Hey Ilisha, Thanks for joining us today.
Firstly, congratulations on becoming a finalist for not 1, but 2 Midlands Women in Tech Awards – Start-up Founder and Tech Entrepreneur and winning the Tech Entrepreneur award!
I’d love to hear more about the company you set up!
So, I founded Econominds just over 5 years ago, I’ve created a platform which uses AI to create relatable and personalised resources for A-Level economics Gen Z students.
We focus on economics as that’s what my background is in. I studied economics at A level, then went on to achieve a first-class at university, and then build a finance corporate career at the same time as building this business.
During my finance career I worked with a wide range of companies from corporate banks to boutique firms, and household names. This year I quit my job to go full-time Econominds.
Wow, congratulations on reaching this point, it’s definitely an exciting time for your business! Seeing as you’ve created an AI platform, did you always want to work in tech?
My business didn’t actually start in tech, I started a tutoring company when I was 18 years old for a level economics. I then noticed a gap in the market to create revision guides as part of the curriculum wasn’t being covered anywhere online. I sold out in 3 months whilst tutoring but pretty much lost it all to the pandemic as exams weren’t taking place.
This is when I noticed there’s a huge gap in the market digitalising what we’re doing, so now we’ve become an EdTech company rather than just a tutoring business.
It’s great to see you’ve innovated the industry whilst the whole world was coming to a standstill, I’d love to hear about this platform.
When we first created Econominds, we captured 20% of our market organically and tutored over 280 students in the past 18 months. We’ve had 100% success rate with our 1-1 students receiving A*-B grade which is better than Eton.
Now we’re expanding onto a new platform which is going to be released in November. The platform will be available both as an app and on desktop, on both iOS and Android.
Economics is known to be boring and content heavy, so I wanted to make it more manageable. This is where the AI comes in to play to make resources tailored to individuals learning style, ability, and interests to make a super relatable and personalised service.
I was undiagnosed with dyslexia until 21 so I had to find a learning style which works for me, so I’ve built Econominds based on my experience.
When I started studying economics, I was like wow I’m putting the key knowledge around all the principles I’ve faced and experienced in my own life – I just didn’t know that was the whole theory that wrapped around it.
This is what we’re trying to relay to the students, we’re using real life examples that they’ve come across and intertwine it with the theory. We don’t want students to struggle with this super abstract concept when these events are happening all around them.
I think this is why the tutoring has gone really well because I genuinely have a passion for the subject and that shines through.
Plus, if you cater your teaching to a neurodiverse way of learning, everybody benefits. There are so many studies around it. Who wouldn’t want to do their revision in 20 minutes in a fun way compared to hours of staring at a textbook.
We’ve won multiple awards for Econominds so it truly works – we won a national award for our framework, I won a Santander scholarship award 2 times in a row, recently won the chamber of commerce award in education sector and a woman in tech award by Tech West Midlands and then there’s these other women in tech awards. (Since this interview Ilisha has since gone on to be nominated for even more awards!).
You’re acing it at the moment and claiming all the awards. You mentioned earlier about your economics education, did you always want to go to university?
I went to a grammar school, and we were never told about any other options than going to university. I just thought I had to go to university.
However due to my undiagnosed dyslexia, I struggled with the school environment which actually led me to be kicked out of school several times. I didn’t really mesh well with that system.
For me I didn’t really care about university or value education when I was at school. What I realised was I was an A* student and that the school system was failing me, it wasn’t that I was incapable, it was that the systems all around me were too rigid. This put the fire in my belly to start Econominds and make a change.
So many students fall through the gaps of not being diagnosed or not being helped properly.
It was whilst at uni and having that autonomy and freedom that I realised I could really learn HOW I learn best and then understood the value and importance of education.
This helped me break glass ceilings, especially as an ethnic minority woman too, in the world of finance and tech, there’s not very many of us – in all the companies I have worked in, I’ve always been one of the only ones. So, it was important for me to harness this system to support people in a similar position to me to show it is possible.
