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Meet Joe Seddon, the Tech Entrepreneur from Morley Who is Levelling the Playing Field for the UK's Brightest Students

Meet Joe Seddon, the Tech Entrepreneur from Morley Who is Levelling the Playing Field for the UK's Brightest Students
June 2024
Reading time 4 Minutes

'Talented', 'ambitious', 'driven': these are all adjectives that get thrown about in the entrepreneurial sphere, but you'd be hard pressed to find someone more deserving of them than Joe Seddon

Joe is the founder of Zero Gravity, an online platform that helps underprivileged young people to break into top universities and careers. He's only 26, but his work has already earned him a spot on both Forbes' 30 Under 30 in 2022 and, in April, the Times' Young Power List.

Joe’s journey into entrepreneurship began at Oxford University where he studied politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) – the degree du jour for many of our most prominent politicians. It was while at Oxford that he created the precursor of Zero Gravity, Access Oxbridge, an app which focused on helping those from lower economic backgrounds get into Oxford and Cambridge by connecting them with student mentors, all while he was still studying.

Joe’s absolute confidence in Zero Gravity makes it hard to believe success was ever in doubt, but underlying all of his efforts is a certainty that he could easily have slipped through the cracks of an education system and economy that struggles to make itself accessible to talented people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

‘I started Zero Gravity straight out of university in 2018,’ Joe says. ‘I grew up in a small town in West Yorkshire, a town called Morley, and I was brought up in a single-parent family. My mum’s a speech therapist in the NHS.

‘I saw first-hand just how difficult it was for students like me to defy the odds and break through the barriers to get into top universities and careers. So, when I graduated, I wanted to do something about it, and that’s how Zero Gravity was born.’

Tom Haywood-Pope, Zero Gravity's COO presents to members at an HSBC event Tom Haywood-Pope, Zero Gravity's COO presents to members at an HSBC event

So how does Zero Gravity work?

‘We’ve built an algorithm that looks at the challenges that students have to face growing up, and finds people in the bottom 40 percent of backgrounds,’ Joe explains. ‘People who have shown clear indicators of potential that, with a bit of backing and support, could break into these top universities and careers. We’ve got over 800 state schools across the country plugged into the system, so every year we can pinpoint those students who have all the talent but not necessarily the support.

‘Once they’ve been identified, they join the Zero Gravity app. It works from your mobile phone, your computer, whatever device you’re on and it’s a one-stop-shop for all the things you need to break into top universities and careers,’ explains Joe. ‘Whether it’s access to a great mentor who can mentor you through the process, access to content about how to create a great personal statement, or study skills, building your resilience, access to job opportunities, exclusive work experience, internships, and financial backing.

‘We’ve deployed £1.5 million of scholarships to low-income students to make university affordable for those who can’t rely on the bank of mum and dad.’

Joe’s confidence in the platform he has built is well-founded. Not only is it a great idea, it actually works. ‘Since launching Zero Gravity we’ve supported over 8,000 students into top universities and over 800 into Oxbridge,’ says Joe. ‘Nowadays one in four of all the low-income students starting at Oxbridge come through the Zero Gravity platform.’ These are great numbers already, but he tells me that they are aiming to support 50,000 students into top universities annually within the next three to four years.

In an atmosphere that is increasingly worried about the impact of technology on young people, Zero Gravity is a glowing example of where it can be harnessed for good. ‘The way to transform potential across the country is not to bus academics around giving talks in state schools,’ says Joe, ‘it’s to connect with young people directly through their mobile phones.’

At the same time, Joe’s experiences starting the business made him acutely aware that inequality of opportunity doesn’t disappear at graduation. ‘I didn’t have a rich family member who I could get to invest in my business,’ he explains. ‘I had to build it from my bedroom, completely bootstrap from the ground up. I didn’t have a network of professionals or entrepreneurs around me who could give me the advice or support I needed on how to grow a business.’

He persevered, and was able to establish enough of a profile for Zero Gravity that help did begin to appear. ‘In particular, a lot of rich, successful people who came from working class backgrounds and had climbed to the top of their industries came across what I was doing, and wanted to find a way to help me and level the playing field for the next generation,’ Joe says.

With this in mind, Zero Gravity continues to support its members both during and after their studies by providing them with access to internships in some of the most exclusive industries, from energy companies to financial services, law firms and tech. This might look good for the companies that partner with them, but Joe is keen to emphasise that it’s also just good business sense.

‘They’ve realised that hiring people from more working class backgrounds is really great for their business productivity,’ Joe explains. ‘It turns out that if you’re somebody that has a lot of raw talent, you’ve built a lot of resilience because you’ve had to overcome challenges in your childhood, usually you turn into a really really good employee. You just need someone to support you.’

Despite the company’s success, Joe’s feet remain firmly on the ground. ‘I don’t think too deeply about the awards and recognition,’ he says. ‘I see it as a means to an end in terms of building the profile of Zero Gravity.’ Joe is clearly very aware of the barriers he faced to get to where he is, but part of his grounded outlook also comes from appreciating the support that he did receive. With this in mind he frequently visits home, and tries to stay connected to those who helped him on his journey.

‘I’m not a fluke or an outlier,’ he says. ‘I know very clearly that even though I did work hard and I did have talent, I wouldn’t have got to where I am today had it not been for some key people and organisations that supported me along that journey.’

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