Social Entrepreneur Index Nominee: Career Ear
Claudine Adeyemi, Founder & CEO of Career Ear, talks to us about her business that helps employers to engage with and employ quality, diverse talent and her journey into social entrepreneurism.
What does your social enterprise do?
Career Ear is an intuitive careers advice and recruitment platform. It helps employers to engage with and employ quality, diverse talent and provides tailored advice, support and work-related opportunities to young people, particularly those from disadvantaged groups. Career Ear began as a mobile app which enabled young career seekers to put their career-related questions directly to professionals. As a form of one-off mentoring in Quora-style it allows a young person to ask any career-related question they like, tag the relevant industry (or mark it as “general”) – professionals signed up from that industry receive a notification – if they can provide an answer, then they can do so. Career Ear is now growing to enhance student’s engagement in the platform and also enable them to explore their career options and better prepare for the workplace through AI assisted features and skills games. We are also better supporting them to apply for relevant roles through the platform. Our key users are school leavers and university students, around 90% are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, minority ethnic groups or are female.
What made you start your business up?
From a young age I was desperate to become a lawyer. However, I didn’t come from a family of lawyers, I didn’t even know any lawyers. At that stage, I didn’t realise that coming from a less affluent background, single parent family, being black and being female could be barriers to my future success. I then ended up leaving home at the age of 16 which presented even more obstacles to deal with. I ultimately overcame these barriers and trained and qualified as a lawyer at a top firm. But when I arrived it was clear that I was the exception to the rule. When I looked at my peers and delved into the research I became aware of the lack of opportunity for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their full career potential and I wanted to change that. I wanted a world in which where you start out in life does not determine where you end up.
I set up a non-profit called The Student Development Co. CIC to achieve this. On a voluntary basis alongside my day job, we supported over 500 young people through talks and workshops, insight days and one-to-one mentoring. Time and time again one of the key issues was that the young people that we worked with did not have people within their family or wider networks to turn to for the advice and support they needed and this support was lacking or at best, inconsistent at their sixth form, college or university. I therefore launched Career Ear to tackle this problem at scale. Our vision is to build a for-profit business with a strong social purpose - everyone having the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
How do you measure your impact?
We have developed a robust theory of change which sets out the outcomes that we measure. Within Career Ear, we now ask our users about how confident they feel in relation to their future careers before they start using the platform. We then ask them the same question over time and follow up with surveys and focus groups. We have an experienced lecturer and researcher leading on our impact measurement strategy and reporting to ensure that we constantly hold ourselves accountable for delivering the change that we want to see.
What help did you have to start your social enterprise?
The first organisation to support us was O2’s Go Think Big. They were critical to our success at the beginning by providing support and funding to get us going. They have since become one of our first clients which is really exciting. Before being full-time on Career Ear, I worked at Mishcon de Reya as a property disputes lawyer. I would not have been able to achieve what I have today without their encouragement and support, allowing me to have some flexibility in my work day in order to get out of the office and support young people in their school environments or attend meetings.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
I had previous experience with a CIC and new that it would not be an appropriate legal form for Career Ear. I knew that whilst delivering impact was at our core, we wanted to do this in a highly scalable way and do so quickly. This meant that we would be operating as a startup and would also need to seek investment and we needed a legal form that would be conducive to that.
What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
Knowing that when I close my eyes and see vision executed, the world is a genuinely better place through the impact that we deliver but also the opportunities that we create by being a business. I am particularly keen to reinvest profits that I make as an entrepreneur into other businesses that deliver impact and businesses run by black people and others from underrepresented groups.
What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social enterprise?
To begin with it was time. Now, it is time. I find that at any given moment there is an overwhelming amount of work to be done and that staying on top of it all can sometimes be impossible. I left my day job to run Career Ear full time and I am still struggling for time. I sometimes query who decided that there ought to only be 24 hours in a day! I have worked hard to discover and incorporate project management tools into the business, for example, Trello, so that I (and the team) can stay on top of what needs to be done and by when. I have also learnt how to better organise my diary and schedule so that there are blocks of time that are uninterrupted and I have got comfortable with having a to-do list that is never fully ticked off!
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Take action! If there is a cause you care about or an issue that you want to solve, do something about it. I think that it can often seem as though it takes a lot to run a social enterprise or any business but there is always a starting point. Maybe you won’t end up running a true startup, maybe your project will turn into a hobby rather than an actual business but you ought to get into the habit of making a start. You will be surprised how much you will learn along the way and impact, no matter how small, is still impact.
What information sources would you recommend to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?
12 Week Year by Brian P Moran and Michael Lennington - on productivity
Shoedog by Phil Knight - great book on business generally
NPC on all things impact measurement - they helped us so much with our impact measurement strategy
Young Foundation (and their Young Academy) - if you’re interested in tackling educational inequalities
GoThinkBig - provide grants and support to young people with ideas to deliver impact in their communities
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
Our plan is to grow and scale Career Ear supporting millions of young people in the UK and overseas to achieve their full career potential.