Dūcere CEO, Mathew Jacobson, has just returned from Sir Richard Branson’s private Necker Island, located in the scenic British Virgin Islands. This was all part of The Change Makers conference, an annual event where 25 entrepreneurs from across the world are invited to network with Richard Branson in a unique tropical setting. Mat talked to us about the experience, discussing cross-sector learning, chatting with Mr. Branson and Dūcere’s role in disrupting the educational landscape, and maybe a little bit of kite surfing along the way.
Welcome back Mat, so how did this opportunity come about?
Thanks, glad to be back. So this is a conference run each year on Necker Island, The Change Makers Entrepreneurship Conference. The organisers gather recommendations of people from all over the globe who are disrupting their chosen industry sector through innovation and I was fortunate to be contacted by this year’s organisers.
I was pretty excited about a week with Richard Branson but I was a little sceptical at first. When I looked at the itinerary it was all about sports and sailing and surfing. So I rang the organiser and said, this all sounds really fun, but I’m not going to go all that way to Necker Island just to go sailing and surfing. Are people actually talking to Richard Branson about business collaboration? And the organiser said that it’s just the ways it’s done, over a beer or over dinner or on the beach. There are no formal meeting rooms with screens and PowerPoints. That’s not the way he works.
What is the Change Marker’s Conference?
Well it’s basically 25 entrepreneurs from around the world from all from different sectors. There were a few from Australia, America, Germany and the UK – all doing some amazing things. Diversity among sectors was key, for example, while one person from the UK was working on a solar powered plane, there was another person from Germany who is developing underwater drone technology. While everyone was an entrepreneur, fuelled by their ideas, the level of variety was amazing. And it was a very unique forum, at least for me, chatting about work over breakfast, lunch or while your sailing.
Do you think that was beneficial?
I thought that was a very different way to work and it definitely has some pros and cons to it. On the negative side you didn’t get as much of a clear, formal idea of the businesses people are involved in. Usually people show you brochures and PowerPoints, but you didn’t have any of that. It was really much more conversational. But you actually built relationships with people that you’ll keep forever. And the passion of people really shows through. That was the lesson about Richard Branson – how he does business – builds relationships with people rather than looking at spreadsheets and business plans.
What did you personally talk about with Sir Richard Branson?
We talked about Dūcere and he thought what we were doing was really exciting and interesting. He understands the importance of learning from people who are actually successful. Having dropped out of school, he might have come to the conclusion that you don’t need education. But he recognised that that his path was a unique path, and that most of the time education is the foundation of a solid career. I mean you can point to school drop-outs like Zuckerberg and Branson and think that you can become a millionaire, which is true, but for every Branson, there are actually lots who don’t succeed. You are going to be more secure and better off by having education and that’s why Branson himself supports various education initiatives like his entrepreneurship programs currently in South Africa, recognising that education has a very important role in the community.
The itinerary said “dream, innovate and be inspired”. What did you take away from the experience?
It was an environment to help you think bigger. It’s important to me to be around people who are doing big, inspiring ideas. This wasn’t a group of educators; this was a group of entrepreneurs doing whatever their passion is on a large-scale. And that’s really important to me, to be around people from other sectors because it gets me thinking that maybe there’s a lesson from, say, engineering, that can be applied to the education sector. That’s one of the things you get from a high calibre group of motivated entrepreneurs.
40 years ago Virgin shook up the music industry with Virgin records, and they’ve been doing that ever since. Do you see a comparison to what Dūcere are doing with the education industry?
That’s a good point. Branson takes an industry, like airlines or music and disrupts that industry. He’s a risk taker and takes on the big entrenched corporations. We are similar in that education is going through a significant disruption. There are lots of challenges to the educational model. And we think we are a big part of that, taking formal academic qualifications and combining them with case studies of real world leaders.