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CEO Jonathan May on creating a worldwide network of interconnected educational ecosystems

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Name:

Jonathan May

Role and company:

Founder and CEO of Sponsorcraft

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric):

We’re a startup → meaningless right now.

Employee numbers:

6

Growth forecast for the next three years:

50 universities by close of 2014, 500 by close 2015, and 5,000 by close 2016. By the end of 2017 we expect to be doing well over £30m in revenues.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

We have the best technology platform to help education sector institutions engage networks and fundraise from them: whitelabel crowdfunding platforms.

What’s the big vision for your business?

We want to create a worldwide network of interconnected educational ecosystems. The world is dependent on our education system, and our education system is constantly under threat from volatile markets and even more volatile government policy.

We want to liberate ideas and people to create our future, by providing tools and programmes to bring accessible social funding to the education sector worldwide.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

We have just established our first international sales channel partners in the US and Australia, and we intend to go worldwide through partnerships in the next two to three years.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:

I tend to block these out, but it was leaving a company that I had poured a lot of energy and money into when I realised that the team was never going to work. It doesn’t matter how good an idea is, how big the market is, but the old cliche holds true – a good team can make a bad idea work, but a bad team can destroy even the best of ideas.

I learned that it’s important to work with people you feel good about, who inspire people around them, and who deliver more than just their job description.

What makes you mad in business today?

Corporate structures are broken. Large companies borrow at cheap rates, benefit from massive tax breaks (or find ways to avoid taxes altogether) and pay out huge bonuses and dividends to shareholders when things go well. When things go badly, the losses are usually social, with their customers, stakeholders or the government picking up the pieces.

Most of this is driven by the existence of a short-term profit motive, which in turn is driven by high-frequency trading and a lack of long-term investment hypotheses. We need to seriously rethink these structures – there are some good ideas (minimum terms to hold shares, or doing away with shareholders completely). 

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

In a sector that has tripled university fees in as many years, and where massive open online courses (MOOCs) barely existed three years ago, it’s hard to say! The education sector is becoming increasingly connected and digital – that is not going to change. We think the development of online communities will become increasingly important, as will the connectivity between universities and the outside world.

The relevance of educational establishments to the general public through MOOCs and other digital, web engagement is probably going to cause the biggest shift.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

Currently, there’s no shortage of finance for start-ups – SEIS and EIS, coupled with staggeringly low rates on current/deposit accounts – has led to a glut of funding for start-ups. Couple this with the growth of acceleration programmes in the UK, and there’s no shortage for early-stage cash.

As we scale, we’ll find out more – ask us again soon!

How would others describe your leadership style?

Creative, energetic and inspirational. I can be hard to deal with as my ideas come with a lot of energy, so sometimes people feel a bit like they’ve been through the washing machine when talking to me. These are traits that are great for getting things started, building teams, stripping out bureaucracy and breaking down barriers. As we scale, I’ll need to pour more of this energy into our products, and put more formal processes in place for the business side of things.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

To be honest, just good food and good wine. London – where I am currently based – is a playground for the senses.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

Whenever big things fall apart it opens up lots of opportunities for entrepreneurs. When big companies fail, they should be allowed to. If the market is really there, competitive alternatives will step in to pick up the pieces.

When considering the role of government, rather than privatization of services, a better solution is devolution of these services to local government – either councils, or even to new organisations who operate on an even more local basis. Economies of scale are often touted as a reason for centralization, but in a digital, connected world these are often overstated. Devolving control enables more diverse organisational input and enables smaller players to pitch to run local services. This stimulates opportunities and local economies, and also makes is more likely that capital will remain within its local communities rather than being extracted abroad.

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