We love the variety of businesses that we work with here at Clavering House Business Centre, and we never cease to be amazed about how many small businesses register for our Newcastle virtual office service that have come up with yet another service we’ve not come across before!

Mel Philipson is one of the partners of not-for-profit organisation JEM N.E CIC – a community interest company – and we enjoyed having the chance to catch up with Mel recently to get a ‘behind the scenes’ view of exactly what she does, why she decided to register her business as a CIC, and her thoughts on marketing and business development in her particular sector.

Here’s what Mel had to say …

How would you describe the business to your customers?

Newcastle virtual office JEMneCICWe are a small team of educationists who believe that every pupil has an entitlement to use IT to help them achieve their learning potential. We all believe that IT can make a positive contribution to teaching and learning. JEM N.E is a “Community Interest Company”.  This means that we focus our work and expertise to support the regional and local education communities.  We are a “Not for Profit” organisation delivering affordable and high quality and targeted support for schools.

We are “Local”. We work in the North East and will come to your school.

Our delivery is “Face to Face”. We know that teachers value interactions with our team members.

We deliver “Practical Advice and Support”. We will use your school system to deliver training, so that you know that, when we leave at the end of the session, the software and hardware can support your work.

What do your customers say about you and your service?

Here’s an example of some recent customer feedback, which pretty much says what we’re all about!

“When faced with a new school build, a changing curriculum and a retiring IT leader we were, for a short time, aghast. That was until we enlisted the support of JEM. They have literally guided us as a staff, a school and a community to create our vision for IT in our new school, considering what is important to us. They have then enabled us to make this vision a reality; leading staff CPD, supporting us in recruiting new technical support providers and developing our curriculum for computing. The knowledge, expertise and professionalism we have experienced through our work with JEM has been second to none and I would highly recommend their services!”

Why did you decide to register your business as a CIC, and what difference do you think that has made?

We believe that as a Community Interest Company, or CIC, we can add something to the North East communities.  I think that schools realise that we are focused on their needs rather than driving the company to create profit for shareholders, because one of the key criteria for setting up a CIC is that you agree to an asset lock – so all of the profits of the company go to the community you serve – in our case North East schools.

What 3 pieces of advice do you have for educators who want to take advantage of IT?

1. Think about what you want to achieve using technology – we’ve seen some schools purchase expensive equipment before having decided what they want to achieve for learning.

2. Make sure that you invest in staff – sometimes schools focus on purchasing hardware but don’t invest in training staff in how to use it.  Schools need to consider the total cost of ownership.

3 Talk to JEM about your IT needs!  We’re helping many schools across the region to improve learning through IT.

What are the main challenges associated with embedding eLearning, and how do you help your customers to overcome these?

The main challenges include:

  • Not providing sufficient time to become familiar with technologies and what they can offer
  • Understanding that it takes time to see results and improvements
  • Ensuring that staff are sufficiently confident and competent in using IT
  • Thinking about how technologies can support different learning styles.

We work with schools to help them identify what they want to achieve.  Sometimes this includes developing a vision for IT in learning in their schools.  Once schools have a clear vision, we help them develop an action plan, broken down into manageable steps with measurable outcomes.  Development activities need resourcing and so we work with schools to help them prioritise spending and allocation of resources.  We understand educational pedagogy and can work with teachers to help them create opportunities to embed IT into their lessons and learning.

What advice should you have given yourself when you were setting up your business, looking back now?

From registering the business, it took about six months until we were ready to work with schools.  We hadn’t planned for this nor for the cashflow problems that this brings, so my advice to myself would be to realise that it takes time to start a business, and plan for that in your financial forecasts.

How would you describe your approach to marketing your business?

Our best marketing tool is our customers who tell other schools about what we’ve achieved.  We make a point of formally evaluating each event or development and feeding that back to the school.  That’s powerful in helping them realise that progress has been made.  We then use these evaluations on our websites.  Real testimonials are really valuable.

Why is a Newcastle base useful for your business, and why did you decide on a Newcastle mailing address rather than an office?

Newcastle is in the centre of the region with easy access to all Local Authorities.  It’s a great centre for development and has a great promotional aspect.  We went for a “virtual” office at Clavering House Business Centre because we’re a very small organisation and couldn’t have afforded the overheads of setting up a full time office base.

Brilliant, so what’s next for you?

Our constant focus, as a relatively new business, is building our customer base and developing new educational IT services to meet the needs of schools – our development won’t (and shouldn’t) ever stop!

Thank you, Mel!