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Science education is the key to unlocking a brighter and more sustainable future

More about Francis

Forensic Science alum Francis Jones, now CEO and Founder of award winning ed-tech company STEM@Home, spoke to us about his inspiring career journey from secondary school teacher to entrepreneur.

His innovative company provides a step change to the way that GCSE and SEN students access practical science, bringing experiments to the environment that works best for them.

Where did your career journey begin?

During my placement year at NTU, I realised I was not a fan of the claustrophobic nature of laboratory work so when the option of doing a science education module came up in my final year, I took it on a whim and discovered I really enjoyed being in the classroom.

After graduation, I worked abroad as an English teacher for a few years before returning to the UK to do my PGCE in Secondary Education (Chemistry).

After that I ended up working in an Inner-London school as a Science Teacher and progressed into management. I then obtained a scholarship for a masters degree in STEM education which I took to develop my pedagogy.

What led you from teaching into entrepreneurship?

While I was studying my masters, I undertook a micro-course about de-siloing science and the arts. This led to me developing an art piece about the inequalities in science education in the UK.

Eventually this work became a piece of EdTech software, which I sold to a larger firm- this introduced me to the world of entrepreneurship where I experienced first-hand, the highs and lows of being a start-up and it inspired me to pursue my true passion, STEM@Home.

Tell us more about STEM@Home

STEM@Home was developed due to a frustration I had within my own career; how hard it was to get the students to catch up with their required practicals. Due to the logistics of co-ordinating when teachers, technicians, students and classrooms were free, I toyed around with the idea of finding a way to let students do their required science practicals outside of the classroom.

During the pandemic, students still needed to revise science practicals so we sent modified boxes of equipment to students so they wouldn’t fall behind academically. After the lockdowns, I realised how useful this idea was, even after the pandemic.

Realising that curated boxes of science experiments alleviated a major pain point for us made me want to pursue this idea further, which lead me to developing STEM@Home.

What does a typical day look like for you as an entrepreneur?

As a start-up founder, every single day varies. I might be having meetings, writing up funding applications, preparing orders, designing advertising campaigns, organizing our invoices and maybe even designing new products.

Early on in the entrepreneurial journey, you work ON your business but when you make traction, this is when you start working more IN your business and it’s at this point when you realise; “I need to hire people”.

What challenges have you faced with running your own business?

Working in your own company brings many challenges. No matter how much you prepare, you find them with every single opportunity.

When we were releasing our first product line in Summer 2022, our biology products were delayed due to a worldwide shortage of porcelain, caused by COVID-19.

We also had to make a huge change to our business model. Our initial market research indicated that parents were our target customers however when we launched officially in Autumn 2022, our B2C sales were drastically lower than expected due to the cost-of-living crisis, but we noticed a massive uptake in schools purchasing our products.

We pivoted our business model from B2C to B2B and it resulted in some huge B2B orders and most importantly, a major contract with a multi-academy trust.

Looking back to your time at NTU, what still makes you smile when you look back?

One of my old housemates once said; “University is not where you learn about your subject, it’s where you learn about yourself”. This is one of the most accurate statements about undergrad life I have ever heard.

The support I received at NTU was amazing. Whether it was the academic support and banter from Andrew O’Hagan during my degree in Forensics Science, the emotional support Karen Ivey gave me in the international office or the financial support NTU gave me in signposting me to grants, NTU provided great all-around support.

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