Interview with Sherry Coutu CBE

  • Sherry Coutu CBE is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor based in Cambridge and originally from Canada.
  • Coutu is the Chairman of Founders4Schools, Workfinder, The ScaleUp Institue and Rasberry Pi. She also serves as a non-executive board member of The London Stock Exchange and Pearson.
  • She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to entrepreneurship in the New Year’s Honours List 2013.


Sherry Coutu is the Founder and Chairman of the board of Founders4Schools, the largest transition-to-work charity in the UK. Here, she discusses how the charity was established, its mission and how they will utilise remote learning during the Covid-19 outbreak.


Founders4Schools logo


How did you establish Founders4Schools?


I created Founders4Schools to solve two problems: First, the supply of talent to the vibrant small and medium-sized businesses that were powering the economy. And second, the problem of teachers who had a hard time illustrating to their students the subjects that would take them the furthest with regards to acquiring the skills needed by growing businesses. I had previously seen in schools that bringing business leaders and students together could have a profound impact and that’s where the idea for Founders4Schools was born; we connect educators with volunteers drawn from business to raise the aspirations of students.

Being very data-driven, I started Founders4Schools with the same principles that underpin the other businesses and charities I have been involved with establishing and that I am on the board of. We built the Founders4Schools digital platform to inform teachers which business volunteers in their local community are available to come into their classroom to inspire their students. We inform teachers about where the skills gaps are going to be so that it is easier for them to guide students to choices that will serve them the best. The platform is fully integrated with LinkedIn, Edubase and Duedil to ensure we are working with the latest data.

We registered as a charity in 2015 and have since won many awards for our work and are now regarded as the largest transition-to-work charity in the UK, having helped more than 400,000 students (90,000 students last year) meet at least 3 volunteers in their classrooms.



What is Founders4Schools’s mission?


Our mission is to eradicate the skills gap that is plaguing both students and businesses by working with teachers and parents in communities everywhere. Our contribution to solving this problem is to connect students with volunteers who open their minds to new possibilities and have a lasting impact on their future employability. To put it simply, our services enable students to make better-informed subject and career choices.



How do you work to achieve this?


Our simple, free-to-use digital platform enables educators across the UK to feature business volunteers from their local community in their classrooms. Educators from primary schools, secondary schools and colleges have a range of 25 student-employer encounter types to choose from that have been endorsed by our Educational Impact Committee because they have significant evidence proving positive impact on student employability.

For businesses, our platform gives their employees an easy and flexible way to make a difference in their local communities. Through our integration with LinkedIn, we have a quick and easy sign-up process. After sign-up, volunteers receive requests from educators for a range of student employer encounters and can choose to accept those invitations for encounters that they are the most comfortable with. This may be a keynote speech, a career fair, mock interviews, or speed mentoring. We also offer very detailed reporting so that companies can get a very clear picture of the impact they are having. So far, we’ve facilitated over 1.26M student-employer encounters and have reached almost 400,000 children and young people across the country.



What are your plans for this year?


While our overarching aim of working with teachers and parents to raise the aspirations of students hasn’t changed, our plans have altered quite significantly since the beginning of the year (as is the case for so many organisations at the moment!). The spread of COVID-19 and the recent school closures has meant that we have accelerated our plans to introduce the use of video-streaming to facilitate the engagements between students and volunteers. While the schools are closed to in-person learning engagements, we are connecting students to our business volunteers through virtual encounters. We are seeking partners to allow us to create a vast digital library of videos from our business leaders giving short talks on their roles, their career journey so far and the skills they need to use. These will become an invaluable resource for teachers and parents whether they are creating remote lesson plans or home-schooling.

We’re rolling out a Maths4Girls initiative this year to address the low number of girls taking maths beyond GCSEs and ultimately address the gender imbalance in so many maths-related industries. Let me know if you’d like to help with that! @scoutu