Interview: Simon Pridham, co-founder of Aspire 2Be

Technology is having a profound impact on education. Not only is it making learning more fun and interactive for youngsters, but it’s also streamlining the teaching process.

As a market, edtech is extremely lucrative. In fact, according to a report from EdTechXGlobal, spending in the industry is expected to reach $252 billion by 2020.

While tech giants such as Microsoft and Google are making major waves in the edtech space, there are some great start-ups also leading the way.

Aspire 2be, which is based in Swansea, is one of them. We recently caught up with the firm’s co-founder Simon Pridham, who happens to be a former headteacher.

TD: Who are you, and what do you do?

SP: I’m Simon Pridham, education and performance partner and co-founder of multi award-winning learning technology company Aspire 2Be. I’m a former headteacher and professional digital adviser to the Welsh Government.

TD: What is your company?

SP: Aspire 2Be is a leading learning technology company based in Swansea. Our main focus is improving digital competency among educators. We believe digital competency should be embedded across the curriculum, like literacy and numeracy. We’re increasingly instilling these beliefs across large businesses and sporting organisations.

We work with governments, local authorities and schools both nationally and internationally, to find the solution to their digital training and continuing professional development (CPD) needs.

This has organically led to the development of some of our other programmes, including our Respect programme for children with additional learning needs and our iTeam programme, which incorporates technology into physical education. We’re also the Ospreys’ education partner working with over 200 schools.

TD: Why did you set it up?

SP: As headteacher of a 200-pupil primary school in Swansea, I could see the potential of digital technology in the classroom.

I saw our existing ICT offering of PCs and whiteboards as uninspiring, so I introduced mobile devices and cloud-based systems to help enthuse the pupils and as a tool to increase literacy levels, back in 2011.

Soon we became one of the first schools in the UK to equip all our teachers and Key Stage 2 pupils with their own iPads and deployed Google Apps for Education as our cloud-based solution.

The difference it made across the curriculum was immediate and remarkable, aligned to outstanding teaching and learning, which was already in place.

That success led to awards and national exposure, but more importantly it led to other opportunities to make educational change using technology as an enabler, and I worked with both the local authority and the Welsh Government as a professional digital advisor.

That in turn led to Aspire 2Be. We launched in 2013 with the aim of combining curriculum, pedagogy and technology to develop learning and skills.

TD: What has your start-up journey been like?

SP: Our start-up journey has been quicker and more successful than we could have hoped. We’ve expanded rapidly, with turnover currently 400 per cent higher than in our first year.

We now employ 12 experienced educationalists, IT technicians and business professionals, and are considered one of the leading edtech companies in the UK.

As well as working throughout Wales and the UK we operate in seven countries, including in the Middle East.

TD: What makes your business unique?

SP: We’re the only edtech company in the UK to be appointed both Apple Network Consultants and Google Accredited Educators as well as being part of the Microsoft Partner Network.

We’re also leading the introduction of beacon technology into the UK education market.

TD: What has been its biggest success and biggest obstacle?

SP: We’re lucky to have had many successes in a short space of time, including a number of award nominations and wins.

But our biggest single success has been winning government contracts in Jersey and Guernsey, which have led to policy change, systemic change and pedagogical improvements across all schools on both islands.

Our biggest obstacle has been, and will probably continue to be, persuading enough educational leaders at many levels to realise the importance of digital technology as a key tool in the 21st century classroom.

TD: Where do you see yourself and the firm in five years’ time?

SP: As a global brand that has impact across education, business and sport around the world.

TD: What advice would you give to the next generation of business people?

SP: Believe in your dreams and work damn hard to make them come true. Never accept you will not succeed and surround yourself with positive and enthusiastic people.