The Road to Social Entrepreneurship
James Barrett is a PM in SET learner who started his own company after a time of challenge.
Read James's story and how he used his education at Tomorrow University to find a new purpose.
Life is full of surprises, and ending up a funded social entrepreneur wasn’t exactly on my road map, but I am grateful to be on this journey. Here it is.
Life also never runs smoothly. After my dad died in 2020, I had a bit of a life laundry to do; relocate to the country, sell my successful side business, and learn to relax. It didn’t take long, however, before I got bored and found the Professional Master’s Degree program in SET with Tomorrow University of Applied Sciences.
Time to relearn
It was really exciting to have the opportunity to take part in the Professional Master's Degree in SET at Tomorrow University. I joined as a Founding Club member, which was a great opportunity for several reasons. Not only did this mean that as the first group of learners in the program, we got to help direct its development, but it also meant we got to watch Tomorrow University grow and iterate over the months, something I have found invaluable since I started on the entrepreneurship journey myself. Watching the university grow helped both me and my business grow.
Tomorrow University offers both an intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship route. I didn’t initially set out to follow the entrepreneurship route — even as I approached the final thesis phase, I had identified a number of internal projects for my then-employer that I had hoped to progress. That said, throughout the program, there were many ‘challenges’ (effectively coursework) where we had to explore a problem and then come up with a solution. Throughout these ‘challenges,’ I kept coming back to a series of related problems around how we make the end of life better for everyone, realising that this could be just the opportunity to do something bigger: MyGoodbyes was born.
Meet my dad
In October 2020, my father died of disseminated lung cancer that had spread from his lungs to his bones and, in particular, to his spine. Because of this, towards the end of his life, he was bedridden, unable to walk, care for, or feed himself. He was no longer the man he used to be.
All of this was during the pandemic, forcing us to make difficult decisions that were both emotionally challenging and impactful on his potential length and quality of life. Having to make difficult decisions when someone is in their final weeks creates tremendous emotional strain and can be fraught with the risk of disagreements as people aren’t in the right mindset to tackle these decisions. This got me thinking.
Back to school
Jumping forward, I was beginning to realise that my father, who hadn’t made any plans around the end-of-life healthcare he wanted, wasn’t alone. As part of my thesis, I interviewed many people about what end-of-life plans they had in place, discovering that most people either hadn’t made plans at all or had done the very minimum that was needed. This was often true whether I was talking to someone in their 70s, someone with older parents, bereaved people, or indeed new parents. Plans simply were not being made.
As my research showed, my dad’s story isn’t unique, and there is a lot of work to be done to turn the dial. When I researched the current market, it was apparent that most solutions focus on either people who are dying or on the legal requirements of death, such as making a Will. The current solutions miss a large chunk of what needs to be addressed — getting people to discuss their wishes well in advance.
I realised that as planning for death was about as appealing as running over hot coals, we had found the problem to solve: How do we get people talking about death and putting some basic plans in place in a quick, easy, and, if possible, fun way?
From thesis to social entrepreneurship
As part of my thesis, I began to create a Minimum Viable Product aimed at getting the nation talking about death. The concept is a simple one: in essence, we aim to get people together to have a conversation about death, focusing on memories, healthcare, legacy, and finally, the celebration of life.
The research I completed established that no one thinks they are old, so the MyGoodbyes approach is about getting people together on an equal footing (no sitting Grandma down to have that ‘difficult chat’). MyGoodbyes supports the discussion by offering videos, readable, and guidance on getting the most out of the sessions.
How does MyGoodbyes work?
MyGoodbyes is an app dedicated to preparing for and talking about the end of life.
We have simplified the planning and recording of your wishes — no scary forms, no lengthy meetings — just essential resources created by experts, designed to inform, support, and challenge your views about what dying well might mean to you. Work through the module alone or get a group of loved ones together and get ‘end of life’ ready in an evening.
After a three-month sabbatical to work on my thesis, I was very excited to get funding from Innovate UK to develop the product more, and to include the use of AI to guide users to areas they need to focus on, and also to challenge any decisions to ensure that they are the right ones. With this investment, I am hopeful we can turn the tide on talking about death and helping people have a better end of life.