School of Code: Chris Meah and Bhish Patel

With a digital skills shortage set to cost the UK economy £63bn a year, this start-up is using gamification to teach people how to code

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Names: Chris Meah and Bhish Patel
Company name: School of Code
Location: West Midlands
Date Launched: November 2016
Twitter handle: @theSchoolOfCode

Tell us what your business does:

School of Code is the world’s first multiplayer coding platform, using gamification and social learning to encourage people to learn how to code.

Users can learn how to code together with a mentor, and even compete against each other. Having this social interaction means more support is built into the learning process to help people stick at it, and over time, it builds a community of coders that can motivate and upskill everybody and anybody with an interest.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

Currently the UK is lacking key digital skills amongst its workforce which is estimated to cost the economy £63bn a year in lost additional GDP. One of the reasons that there simply isn’t enough people who want to learn skills such as coding is because online/self-learning can be a lonely journey. Often people feel they don’t have support around them to help when they get stuck or bored, so they quit and think coding “isn’t for me”.

To combat this, we made a multiplayer coding platform so that people can team up and go through that journey together. By making coding fun, accessible and an interactive learning experience with those around you – our goal is to change how people learn online.

How did you know there was a market for it?

Over 90% of people who start online courses end up dropping out. The main barrier to learning to code is support and motivation – many people get stuck and bored, particularly with online courses where no one is helping you.

If you don’t have an innate love of programming, only the people with support tend to make it through – our idea is to build that encouragement into the platform itself.

On top of this, the success of online multiplayer gaming and the extent to which we use social media tells us that people are social animals and are used to engaging socially online. So we thought, “why can’t we help people to learn in a social way?”.

What were you doing before starting up?

Meah: I started the School of Code while I was doing my PhD in Computer Science and Biomedical Imaging at the University of Birmingham (where I also complete my MSc and BSc in AI and Computer Science). I wanted to get more and different types of people into coding and benefiting from the tech industry.

There are great opportunities and tech will only increase its influence in the future – but there is huge unemployment and people getting left behind the wave of tech influence. There is a great chance to promote social fairness with technology, so our aim is to give everyone the opportunity and support to learn the skills needed to get ahead.

Patel: Prior to starting the School of Code I was working as a software developer for a multi-national investment bank. Whilst working in the London office I rotated through several roles and gained experience across several facets of the corporation.

The most exciting and testing challenge was working in the algorithmic trading team – developing automated systems for trading across global stock exchanges. This required an in-depth knowledge of market trading, a complex knowledge of computer science and thorough diligence – as mistakes could be costly.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

Meah: I’m one of seven children, and pretty much everyone in my family is entrepreneurial! It comes from our parents for sure.

Patel: Absolutely; my parents have run a local, family-owned business for many years and have always encouraged entrepreneurship since a young age. Seeing them build their business from nothing and establish themselves as part of the local community has been inspiring. Their efforts have shown me that running a business is hard work but that hard work can pay off.

How did you raise the money?

So far we have received pre-seed cash from The Key Fund as part of the Dotforge Accelerator.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

The School of Code platform provides a route for individuals with little or no coding ability to upskill themselves. It’s a free platform where users can learn basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript skills. Following this we provide subscription access to both our entire community of learners (so you can team up and code with anyone) premium content and a full curriculum which allow learners to go from beginner to coding pro.

Secondly, the School of Code platform is sold to secondary schools and colleges to provide coding education to students to go hand in hand with the newly-introduced computing curriculum.

Thirdly, the multiplayer platform is an ideal way to interview candidates for programming jobs. Coding interviews are historically rubbish! Using School of Code, candidates drop into teams to solve real-world problems together in real-time. We analyse how they work and communicate in a team as these are crucial soft skills which are integral to a business environment.

The platform enables you to get real insight into a person, and on top of that the candidates enjoy the experience as they are playing a coding game!

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Deciding on how and where to direct limited resources has called for some tough decisions – like most young start-ups we are lacking in time and money!

We always ask ourselves a combination of two questions: what is the leanest way to showcase what we’re trying to achieve and how can we accelerate growth. Whilst it’s not always as simple as applying these two questions to every scenario, it certainly helps when faced with the many opportunities and paths that can be travelled.

What was your first big breakthrough?

So far, we had lots of success working with the BBC Midlands this summer, teaching parents and kids to code together.

We’ve also worked in partnership with CRISIS, the homelessness charity, to teach digital skills to people and we’re excited to work with Hack Your Future, to support programming courses for refugees.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Meah: Don’t listen to advice, apart from this, and maybe not even this!

Patel: I think this is a cliché but: Have belief in what you do otherwise what’s the point in doing it?

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Our aim is for School of Code to teach the next generation coding in a fun and social way. We are at the beginning of that journey, and want to be in every school in the UK to make sure every child has access to a top-class tech education.

We also want to help individual learners find a community where they can learn to code together, and help, support, or compete against each other so that they stay motivated throughout the coding journey.

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