John’s story

Current Role - Brightside founder and former trustee

Joined Brightside - 2003

Years at Brightside - 17

Twenty years ago, the medical profession was hugely biased towards students from private schools. Even middle-class kids whose parents went to uni had a huge advantage. If your parents hadn’t been to uni, or didn’t know anyone who’d been to uni, who could you ask?

We decided we wanted to do something to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds get into studying medicine.

In the process of setting up a second business, we donated a quarter of the shares to Brightside. We used the resulting dividends and eventually the proceeds from the sale of the company to fund its development.

We chose the name Brightside because it’s all about young people looking on the bright side, staying positive in the face of barriers and never losing optimism.

In the beginning we funded a number of projects run by students in medical schools that were aimed at improving access to medicine. However, after a year or so we decided that we could have greater impact if we focused on a single intervention.

We started working with King’s College London to find a solution. This solution was the first e-mentoring software we developed. We took the idea to the Minister for Education to secure funding, the government was interested in our project because it was very secure (in a way it’s hard to do with face-to-face mentoring) and asynchronous in that mentees and mentors don’t have to be in the same space at the same time. Furthermore, we could match their funding with a grant from AstraZeneca.

Following on from the success of this pilot, we were awarded a share of £13 million of Labour government funding for mentoring in education, interestingly, of all the ideas that were funded, ours is the only one operating today.

The software wasn’t as sophisticated back then, but we could still connect a few thousand mentees with inspiring mentors who could give them ideas and advice on careers. The controls we had in place were unique; remember, this was a time when Facebook was only just getting going.

Although the platform was clunky, it was way ahead of its time. Even back then, young people liked talking online; it’s difficult to ask potentially awkward questions face to face.

From that first medicine project, we expanded very quickly into other areas of widening participation. The essence of the programme is still the same today. Young people need someone to go to for advice, like an older brother or sister, but someone who has experience of the path they’d like to take.

Parents and teachers can only help to a certain extent, and that’s where mentoring fills a gap.

I’m very proud of how far Brightside has come in the last twenty years, and how many young people it has helped. More than 150,000, I’m told. When my co-founder Jim and I stepped back from Brightside about five years ago , Brightside donated some of the reserves to start a new Charity called Upside. We have spent that money funding projects across five countries in Africa focusing on improving access to education. By 2027 we will have distributed more than £2.5m.

Read more anniversary stories

Roshni’s story

I first came across Brightside when my school was offering online mentoring in 2009.

Our 20th anniversary awards ceremony

Jim’s story

Find out how Brightside got its name.

Pooja’s story

I really liked being a mentor: it’s awesome to feel like you’re shaping someone’s life.

Anna’s story

Meet Anna, our Head of Technology. 

Realising Opportunities

Realising Opportunities (RO) is a collaboration of research intensive universities working together to promote fair access for students who are underrepresented at university.