Integrated Innovation Network
Mitch McLeod (left) and James Rabbitt (right) are Co-Directors of Broader Learning, a company which provides programs in coding, robotics and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) to primary and high school students.
It’s interesting to examine the rapid success of a small business that is preparing young people to be more equipped for the future. Broader Learning is currently operating a team of five part-time educators and has four schools on their books right now, at five campuses.
James has explored degrees in IT and Computer Science at the University of Newcastle, and during an internship and NIB Health Fund, he slowly cultivated his idea for Broader Learning. It took six months of brainstorming and many Post-It Notes.
“Mitch and I had been working with one school as volunteer coding teachers. It just kind of fell into place once we started working with one high school, assisting them with a robotics program. We saw there were many ways that it could be improved,” James says. “This was where we said, "Whoa, there's a really solid idea around centralising these programs.’"
With Broader Learning, James and Mitch created the business that develops and implements programs at multiple schools, saving the schools time and money while also providing an improved experience for students.
The University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network (I2N) helped get Broader Learning off the ground. James and Mitch used the coworking at I2N Hub Hunter Street as a base.
“We're a business that works the vast majority of our time in schools. Initially, we needed some space to interview, onboard and train team members. We don't need a permanent office and have that huge outlay to not be there the vast majority of the time. Working at the I2N Hub was a good solution because it allowed us to co-locate when we needed to and to interview people when we needed to, but it wasn't like we were stuck paying rent and utilities, which is a huge overhead for a small company,” James says.
He added that I2N has been helpful in terms of lifting their profile and connecting them within Newcastle business ecosystem. Suddenly he was meeting new people and also people had heard of his company’s name because they were a member of the I2N Hub at Hunter Street. They were also getting a sense of what's going on in Newcastle’s innovation ecosystem.
I2N’s Manager Siobhan Curran helped them look out for opportunities and grow their customer base.
“There have been plenty of things, even a grant or two that she has seen and said ‘this might be applicable to Broader Learning, so we’ll send it their way.’ She definitely looks out for things that we don't because we don't have the luxury of doing that full-time. That's a huge benefit, being plugged into the I2N community, where everyone keeps things in mind for you,” James says.
When you look at James’ own history and where he studied and the way he learns, it makes perfect sense what he’s doing. He’s struggled with certain teaching styles at school and is fascinated with each individual’s learning process.
“I was never like ‘I'm going to do amazingly academically’, but it's always something I've been interested in. I find the current way STEM-based education is delivered is challenging for some people. You could say that I don't learn traditionally. When you get online and you buy yourself an electronics kit, you're completely on your own. You look up an online tutorial and it's geared for a certain way of thinking, or it makes a bunch of assumptions about your current knowledge,” James says. “I think it gets in the way of what people are trying to achieve, it gets in the way of the feeling of reward that they're looking for in trying to learn and accomplish something. Whether the students are building a small circuit, or writing an app, tutorials can be discouraging for people who don't think in that way.”
He’s still determining his own best learning and teaching style. He enjoys explaining things to a small group of people as this forces him to determine what he does and doesn’t understand. Every time he understands something better, it means that he’ll be able to explain it better.
It's not about being right all the time, but he loves the sense of achievement he gets when he finally helps someone to understand a concept.
It’s great that James can push himself further while simultaneously helping schools and students across the Hunter region expand on their knowledge too. He’s got the growing supportive Hunter community on his side as well as the leaders of tomorrow.
Listen to James Rabbitt's founder journey on the Welcome to Day One podcast episode here.