MBA students help address digital skills gap

LBS volunteers mentor teenagers solving problems through tech 

Machela Sathekga LBS and Acorn Aspirations 482x271

MBA students from London Business School (LBS) helped teenagers develop tech and business skills for the future at a summer accelerator run by Acorn Aspirations.

“It’s exciting seeing kids develop the skills and confidence to be tech entrepreneurs,” said Tosin Sulaiman, who is about to start the second year of her MBA. “Solving problems through technology is something many of us at business school aspire to do but these kids are getting an early start – it’s inspiring seeing 12-year-olds coming up with impressive ideas.” 

Sulaiman discovered the accelerator when she met Acorn Aspirations’ founder Elena Sinel at a tech conference. She spread the word and soon half a dozen members of the LBS community had agreed to give up several days of their time. “I was surprised by the number of people willing to help,” she said. “It says a lot about the LBS community – people are willing to give back.”

The other LBS mentors were Ibiaçu Caetano, Junji Okawa, Brady Dearden and Machela Sathekga, whose partner Mputhumi Mtiya also got involved.

Acorn Aspirations runs hackathons, bootcamps, incubators and accelerators at which young people aged 12 to 18 identify a social problem and come up with a tech solution. They work in teams to build apps or platforms and a viable business plan.  

The MBA students joined the switched-on teenagers – some of whom already knew how to code – at different venues around London including Accenture’s Liquid Studios, Central Working Paddington, Skills Matter and WeWork Moorgate. 

Junji Okawa and Ibiacu Caetano of LBS and Acorn Aspirations kids 482x271

One team came up with a virtual-reality mindfulness product for stressed-out professionals. Another created an educational virtual reality experience to teach maths in a more interactive and fun way. Other ideas included an app that aims to tackle body image issues and depression among teenage girls and a Kickstarter-style platform allowing teenagers to connect with mentors who can share their knowledge and expertise.

“I enjoyed being able to inspire young people using the skills I’ve learned on the MBA,” said Sulaiman. “It was a learning experience for me as well – using design thinking, helping the teenagers develop their business models.” 

By giving young people from under-represented communities access to technology and entrepreneurship education, Acorn Aspirations seeks to prepare them for jobs that don’t yet exist. Since its launch a year ago the organisation has worked with more than 600 teenagers. 

Sinel is especially determined to provide girls with the know-how and experience to become tomorrow’s tech leaders. “When girls are equipped with the right tools and surrounded by strong female role models, it gives them the confidence to architect their own futures,” she said.

The digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost income, according to a 2016 report by the UK Commons Science and Technology Committee. 

The accelerator will culminate in a Demo Day on Friday, where the youngsters will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. The event is open to the public. Register to attend

Acorn Aspirations teens 482x271