Zinc, a mission-led programme offering support and guidance to budding entrepreneurs wanting to tackle tough social issues, is launching a new project and inviting LSE entrepreneurs to get involved.
Zinc brings together experts from the social sciences, design, technology and business along with potential investors to help entrepreneurs create technology-based companies to fulfil specific social missions in the developed world.
The new Zinc mission, due to start this autumn, aims to improve the quality of later life for older people and the team are looking for creative entrepreneurs to sign up.
LSE alumna Charlotte Duoyi Zhao, who is one of the entrepreneurs involved in Zinc’s current mission to unlock opportunities for people in places hard hit by globalisation and automation, has found working with Zinc really rewarding. “Entrepreneurship is hard but Zinc has made the experience much better,” she enthuses.
Charlotte’s business, Quirkey, is a virtual peer-to-peer learning platform. In phase one, Quirkey is focused on building communities for peers who are interested in developing digital and communication skills.
Charlotte believes people learn better when they learn together and as a director of codebar, a non-profit that teaches underrepresented groups programming skills, Charlotte has seen the life-transforming impact peer-to-peer learning can have.
However, in-person workshops aren’t always a viable option when the waiting list is longer than attendee list, and travelling to classes isn't feasible for those living outside cities where sessions are held.
“There are eager students with difficult commutes who are missing out on amazing learning opportunities,” says Charlotte who notes that since testing on Quirkey started, it has amassed users from seven countries across four continents. “This traction shows we are solving a real problem,” she says.
Quirkey is starting its next stage with UCL's EDUCATE program aimed at helping EdTech companies.
Another LSE alumni who has benefitted from the Zinc network is MSc Management graduate Kyaw Zan Wai whose business, Happy Tummy, is aimed at tackling childhood obesity.
The ‘Happy Tummy’ app takes into account budget, dietary requirements and location to help families prepare meal plans for the week. Both parents and children have access to the meal planner and an interactive cooking game on the app rewards children who choose healthy ingredients and recipes.
Zan, who had a successful career as a child actor growing up in Myanmar, suffered from hypertension at the age of 13. This triggered a change in his lifestyle and he wants ‘Happy Tummy’ to create positive behaviour changes in others in a fun and engaging way.
Zan would recommend Zinc to any budding entrepreneurs thinking of getting involved with the next mission. “It’s an amazing learning opportunity! Zinc allows you to be yourself and unleash your passion,” he says.
LSE Behavioural Science graduate Lucas Fuhrman agrees with Zan. “The [Zinc] programme has been a source of inspiration and guidance, leaving enough space for creativity to flourish. It has been super helpful,” he says.
Lucas’ business, Plural, aims to address the decline in the High Street due to struggling retailers. “Technological advancements have set the stage for e-commerce to become the preferred method of shopping. Therefore, retail spaces must reinvent themselves in order to attract people to the High Street,” he says.
Plural helps brands revitalise their retail spaces by creating intimate, cultural experiences in-store such as concerts, workshops and performances. “In order to deliver these events we partner with the local creative community. Plural events attract new visitors to the stores and bring vibrancy back to the High Street,” Lucas explains.
As well as entrepreneurs, the Zinc team are also looking for social science experts to offer advice and support to budding businesses.
Professor Neil Lee, from the Department of Geography and Environment at LSE, has helped several companies seeking advice on business ideas designed to help those ‘left behind’ by recent economic changes.
“The main thing is serving as a critical friend to teams working on solutions – talking through issues, thinking about how their solutions might work in practice and trying to refine and develop them,” he advises.