Dicey times call for Dicey Tech

Dicey times call for Dicey Tech

Tell us about yourself and your startup

Sofiane and I met in 2011 as freshers on the Manchester basketball team. Although born on different continents (he is from Niger and I am from Romania), we quickly developed a brotherly relationship. Apart from our obsessive love of basketball, we bonded over our cluelessness regarding the world of work.

Neither of us received any career guidance in school and things didn’t really change at university. There was limited information and no opportunity to experience or gain insights that could inform our decisions. To avoid making the ‘wrong choice’, we both chose generalist subjects. Sofiane studied mechatronic engineering, whilst I did business strategy.

As we were graduating, we were talking about where the world was going and technology was a big part of the conversation. We saw the huge disparity between how industry & jobs are evolving, and how the educational system, despite the best efforts of countless passionate educators, is failing to adapt.

To address this, we started Dicey Tech. The main guiding belief is that, since industry is the driver of innovation, sustainably bridging the skills gap can only be done by creating tangible opportunities for companies to engage with students and shape what they learn. And to succeed, we knew we needed to make education more engaging.

We started doing workshops in the community, bringing together employers, teachers, and students into a room with 3D printers, electronics, VR, and other tech, to design, code, and work on projects - things that students were curious about or that employers suggested.

Then, we built a fully-fledged project-based curriculum that delivers the national specifications for computing, design, engineering & technology, science, and even art. Through this project format, we added industry & career context whilst keeping students engaged in working towards a tangible output.

The academic results showed. All 30 students from the first cohort of our engineering design curriculum attained A*. But despite these results, we recently decided to pivot.

What led you to where you are today?

The main challenge we had was around scalability. They call it hardware for a reason - it’s really hard. And it’s expensive, meaning not too many schools could afford it - even to cover our costs. And it’s not like we tried it for a few months and gave up - we were in the arena for 5 years. But we hit our breaking point in 2021 when, despite growing demand for our product, the supply chain crunch made it impossible to find supply. Electronics like the BBC Micro:bit were like gold dust.

After our recent pivot, our focus is a bit more upstream from schools - at the interface between education and employment. Specifically, we use our project-based learning expertise to make the early careers recruitment process more meritocratic and efficient.

We help employers and students gain more insights into each other and make better decisions. Of course, we do this using projects. What kind of projects? Some are purely educational, like job simulations. Others are delivered or supervised by professors as course credit. And now we’re about to launch commercial projects, where employers outsource work to the top students, giving them an opportunity to learn about the industry whilst also contributing and earning some spare money.

Ultimately, however, they all share the same fundamental utility - projects help students experience different roles and industries, whilst helping companies reach more diverse student populations and make better and faster hiring decisions using unique on-the-job skills data. Projects can be about software development, design, business challenges, and more, but we are starting to focus more on data science projects.

What has been the biggest highlight of your Founder's journey so far?

It’s all been a crazy ride so far, and I’m sure it will get even crazier, but there are two highlights that we unequivocally agree on:

  1. The moments when students would go through some of our projects and discover a passion for creating and learning. We’ve been lucky enough to see that moment in person many times and, each time, the expression on a young person’s face when they discover their creative potential is edifying.
  2. The personal development that both of us, individually, and together, have gone through has been astounding. Not just cognitively, but emotionally and spiritually - we have been completely transformed for the better and I doubt there are many experiences capable of such a powerful impact.

What lessons have you learnt that you would like to pass on?

If I answer this question on a different day, the response will be different. And there are countless lessons we have yet to learn. But, for the sake of brevity:

  • Take care of your mind and body - if these are not working well, nothing else matters.
  • Start with the shortest path to a measurable result and iterate quickly. You don’t want to build an airplane and then find out the job can be done with a paper plane. Or worse, a boat.
  • Use the 80/20 rule. Perfectionism is the enemy of getting sh*t done
  • Stay frugal and don’t spend unless you can associate it with a return on investment.

If you could invite anyone to join the Black Valley community, who and why?

Very tempted to answer with a celebrity or historical figure but we’ll stay practical.

Ndubuisi Uchea (also was on the Manchester basketball team)

He is a founder of ‘Word on the Curb’ and they help brands communicate with underrepresented Gen-Z and millennials. They went viral in 2019 by calling out the £60k campaign funded by the government illustrating the need for people like them to bridge the disconnect between decision makers and minority youth.

Final thoughts?

As a parting thought, we are both grateful to be part of this vibrant community. The start-up world can often be a lonely and brutal place but it’s people like you, community creators, who often make it so much more enjoyable and human. Thank you ❤️

Alex Alexandrescu & Sofiane Bebert

Co-Founders of DiceyTech