Thinking of applying for the second round of Innovate UK funding? Read on for advice from a woman who secured it.
By Helen Robinson
Can you tell us about yourself and Life Ninja Education?
Life Ninja Education is a digital tech business, creating a range of exciting educational apps to inspire children and young people. Our vision is simple: to democratise access to the very best quality education technology.
Life Ninja Education was co-founded by myself, Tom Bailey, and Trevor Wills. We founded the business because we could see that the range of educational apps available to children lacked the fun element to spark children’s imagination, and it is their imagination that keeps them engaged and interested in learning. We are all parents of primary school-aged children and understand that for children to learn, it has to be enjoyable.
We have developed a new and exciting network that includes our own apps, Message Ninja and Learning Ninja. Message Ninja is used by schools as a communication hub between school and parents, and can also be used as a hub for internal school communications. The app is original because it enables parents to book appointments with teachers, make payments, fundraise, and create events with digital consent from parents and carers. Learning Ninja is a one-stop-shop home learning solution that enables communication between school and parents, including reading records, live quizzes, tournaments, and students can earn coins to use on building their own avatar. The beauty of the system is that all the apps work alongside one another.
We also partnered with another business to develop and create Zap Maths, with the release of Zap English in late spring 2021. We are currently working with Middlesbrough Council and we’re running a county tournament with local schools in a mega maths competition.
How has your business coped in the recent pandemic?
We had just reached a point where we were about to take Zap Maths to market when schools closed in March 2020. We didn’t let this stop us though. Further time was spent perfecting the product, speaking to schools and families, and conducting extensive market research. I think using that time productively has really helped to develop the product into what it is now. We also used the time to look for funding opportunities from the government and one particular area of funding really caught our attention.
You were successful in applying for Innovate UK funding, how did you find the process and how did you feel when you found out that you had been successful?
The application process was very lengthy and we needed to have a clear vision as to how we were going to use the funding and how it would help to develop our product. We developed the idea of democratising education and enabling monetisation by schools. Our network is market-leading and best of all, completely free to schools.
After researching the funds, we could see that the majority of the funding went to businesses in the South and not many included digital products like we were offering. Perhaps that was how we struck gold!
We have regular meetings with a representative from the fund and we keep them updated with our project. Having the fund has meant that we have been able to dedicate more time to business, as the majority of the people within the business all have other jobs whilst working on the apps. This has been incredible for us as a team and we have now developed from a team of three to six, with another apprentice joining the team next month, and we also recently moved into a larger office space in Middlesbrough. The fund has enabled us to grow in many ways, but I think the biggest difference has been how much more dynamic a team we have become.
What is the future for Life Ninja Education?
Our project with Innovate UK will be completed in May 2021 and we are currently in the process of recruiting pilot schools to trial the network. This will be a really important area of development for us as we value input from schools and act on all feedback to make a product that really works for them.
We are also at the exciting stage of looking for investment in the business. This will help us to grow further and take our products to international markets in the near future. Overall, the success of the Innovate UK funding has been crucial to the future of Life Ninja Education and my advice to other businesses out there is to apply. It will definitely be worth your time.