You’ve touched upon some accessibility issues there regarding styles of learning and your undiagnosed dyslexia, do you think more can be done in the workplace to support those who have different methods of working or accessibility needs.
Yes absolutely, I’m a big advocate for this. A lot of companies don’t have policies or practices in place for neurodiverse or disabled people. I mean this (dyslexia) impacts how I view and work in the world – my actions, how I absorb information, it’s a different way to a neurotypical person.
There’s a lot still to be done in the workplace. I guess destigmatising disabilities and neurodiversity is number one. Then I think more inclusive working practices – flexible working, recording and transcribing meetings, different meeting styles and not letting them go on too long. Not everyone can sustain the same level of focus or be present in the room.
I’ve been quite lucky in my situation, as soon as I have ever started a job, I have always mentioned my dyslexia and what helps me to be able to work in my most efficient way.
When onboarding new team members, there should be opportunities to ask questions on how individuals like to work.
Another point you raised earlier was how you were one of the only ethnic minority women in these large corporations, do you feel like this has been one of the biggest barriers you have faced and how does that make you feel?
Particularly whilst working in finance I would say it is a large barrier to entry. Luckily a lot of the positions I have been in have come about from my network rather than application process – I’ve worked with the CEO/been headhunted etc. However, I feel if I was put through an application, I may not have been as successful due to hiring biases.
Even though I didn’t face that barrier going into these roles, I definitely saw whilst there, that there was a lack of awareness on cultural differences, language, and behaviour amongst teams. It was quite transparent when individuals had not come across other cultures. It’s this that gave me that fire in my belly to help students in a similar boat and that there’s other routes to get into these roles.
I have strong resilience and I know if someone says no, if it’s something I really want, I’ll still be determined to get it. However, I know a lot of people won’t and I want to support those, so they don’t have to have the same level of rejection and resilience I have.
We’ve mentioned a fair bit on neurodiversity, do you feel there is anything companies can improve on culturally. Of course, bringing in a diverse range of employees would be a good one.
Firstly understanding the demographic of your employees is important. But employees should also be educating themselves on areas where they either have a bias or lack information on. It should be a top-down approach. Senior leaders need to understand who their team are and educating themselves on the cultures that exist in the team.
At a previous employer, we had 1 team meeting a week where employees would take it in turns to research an aspect of another culture and feed it back to the team like a show and tell so everyone could learn something new. It helped employees understand their privileges and further build trusting relationships across the team.
That’s great advice. Before we wrap up, we can’t not ask – Where would you want Econominds to head in the next few years?
Well, typically educational businesses tend to horizontally grow by adding more and more course topics to their site.
I want to do it a little different and vertically grow, I want Econominds to provide an end-to-end service so I’m helping young people obtain their qualifications and can then collaborate businesses which offer apprenticeships or work to enable this young people to go on and grow. I want to find local and large businesses who want to nurture this young talent to grow. These companies can then benefit from diverse and young talent that they may have missed out on, and young people can have access to opportunities that they may have never heard about.
Put simply, you come to us to get your economics a level, then we will skill you up on all the extra bits to help you thrive post 18 and help place you in a job or opportunity.
I’d still solely focus on economics and place within financial or tech companies as this is where my extensive network lies.
Thanks for chatting to us Ilisha!
Takeaway points about Econominds:
1 – All the content on the platform is made by Gen Z students for Gen Z students
2 – Uses over 40 gamification tools to help make content interactive and fun.
3 – All content is created in a bite size way; no piece is longer than 20 minutes which is half the learning time in a traditional setting.
The purpose of doing this is so alongside studies, students can focus on learning additional skills to take to the workplace or enjoy their hobbies so they can become well-rounded individuals. We don’t want young people stuck in their rooms trying to force revision when there’s a simpler way to do it.
Read our previous interview here: ‘Meet Sarah | Engineering Team Lead and Women in Tech advocate