A Charitable Startup An Interview with Founder of Project Access: Anna Gross
Archimede MulasLondon - 03/12/2018
This week CEO had the pleasure to interview Anna Gross, Founder of the startup charity Project Access.
Anna is 100% Swedish, won a scholarship to study in Beijing after her high-school diploma, before going to study at Oxford for her history degree.
Project Access (link) is a mentoring scheme that helps students from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds apply to top tier UK Universities and have access to scholarships. Today they work with the likes of Oxbridge, LSE, Imperial, Durham & more.
As of today, Anna and her team have helped 2,000 students and 3,000 mentors.
Our questions to Anna: Tell us more about starting a Startup in the form of a Charity It’s difficult, very difficult. You have to think about your business plan, revenue model and go-to-market strategy, all while applying to be regulated by the Charity Commission of UK & Wales.
This process took about 7 months, even with lawyers and advisors to help, it's incredibly bureaucratic-
Why did you decide to register as a Charity? We were struggling to get Universities to trust us. Universities get thousands of requests from tutoring companies and promoters every year. Some of these companies have dubious commission structures and not the best integrity towards the students using them.
For us this was a way to stand out, while also proving to be true to our values. A word of advice – before deciding to do it, do more research than we did, as it can close future revenue opportunities.
How does it feel to run a charity? As a charity, we are under a lot more scrutiny than other companies, you need to stick to a business plan, and unlike the nature of startups, we cannot pivot as much.
For companies, there comes a point where they face a lot of pressure to be profitable no matter what. As a charity, this is less of a concern, and we can put more pressure on delivering a service based on our values and ethics.
Nonetheless, Project Access runs a self-sustaining charitable model, where we get paid by universities, or companies, and not by the students. This is different to how charities are usually run, as they have a constant heartache of having to find donors or apply for funding. This is a hit or miss process, which is unfortunate because sometimes you have to let go of some employees regardless of the charity's performance.
How did you start this Project? It was a big gamble. We reached a point where we saw that we had to work on this full time. For that to happen we needed to pay ourselves. But in order to do that, we needed money. We started by making a list of who has a lot of money and could be interested in what we do. It came down to two groups.
Those who have experienced similar journeys (people from underrepresented backgrounds) who are now in executive positions.
Those who are already funding similar programs.
The enlightenment came when we were walking around Cambridge. We started looking at the names of the buildings, and name plaques in the classrooms and corridors. We wrote down every name and sent letters to all the families!
What was the relationship like with your first investor? Our first investor was the Founder of the Mccall MacBain Foundation (link). It was tough love. They funded us enough to survive six-months and only gave us the rest of the money when we reached certain objectives.
We met those objectives, and after a review period they funded us again, enough to survive a further 6 months. At the end of the year they cut the funding when they saw we had created the foundations for starting to generate our own revenues.
Some people might have given up at this point, but it was incredibly helpful, for us. It forced us to become dependent on our own revenues at a very early stage.
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