Addressing education outcomes
While advising the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy board, founder and CEO Priya Lakhani was astounded by the challenges facing education. “More than 1.8 million children in the UK are underperforming in our schools,” she says. “That’s got to end.”
Lakhani is a former barrister who disrupted food retail by launching fresh ethnic sauce brand Masala Masala. Capitalising on her entrepreneurial track record, she developed an artificial intelligence-driven education development platform.
Century Tech’s platform gathers data as students learn, revealing their learning patterns. The company analyses the data so that parents, teachers and schools have vital insights into students’ educational needs. Automated data collection saves teachers valuable time, Lakhani says, allowing them “to spend more time teaching”.
Innovating in the education sector
Students have a big appetite for digital and while educational technology (edtech) has great potential, the sector is notoriously difficult to disrupt. “However, our algorithms and machine learning could be game-changers in education,” says Lakhani.
The company embarked on early heavy-lifting to get its artificial intelligence ready for the education system. It took two years to build a viable product.
Reaching the final of the acclaimed Techcrunch Awards in 2016 helped the company win early business validation. Its technology was trialled in 20 schools soon afterwards, all of which became customers.
Century Tech continues to work tirelessly to prove its mettle in competing for schools’ limited resources. Lakhani says that clearly, saving time and increasing education outcomes are the main reasons why schools would want to spend money on anything. “So we have to continually prove that we provide these outcomes,” she adds.
Our investors will see a return, but at the same time they are fuelling a positive and exciting development in society.
Priya Lakhani, Century Tech
Focusing on quality human capital
Lakhani has been working closely with the UK education system to ensure that her product is aligned with school goals. She views schools as partners rather than customers, while teachers form part of Century Tech’s design board and provide vital product feedback.
However, differentiating the company’s capabilities relies heavily on recruiting the right calibre of talent. When hiring new recruits, the process involves a “cultural interview”, explains Lakhani. The hiring panels can veto candidates they believe are not fully aligned with the company’s quality focus and values. “Class-A people hire class-A people,” she believes.
This quest for quality is founded on a culture of listening, whether to her staff and the board, or teachers and the wider education system. She explains that her entrepreneur’s journey is about continually learning, being challenged and growing, and “never ceasing to develop our product”.
Attracting edtech capital
Century Tech fought off stiff competition to secure a £250,000 grant from Innovate UK in 2016 for its social impact-driven artificial intelligence product. Just one in 1000 applications is successful for the highly prized grant money from Innovate UK.
The company has also raised £4.3m in equity investment. One of its main investors is Sinclair Beecham, the founder of UK-based international sandwich shop chain Pret a Manger – a noted scale-up success story – who Lakhani describes as incredibly passionate about education.