When Simon Austerberry’s daughter needed a different way to learn phonics, he and his wife came up with the method now known as actiphons, which they’ve made into a lively young business.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Actiphons is a unique and innovative teaching programme that inspires the next generation of children to learn their phonics through playing fun sports and physical activities. To help achieve this we created numerous colourful, fresh and engaging teaching resources that can complement and enhance existing teaching methods of phonics/ PE or be used as a stand-alone alternative.
We currently sell these resources around the UK to nurseries and primary schools with a variety of access options, many of which are free making it an inclusive programme and have recently started exporting it to Dubai.
To help drive the brand forward and raise awareness of what we think can be a global resource we are creating it into a children’s TV Series in which we have recently raised just over £1m to create an initial 26, 11 minute episodes. We are now pitching it to numerous UK and international broadcasters, distributors and licensors to allow more children to PLAY, LEARN & EXERCISE.
On the back of the success of the children’s TV series we will create various merchandise lines, one of which we have recently started in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).
Just recently we commenced piloting the idea of using of AR Technology in children’s reading books to see if this improves a children’s learning experience and outcomes. From the research/ findings we aim to create a series 70 books with this technology integrated.
What did you do before you started this business?
My passion has always been to help children to engage and participate in more sports and physical activities. So when I left University with a Psychology and Sports Science Degree I set up a Sports Coaching Company called Elite Coaching Solutions. Here we aim to enhance a child’s experience of sports participation through a variety of unique coaching sessions delivered to Nurseries and Schools around the UK. We then sign post children to various local sporting organisations so they can continue on their sporting journey thus creating healthy and active lifestyles for a healthier future.
What inspired you to start up?
Actiphons was created by my wife and I but inspired by our daughter. My wife is an ex primary school teacher/ consultant who loved teaching children to read. It was at the time where my daughter had started Primary School when we came up with the idea as she struggled with the sedentary way of learning Phonics, so we decided to use some sports and physical activities to help her learn her Phonics in a practical way through play.
How would you describe your business to a novice?
We help children to read and write through playing fun sports and physical activities through a variety of fun, creative and innovative resources.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
When we were starting our Actiphons journey it was a complete change from our Education and Coaching backgrounds so we needed to seek support from specialists who knew the industry well. The Manchester Growth Hub (MGH) was our first port of call who have been invaluable towards us making connections to various organisations plus having access to various advisors who can offer support and guidance. Whilst working with MGH we got put in contact with the Department for International Trade (DIT) who have helped us in securing our first exporting mission to Dubai. We are now exploring other countries with their help.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
Our Actiphons programme has been fully self funded to date by Elite Coaching Solutions. The programme was piloted under the Elite banner and only in December 2016 was it incorporated into its own stand alone company. Only recently have we started to actively look for investment with the help of Access2Finance (part of the MGH) who in a round about way lead us to the Isle of Man via the Spark Impact Fund.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Obtaining half of the £2.25m production budget
How do you differentiate your business from others?
Actiphons is a unique and innovative teaching resource that currently has no direct competition in both the education and media sector. It’s this uniqueness that inspires Actiphons to keep creating firsts in technology/ teaching resources when helping children to learn their phonics through fun sports and physical activities. Everything we deliver is motivating and engaging to its end users for instance: when delivering one of our accreditation days we source unique venues for our delegates ie when we delivered in Newham we hired a venue at the Olympic Village and in Bolton we used BWFC.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
Challenging…….. when starting an SME you can’t afford to contract or employee individuals in all areas, so you find yourself having to read up on a lot of different areas i.e. branding, marketing, sales etc., or attending courses to educate yourself thus reducing the time you can spend developing. The upside of this is you are in control of your own destiny.
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
In 5 years time Actiphons will be a global children’s brand known for helping children to learn their phonics through playing fun sports and physical activities; Accessible via a multi-platform approach.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you don’t give up, then you won’t fail. Be confident in your own ability and have a positive work ethic.
Why did you enter the BQ Emerging Entrepreneur Awards?
I feel it would give great recognition to the programme and the outcomes we are trying to combat all of which are found all over the world. Improving children’s life chances through improving their ability to read through a motivating resource whilst allowing them to participate in numerous sports and physical activities which will help promote taking part in healthy and active lifestyles. Currently we know there a 42m children globally under the age of 5 obese or overweight with 1 in 5 of the adult population illiterate with the world’s economy spending $2trillion each year on obesity. If Actiphons can help support and promote these reasons to take action through these awards then there’s a few more people who will be made aware of these current issues.