Unleash university and career ambitions while breaking down barriers to opportunity
Zero Gravity is the first tech startup in the world that is developing technology to identify top talent from low-income backgrounds and incubate it, so that those people can reach their full potential.
Written by HYER NEWSROOM
Inspired not only by issues of social mobility but also the greater, more existential notion of how societies can flourish or crumble due to the distribution of power, Joe Seddon founded the company in 2018. Zero Gravity has received £ 4 million in funding to date and has its sights set on accelerated growth within the next year.
Every year, 50,000 students from “low-income backgrounds” – i.e. the bottom 40% of the socio-economic spectrum – achieve top grades at school. However, roughly only a third of these students make it to top universities and even fewer into top careers. This leads to hundreds of thousands of young people not fulfilling their maximum potential.
This can seem an impossible problem to solve, especially as it’s one that starts from the moment someone is born. If you’re born into an affluent family you are immediately presented with many opportunities that others are not, in everything from the meals you are fed and what is read to you, to the people, cultures, and ideas you’re exposed to.
This accumulates to the point when you’re 18 and choosing a university, when your many years’ worth of advantage makes for a better candidate on paper therefore you are more desirable to universities. However, despite the long-term aspect of the problem, Zero Gravity does not believe solving it is impossible.
While opportunity may not be evenly distributed, raw talent is.
Interview with Zero Gravity Founder & CEO, Joe Seddon
In seeking to address this issue, Zero Gravity founder Joe thinks it’s important to look beyond the label of “social mobility” and see a bigger picture. How do capitalist societies, which are inherently unequal, avoid becoming so disparate that opportunity is only concentrated in one small sector? If opportunity is concentrated in this way, history shows us how this can lead to civilisational decay;
“If we look back through human history, almost every single big civilisation — whether it’s the Ancient Egyptians, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire — most of those civilisations decayed because, over time, power became incredibly concentrated in a very small part of society, and it led them to become highly dysfunctional.”
Joe Seddon - Founder & CEO
This is something we have started to see in the Western world, through wealth and income inequality, societal division, and political polarisation. At the heart of the work that Zero Gravity is doing, trying to unlock opportunity for all regardless of background or geography, is the belief that concentrated power is bad for everyone, as it causes societal collapse.
Unlocking the potential of as diverse a group as possible is not only great from an individual perspective, but it’s also beneficial for society as a whole. It allows us to live in a dynamic community, where we are able to truly get the best out of one another.
But why is it important that Zero Gravity views this problem through a wider, more historical lens, rather than just focussing on being a company that helps disadvantaged individuals into universities and graduate careers? Their viewpoint is that every large, advanced society is in something of a “space race” to unlock top talent. So essentially, whichever country or society manages to unlock talent the most effectively is going to “win”, in terms of global influence and dominating the future of the economy.
This is what Zero Gravity feels the majority of people get wrong about social mobility; people tend to see it through a purely charitable, social justice lens, and think that ensuring equal opportunity despite background is essential purely because it is the right and moral thing to do. While this is all undoubtedly true, Zero Gravity believes the wider focus is just as vital. As Joe puts it, “Societies which are socially mobile and meritocratic are the ones that tend to win and survive.”
To identify potential talent, Zero Gravity uses an algorithm which crunches huge data to uncover people’s backgrounds, their performance at school, and then uses this information to unearth the diamonds dotted across the UK who have the talent to achieve their goals, but lack the resources to get there alone.
Zero Gravity’s platform is based around three core concepts, all of which are key to incubating potential talent; mentorship, content and community. Students who come to the platform are matched with mentors who have been algorithmically selected, based on the skills, knowledge and network the student needs in order to succeed.
Through live sessions, Zero Gravity is also delivering relevant information to people at incredible scale, allowing them to unlock opportunities that would otherwise not be available to them.
And finally, in their community Zero Gravity provides a supportive network of like-minded people, who may have previously been isolated. If you are the first person in your family to go to university or apply to a graduate scheme, or a talented person with big dreams from a small town, that can be a lonely place to be. That’s why Zero Gravity connects students going on similar journeys and gives them a place to call home.
“You can’t enable talented people to succeed purely based on luck. You can’t allow life to be that arbitrary.
When you’ve got people who have all the talent and great ideas, you have to create a system where those people can succeed.”
Joe Seddon - Founder & CEO
Prior to Zero Gravity existing, these types of students may have been facing a monumental uphill battle. The psychology of a gifted student who lacks the immediate resources to unlock their potential is a fascinating one. They are aware they have something special, but are anxious they may never live up to that. They tend to have immense resilience, grit, and determination.
This community has all the fundamentals to succeed, they just need the backing, And that’s exactly what Zero Gravity is trying to create. Last year they supported 2000 low-income students into top universities – but they are just getting started. Joe and his teams’ feet are firmly on the accelerator, looking to scale to tens of thousands of people in the UK and, after achieving that, expanding globally. It’s time for talent from all walks of life to be nurtured, and for success to be down to more than luck of the draw.
Zero Gravity hopes to become a flagbearer for the tech-for-good movement, demonstrating how technology can be a force for good in the world – democratising access to opportunity, rather than just maximising returns to shareholders.
A future where this methodology is embraced by governments in order to level the playing field for their young people is certainly one which looks bright for those with previously untapped potential.
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