Using Tech for Good to drive social mobility in education: meet Joe Seddon of Zero Gravity

Robin Beattie, Director, Hays

To find out more about what it’s like to blaze a trail in the Tech for Good space, we sat down with the winning entrepreneur of 2023’s global Super Connect for Good competition.

What is Super Connect for Good?

Super Connect for Good is a Tech for Good initiative powered by Hays and Empact Ventures. Through the annual competition, we aim to discover the world’s best start-ups and scale-ups in the Tech for Good space, before connecting them with the right partners and investors to help them take their business to the next level.

To date, we’ve named 72 winners across four competitions, backing each of them on their journey. These Tech for Good businesses make a positive societal impact in a variety of areas, including education, sustainability and healthcare.

Who is the 2023 Super Connect for Good competition winner?

While Hays and Empact Ventures name several regional winners each year, as well as those in each innovation vertical, our judges also choose a Global Winner.

In 2023, our champion was Zero Gravity. Founded in the UK by Joe Seddon, the start-up aims to promote social mobility by helping young people from low-opportunity backgrounds to access higher education and early careers opportunities. Zero Gravity currently boasts over 15,000 members, from students and jobseekers to mentors providing guidance on taking the next leap.

What is Zero Gravity doing to improve social mobility?

Through their work, school pupils who receive weekly mentoring are twice as likely to secure a place at a top university. These mentors have lived similar experiences to the students and are able to offer relevant, up-to-date advice on reaching their goals.

In addition to offering mentorship, Zero Gravity also boasts one of the largest scholarship funds in the UK, and has contributed over £850,000 to students.

Through their work since Joe began the company in 2020, over 8,000 students have received offers from prestigious Russell Group universities in the UK. Last year, a quarter of all students from low-opportunity backgrounds admitted to Oxford and Cambridge universities had received support from Zero Gravity.

In recognition of his ongoing work, Joe has recently been named in the UK Sunday Times’ 2024 Young Power List, which celebrates inspiring people aged 30 or under.

Interview with Joe Seddon, CEO and Founder of Zero Gravity

What are the challenges facing Tech for Good start-up founders?

It's ironic, because I was founding a Tech for Good start-up to solve the problem of social mobility while facing those very same challenges! I didn't have a network of entrepreneurs around me. I didn't really know anyone who'd started a business before. Even in terms of just the basics of getting started, I didn’t know how to form a company.

The only way I was able to overcome these challenges was to be a little unconventional. For instance, I had no network, so in the early days I focused on building a mission-driven brand that really resonated with people. I can trace back every investor in Zero Gravity to news articles about us in the first year. I was able to bring a network to me, rather than me having to go to them.

Any entrepreneurial journey is difficult, but if you are someone from a socially mobile background, then the barriers are even bigger than those a typical start-up founder would face.

How do you prioritise innovation within your Tech for Good start-up?

I want our team to look far outside the sector we operated in to get ideas. When it came to building our platform, some of our most effective features came from taking technologies that worked in a very different context and applying them to our own use case. For example, to partner people with the right mentors, we explored how Deliveroo and Uber were building algorithms to match riders and takeaway eaters to drivers.

Experimentation is key to innovation, too. For instance, in the early days of the company, we acquired most of our sign-ups through organic social media. We found Instagram accounts run by 16-year-olds who were making memes about their exams and what was going on in school. We decided to build an influencer campaign whereby we paid around 20 different accounts to create memes about Zero Gravity. The number of sign-ups and cost per acquisition was much better than anything we'd done before. Sometimes it can just be a small idea that you're not sure is going to work, but you give it a try.

If you could go back to the day you founded Zero Gravity and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Start sooner! It's impossible to be an overnight success. People are peppered with false examples of entrepreneurial success that make it look like a great idea is born and then suddenly explodes. Movies like ‘The Social Network’ make the Facebook journey look like an overnight success but, in reality, even an industry-defining company took years and years before it transitioned from a student platform to a worldwide one.

What really makes a difference is just being in it for the long run, being relentless and keeping going after knockbacks. The earlier you can start, the better, because if it takes four years of 1% growth every week to build a fantastic company, then you need to get going. I falsely believed that I needed the perfect set of skills and knowledge when, actually, a little bit of youthful naivety and blind optimism can go a long way.

Watch the full interview with Joe Seddon, winner of the 2023 Super Connect for Good competition, here.


Robin Beattie
Global Head of Hays Technology

With over two decades of experience in the staffing and talent industry, Robin works with start-ups and scaling businesses to identify and connect talent and other skills solutions.