• Osa Iluobe

Zero Gravity's Joe Seddon: “I always wanted to be a tech entrepreneur growing up”

In conversation with Zero Gravity's Joe Seddon

Before I sat down with Zero Gravity’s Joe Seddon, I was hoping that I'd get the chance to truly unpick the fine brain of this Oxford graduate turned tech startup founder. He didn’t disappoint. Seddon’s journey from West Yorkshire local lad to social mobility’s national hero is a tale of ‘working-class boy made good’. This explains why his mission is to facilitate a similar story to his for the millions of less economically privileged young people across the UK. With Zero Gravity, a tech startup that propels economically disadvantaged students into top universities and careers, Seddon has been making good of his aim.

With fine academic results throughout secondary school and a first-class degree to his name from the University of Oxford in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) , one only has to look at Seddon’s CV to establish the fact that he’s endowed with enviable intellect. One also only has to look at Seddon’s CV to establish the fact that he has no aversion to‘risk-taking’, a common feature amongst successful entrepreneurs. Because after rejecting offers from blue-chip commercial law firms and pondering on whether to pursue a journalistic career, Seddon did something that to many would have appeared bizarre at the timeThat is, to start a tech company from his bedroom in his mum’s house with nothing but £200 to his name and basic coding skills that he picked up as a 14-year-old. Whether it was because of confidence, naivety or the philosophy books that Seddon consumed religiously as an undergraduate, one thing is certain - it was a bold move.

Seddon’s background is not one of privilege, unlike much of the student body at Oxford. Having grown up in West Yorkshire in a single-parent household, Seddon did very well at school, and despite the fact that Oxford seemed a world away, he fired off an application ‘with very little help’ that, to his surprise, was ultimately successful. Straight A*s in his A-levels confirmed his place at Oxford and thereby provided him with the golden ticket of moving up the social ladder. Seddon was only too aware of this. “Just being able to turn up and say that I’m an Oxford student was already an achievement because I was the first person in my wider family to go to Oxbridge”.

Initially, Oxford proved challenging for Seddon. 3,000 word essays from the moment he arrived were coupled with the need to adjust to high expectations from the university and even greater expectations, albeit implicitly, from peers - as is often the case at top institutions. But, it would be his time at Oxford that would give Seddon the entrepreneurial spirit - (not so much the practical skills) - to believe that he could ‘go it alone’ as a founder. Seddon notes that his time at university gave him “the mental tailwind to believe that I can do something which is audacious andunorthodox for people from backgrounds such as my own”.

Having graduated, pursuing the unorthodox is exactly what Seddon did. Having started Zero Gravity as the sole founder in the summer of 2018, Seddon went about spreading the word via universities first, thereby hoping to benefit from the ripple effect of student enthusiasm and word-of-mouth. But even though Zero Gravity now boasts a team of over 20 employees, has mentored over 3000 low-income background students into top universities (including 5% of all students who received straight A*s at A-level in 2022), and has raised £4 million in equity investment, the journey was not straightforward.

Seddon highlights the fact that because of the unconventional route of starting up straight after graduating, there was a ‘lack of moral support’, something that he believes is true for entrepreneurs in the UK more generally. This, combined with the fact that Seddon had an unconventional idea to build technology to promote social mobility and create a self-sustaining business model off the back of it, meant that Seddon had to rely on determination and youthful naivety, as he even admits, to fuel the Zero Gravity project in its early days.

Purpose, impact, and innovation are what appear to be the main ingredients in Zero Gravity’s cocktail of success that has made it one of the most formidable and well-respected projects within the UK’s education ecosystem. With over 250,000 mentoring conversations and over 20,000 mentoring sessions conducted through the platform last year, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the job is done for Zero Gravity, having played a crucial role in driving social mobility at the UK’s leading universities in recent years.

But, not keen to rest on his laurels, Seddon is expanding the platform beyond mentoring into top universities as the company is now partnering with employers to mentor Zero Gravity students who’ve reached top universities into leading internship and graduate schemes. The likes of HSBC,KPMG, and Fidelity are amongst the most prominent names to partner with Zero Gravity to drive social mobility within their firms. The goal is for employer partners to work with Zero Gravity to deliver mentorship, masterclasses, and community engagement with students through the Zero Gravity platform.

If Zero Gravity’s new foray into careers proves to be a success, social mobility in Britain will be in a much better state. And we’ll have Joe Seddon, the man ‘who always wanted to be a tech entrepreneur’ to thank.