Young Innovators Success Stories: Sara Berkai, Ambessa Play, London
Social impact innovator with a global learning through play vision
Sara Berkai founded social impact business Ambessa Play with a vision to support children around the world to learn through play.
She is developing STEM toy kits and is hosting workshops with the aim of democratising learning with a business model that will see a toy kit donated to a refugee child out of school every time a toy kit is purchased.
When she won the Young Innovators Award 2020/21 from Innovate UK and The Prince’s Trust, she was completing an MSc in Child Development at the University of Oxford while working three part-time jobs. The support provided enabled her to bring her game-changing vision to life.
On reflection, Sara admits that when she received the award her idea was still very embryonic.
With the support of the Young Innovators programme, delivered by Innovate UK EDGE and Innovate UK KTN, the past 12 months have seen Sara incorporate the business, hire three interns, develop the Ambessa Play website, and finalise the company’s branding.
The team has now developed three prototypes of its flagship flashlight product, joined additional accelerator programmes, and been recognised at the Oxford Social Impact Awards.
Sara says, “More importantly, we have been able to test our toy kits with many kids and run outreach workshops at the Design Museum.”
Sara says the financial support from Innovate UK provided a crucial lifeline in enabling her to build her start-up alongside her studies. “It made a huge difference to being able to test materials, carry out 3D printing, and run workshops,” she says.
Alongside the cash boost, Sara’s Innovation Champion and Monitoring Officer both provided regular check-ins, to help Sara be accountable for week-on-week tasks as well as quarterly vision meetings to shape longer-term strategy.
“My Innovation Champion recommended various programmes including gLegal, which is a fantastic resource for start-ups, and the BURN programme, through which we have established a voluntary advisory board,” Sara says.
Clear and confident
Sara says the most personal rewards garnered through the programme are the growth of her self-confidence and the speaking opportunities she has undertaken.
She advises other budding innovators to have clear goals of what you want to achieve, track your progress, and meet like-minded young innovators.
To those considering applying for a future Young Innovators Award, she is emphatic in her advice.
“If you’re considering applying for the Young Innovators programme – go for it! Even the process of the application will help you better communicate your business and the feedback you get will be invaluable.”
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The Young Innovators Awards are an annual competition from Innovate UK that finds, supports and celebrates young people with great business ideas.