Tom Hadfield is seventeen, and like the Ben Ways of this world is already on his second Internet company. He conceived and founded Soccernet.com when he was twelve, and in November 1999 launched his education site, Schoolsnet.com, which was recently named No. 1 Internet Startup of the Year by New Media Age. Schoolsnet has just received its second round of funding from Newsquest and fdm group, and has recently partnered with NASUWT.
The site provides educational content for teachers, parents and students and acts as a resource for students who are, for example, applying to colleges. On the e-commerce side, Schoolsnet aims to help member schools get reduced prices on supplies such as textbooks.
In December 1999, the site was one of ten companies to participate in kids.net, a study conducted by NOP research. The survey found surprisingly high rates of Internet penetration among kids: 51 percent of those questioned had used the Internet at least once, with 54 per cent of those being boys. There are 3.6 million Internet users between the ages of 7-16 years old, logging on 3.2 times a week on average.
techTrader spoke to Hadfield about how he thinks the Internet will change education.
This is your second Internet company. How were you able to start up Soccernet and Schoolsnet at such a young age?
It just happened-- neither of the companies were planned. When I was twelve I was putting football scores on the Internet as a hobby, and as it happened this turned out to have commercial potential. Both my Dad and I have had to learn as we go along since neither of us have any experience in setting up businesses. Between 1996 and 1997 when Schoolsnet was being conceived, I was very aware of the Internet boom, and was looking at ways to join in.
Where did the idea for Schoolsnet come from? Is education an area that you are interested in, or do they represent gaps that you saw in the market?
Both Soccernet and Schoolsnet have evolved from many different angles, representing the coming together of my interests at particular points in my life. As I have changed, my enthusiasm for football has shifted to education. I was using the Internet for my GCSE revision, and realised the pitfalls that exist in education Web sites. My mum is also a teacher, and she was beginning to understand how much the Internet can help in education.
Do you think that the education system fosters Internet entrepreneurs?
My school has been very co-operative towards my business ventures, but the education system still has a long way to go. It is the job of teachers to find out what the Internet can do -- when in practice very few know how to use the technology. I ended up going to my Dad for help, which is a very poor state of affairs.
You have a proposed floatation for 2001-- what are your expansion plans?
We have huge expansion plans, starting with our official launch on 3rd May. We have important business development plans in place, and have spent thousands of pounds on content for revision guides etc-- we offer the biggest supply of content for the education market.
How has the recent downturn in the Internet market affected you? Do you think that it will have a long- term impact?
Schoolsnet is confident that the volatile market conditions aren't going to affect us, as we possess good business fundamentals. I don't think that the fall in Microsoft share prices for example are going to have any long-term effects upon the industry.
Startup Spotlight is a weekly feature on ZDNet UK News and ZDNet techTrader, featuring the bright sparks of the UK's high-tech startup industry. For more of the faces behind the news see the Startup Spotlight archive.
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