Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born in Worcester but I moved to Sheffield with my mum and brother when I was 10. I went to Wales High School which was a really good comprehensive school. I was really lucky to be in a year group where we all had a lot of fun together but also worked really hard. A really important part of my time at school was football – I played South Yorkshire football and played in the youth league in Sheffield. When I thought about my future, I knew I wanted to keep playing competitive football alongside my academics.
My brother wanted to play football in America and my dad helped him get to the US via this route. My school knew I was interested in the idea of going to the States so they told me about the Sutton Trust US Programme. This was the first time the programme was running and I remember I missed the application deadline. I applied anyway and my dad and teacher emailed the coordinator and eventually I got accepted! No one else in my school was thinking of going to the US and I believe I was the first person in my school to go to a US university.
What was your experience like on the programme?
The calibre of students on the programme was incredibly impressive. We did an ACT, which is the standardised test for US universities admissions before we went to the US and I remember five students just got 35 out of 36 off the bat. The Sutton Trust really got behind the programme especially with organising application support. We had a group of mentors who were fantastic people who encouraged us all to learn and develop our way of thinking. The support I received was of a calibre I’d never received before and I’m still in contact with some mentors.
The actual summer school was a lot of fun, we visited Yale, Harvard and Princeton. The great thing about the visits was that we had tutors with us who knew all the right questions to ask. For example, when we were at Princeton someone asked about the ACT and what the high and low percentiles to get admission were. The Head of Admissions said they didn’t have the stats on hand but our tutors insisted they tell us. Because of this, we all got a realistic expectations of US admissions. The programme was very good at that, setting realistic expectations for every student and provided support for every aspect of the application process.
How did your career progress after your Sutton Trust Programme?
After the US visit, I decided to go all in with my application to US universities. I started reaching out to football coaches at different universities to see if they had any spaces on their teams alongside the common applications the Sutton Trust was helping me out with. I ended up going to Northeastern and also managed to get myself on the university football team.
During my second year, I got cut from the football team and went through a period when I questioned whether I wanted to stay in the US. I decided to stay because I enjoyed my academics – I was also able to join other clubs and found I was still having fun.
One incredible aspect of life at Northeastern is taking part in their Co-op programme, where each student spends a semester working full-time instead of studying. As a finance major, I was interested in exploring the corporate world, thinking of perhaps getting into investment banking and so spent a semester working at a trading desk. In that time, I decided it wasn’t for me and instead I learned more about start-ups.
While I was still in college, I founded my own start up, Blurr Technologies. We’re a location-based photo sharing app that was helped to get off the ground through Northeastern’s IDEA venture accelerator programme. We applied for a $10k start up grant and added to that money we raised independently through angel investors, friends and family – it was a steep learning curve. We launched the app in several universities and had an ambassadors programme with 350 people across 60 colleges and then continued to expand into corporate events. Support continued from Northeastern when they allowed us to co-op for ourselves, which meant that we were able to move to LA and scale the business. It was also the first-time international students had done something like this.
What are your ambitions for the future?
Once you move once, you realise it’s not very difficult to move around. I’m not planning to go back to England but I would go somewhere else, and then somewhere else! I was close to selling my tech-start up then decided to go back to Northeastern to graduate. I’m currently living in New York working at another tech start up called frame.io – I’m able still be working in the US thanks to my O1-A visa, which I gained through my entrepreneurship and starting Blurr Technologies. It can be hard to stay in the US after graduating but being flexible with the type if visa I applied for allowed me to pursue my ambitions here in the US.
What advice would you give to a future Sutton Trust Student?
If you’re looking to go to the US to study, understand and be open to the fact that your experience will be different from your friends staying in the UK – from the application process down to the cultural experience you’ll get at university. Immerse yourself in every opportunity. You’re on a different timeline to those in the UK and there’s benefits to this – embrace the US learning experience. People also tend to cop out of opportunities when there’s a deadline approaching, but I say keep engaging in new opportunities. There’s so much to learn. Be open and willing for your plans to change.