we can be leaner in some of our functions, and provide a better result to our customers and to our beneficiaries. So it’s been really, really useful to have the screen in a meeting room, a whiteboard, and a comfortable setting with snacks and coffee to all have a brilliant in-person session.
And do you see the team moving into your own office?
Absolutely. I think that it’s so important. The geography of the team at the moment would make that a challenge, but I certainly would welcome the opportunity when eventually our business is in the right place to have a location that we can go into regularly. In my opinion, you get so much more achieved when you get people together, and it’s incredibly important we get to spend face time together at least a couple of times a week.
What’s coming up for Ultra in 2022?
We have big plans! The first one is diversifying our income, which Sophie is helping us with.
The second is diversifying our delivery and the types of businesses we partner with. For example, I just got off a call earlier this morning with Vivienne Westwood, the fashion designer, and we’re looking to run a program with them, to inspire young people to see fashion as a viable career.
Hopefully, assuming things go according to plan, we’ll be taking some young people into the Vivienne Westwood Studios in Chelsea and into their warehouse so they can see how the clothing is designed. They’re going to offer one or two internships with the organisation. Just another example of different diverse ways that young people could aspire to be something more than they perhaps believe that they could be. So that’s the second thing, diversifying our delivery from the bottom up.
Finally, we want to increase the number of locations as well. We’re currently primarily London-centric and we do have a franchise out in the West Midlands as well, but the team are spread over the UK and we want to make use of that, to widen our reach around the UK and beyond.
We want to make this available to every young person irrespective of geography and social background – it’s going to take some time to achieve our goals, but we’re absolutely on that journey to get there!
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