• Osa Iluobe

TipStart’s Samuel Nicholls: "Our mission is to make the world fairer"

Updated: Nov 19

In conversation with TipStart's Samuel Nicholls

When I sat down to have a chat with Samuel Nicholls, in retrospect, it was hardly surprising that I came out of it more impressed than I was going into our conversation. A brief look at his CV tells a story of high-flying competence and ambition. A British Diplomat, Co-Founder and CEO of TipStart - a tech startup, and well-trodden journeyman (as one would expect of a diplomat), Nicholls has the experience to match those far beyond his years, and he’s still in his twenties. Speaking from Nairobi, where it was 10 pm at the time, Nicholls was surprisingly unfazed by having completed a full day's work at an overseas post...

Hence, I took the opportunity to start the conversation by discussing his fascinating story from a Politics student at King’s College London to that of a diplomat and tech entrepreneur - One that wasn’t as straightforward as you may expect. Nicholls took a shot in the dark in applying for the Foreign Office - a decision that he took only after coming across a diplomat who, by chance, took a liking to him and encouraged him to send off what was in the end a ‘long and arduous application’. It would take a second time, not a third, for Nicholls to get the opportunity to work as a civil servant. But, given the story of rejection, I ask Nicholls what I consider to be the obvious question considering his stellar academic record, entrepreneurial spirit, and adeptness at problem-solving. That is, why didn’t he consider a corporate career? ‘I just didn’t consider it too much and didn’t feel the need to apply to one during university’.

Yet, despite the relaxed approach that characterised Nicholls’ attitude towards [not] going for a big-money corporate job immediately upon graduating, it is hardly indicative of the ambition that has led him to become a mainstay at the Foreign Office and co-founder of TipStart, an exciting tech startup that seeks to address the socio-economic disparities in graduate job opportunities and awareness. Graduates (who are known as TipStarters on the platform) are matched with employees from companies (TipSters) or organisations directly, to facilitate formal connection-building with the hope that both parties come out with an opportunity to be of value to one another in some way. For Nicholls, the motivations for starting TipStart were clear. He says that the company is ‘​borne out of the idea that you can’t trust the world to distribute opportunity equally’ and that in such a world where ‘each of us are passive to events and the choice of careers, privileged people are in line to benefit most’. And whilst this may be true, the use of technology, specifically an app, to try and cut through these disparities is a bold task, and also one that is not made easier by having a 7-person team and a full-time job.

But, Nicholls has a solid combination of purpose and profit that will drive TipStart forward and lead to an increase in up-take amongst graduate job hopefuls. The purpose, as he defines it, is to provide disadvantaged graduates with the sort of connections with people within institutions that he was lucky enough to have forged before re-applying to the civil service. ‘A big part of forging a career is luck and a lot of the psychology of TipStart is motivated by that’. As for Nicholls’ personal motivations, he cites 2020 as a turning point. With the murder of George Floyd, coupled with COVID lockdowns, issues of inequality and discrimination came to the fore of public discourse. And for the Foreign Office, COVID-19 prevented the running of their Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP) which in turn, meant that Nicholls was not paired with an intern as a mentee for the summer - Something that had happened previously. Amid this, Nicholls and his group of friends thought that the time was ripe to establish TipStart to resolve a modicum of inequality that exists, but is nevertheless overlooked by many, not least employers - Many of whom are known to talk the talk on diversity and inclusion but fall short on action when it comes to recruiting diverse young talent.

Nevertheless, business motivations are not an afterthought, Nicholls is open about this, and rightly so. In doing valuable work for both society and the job market at large, TipStart is seizing an opportunity that doesn’t frequently present itself to entrepreneurs. That is, to make real change. In having this ideal combination, the startup is, we believe, poised for success. As an ambassador, I’d encourage anyone to sign up to the platform in its attempt to change the makeup of white-collar employment. However, as with all companies, growth is the nut to crack first. But despite that, TipStart and Samuel Nicholls are, we believe, likely to achieve something big.