Oxfordshire entrepreneur goes back to school to inspire students

KLPR Hackathon

A 28 year-old technology entrepreneur returned to his former school in Wantage to encourage students to embrace artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and virtual reality as part of the launch of his company’s community engagement programme.

Marcus Taylor left King Alfred’s Academy with four A Levels in 2009 and after a short spell working for an Oxfordshire digital marketing agency, went on to establish Venture Harbour, a multi-million pound portfolio of online businesses that has just been revealed as the 22nd fastest growing technology company in the Deloitte 2019 UK Technology Fast 50.

Venture Harbour’s newly launched community engagement programme, 1-1-1, is a commitment to give at least one per cent of product, profits and time to NGOs, students, charities and great causes. Marcus has also become the youngest Patron of the Prince’s Trust, investing £100,000 as an Enterprise Fellow to help support the next generation of entrepreneurs by changing the lives of people who need it the most.

Nearly 40 Year 9 and 10 King Alfred’s Academy computer science students took part in the Venture Harbour Hackathon, working together in small groups at three dedicated technology stations:

  • Artificial Intelligence: A brain-computer interface allowed students to control objects with their mind / thoughts such as training a computer to respond by moving an object on screen left or right
  • Internet of Things (IOT) – Students experienced internet-connected devices such as Alexa, Philips Hue lights, motion sensors and Raspberry Pi, and built a basic internet connected tool / app in the session
  • Virtual Reality (VR) – Students took part in various VR experiences using immersive Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard devices.

Marcus said: “It has been fantastic to return to my school which has definitely changed a lot since I was here! I’m really pleased by how the students worked together as a team and thoroughly embraced each challenge. I hope they will feel inspired by my story and maybe even consider a career in technology as a result of today as they prepare for their GCSEs.”

The Venture Harbour Hackathon took place at King Alfred’s purpose built computer suite, recently refurbished as part of £17 million investment into the school’s infrastructure.  The event adds to a wealth of activities designed to provide wider learning experiences outside of the classroom.

Tanisha Kalutota, 13, Year 9 computer science student, said: “I really enjoyed playing with the virtual reality goggles and was nearly stood on by a dinosaur! It has been good thinking about how computer science can be used to help people such as using virtual reality to test products rather than testing on animals.”

Olly Rickard, 13, Year 9 computer science student added: “Today has been great to see how technology could be a bigger part of our lives.  It is pretty impressive how Marcus is from this town and came from nothing really to now have one of the fastest growing technology companies in the country.”

Harkit Sandhu, Head of Business, Computer Science and Economics, said: “Today’s event has allowed students to interact with different technologies and garner an appreciation of some of the real-world applications of these technologies, bringing much of what we talk about in lessons to life.

“The opportunity to gain an insight into how businesses are developed and see first-hand the importance of resilience, problem solving and team building skills will be invaluable for our students as they begin to chart paths towards their own success.  I’m extremely thankful to Marcus and what he has done to add to what is already a unique curriculum at King Alfred’s”.

Marcus Taylor built his first computer age 10 and taught himself to code by building websites for bands. He has since won numerous entrepreneurship awards, regularly speaks at conferences such as TEDx and has been featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe and a Winner of “Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ at The Business Excellence Forum.

Venture Harbour is based at Howbery Business Park near Wallingford and employs a core team of six as well as hiring a number of freelancers to develop its new business ventures.  The company has doubled its turnover year on year and has a portfolio of ventures valued at over £10 million.  For further information, visit: ventureharbour.com