This week we spoke with John Miles, Founder and CTO of Inkpath. John created and built the very first proof-of-concept prototype of Inkpath while at Oxford back in 2013 and has been developing the idea ever since. We spoke about how Inkpath was created, what’s next in-store, and the challenges in getting the company off the ground.
What was the inspiration behind starting Inkpath?
The inspiration behind Inkpath was quite straightforward: the students and researchers I had worked with in my university roles were generally terrible at keeping a portfolio of their activities and achievements and would find it really hard to articulate their skills in a language employers could understand. The result was that the end of their programme could feel like a career precipice, approaching fast. This isn’t just a problem for students and researchers, it is a problem for their university too: career destinations, equality and access, research funding, wellbeing — the list of agenda this has an impact upon runs on and on. I started Inkpath to try to solve this problem, beginning by understanding the barriers (nobody wants to fill in a clunky e-portfolio on a desktop computer, for a start) and then thinking about how the right platform could help universities make the end of a programme of learning feel less like a precipice rushing up and more like a set of avenues, illuminated and full of opportunity.
Tell us a little bit more about the tech behind the product?
Inkpath enables students and researchers to build a rich, lifetime record in a highly automated way, allowing them to scan-in their attendance and activities via their mobiles, choose short-, medium- and long-term career pathways and goals to pursue, and get instant breakdowns of the skills they are developing, easily exportable to a CV. They get to keep using Inkpath even after they leave. Universities use the Inkpath portal to curate and signpost activities and opportunities of any type, within and beyond the institution, setting pathways of recommended learning. There is a rich data exchange in Inkpath which allows institutions to get granular feedback, monitor attendance, and report on skills development with detailed data analytics.
Who should be using Inkpath?
Just about anyone and everyone! Currently, our users consist of undergraduates, postgraduates, researchers, postdocs, professional services staff, research staff, and more. And we have already received expressions of interest from schools, further education, businesses and the public sector.
What are you looking to achieve next?
We have just started on the next key step in our development now that we have a range of universities using Inkpath. That next step is to get employers involved in our platform, not initially to do job-matching (that’s a very crowded space!) but instead so that they too can help shape talent from an early stage, using our platform alongside universities to illuminate paths for Inkpath users.
Who/what inspires you?
Apart from my brilliant team, I am most regularly inspired by our Inkpath-using students and researchers, who are without exception an incredibly bright and dynamic group of people. They are going on to achieve amazing things, and it is a privilege to play a part in helping them to get there. Hopefully, we will stay with them for their next journey, too.
What has been the hardest thing about getting Inkpath off the ground?
The hardest thing about getting Inkpath off the ground has been the fact that universities tend to move slowly (sometimes glacially!). But they are full of opportunity and brilliant people, and when a new idea really takes root the results are spectacular.
What piece of advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
If you can, surround yourself with the right people as soon as possible, whether they are your immediate team, advisors, or contacts among your potential and existing clients. Those who have genuine experience in your sector, real integrity and want to see your enterprise succeed for the right reasons are the ones whose counsel you will value the most during the inevitable ups and downs.
How do you think starting a company in the UK has helped you? What separates this ecosystem from others?
For Inkpath, we were lucky enough to have started in the country which, in our opinion, is the world leader for developing students and researchers. So we knew that if we could make Inkpath work here, we could probably take it anywhere else in the world (and we now have an international client base). We started Inkpath at the University of Oxford, and the Oxford ecosystem is a good example of how in the UK we are great at linking up the huge enterprises with the small ones. Oxford’s entrepreneurial ecosystem brings together inventors and innovators of all types, backgrounds and roles, and I know that the same takes place in Cambridge, London and elsewhere.
You can follow Inkpath’s story on twitter: @InkpathUK or at email@example.com.