Inspirational Woman: Mital Thanki | Founder, Spark Academy

Mital ThankiMital Thanki is founder and ‘Chief Sparky’ of Spark Academy, a private tuition academy providing online and in-person tutoring, that has been created to help young people reach their potential with programmes based on the national curriculum.

A qualified teacher of science, Mital was recipient of the global MBA Student of the Year Award in 2021.

Mital is as advisory board member for the University of Leicester School of Business, judge for the global MBA Student of the Year Award, author and co-creator of the podcast The Career Crowd.

Tell us about yourself, background and current role

I was born and raised in Leicester, a city I love and the base for my business.

I’m a passionate educator with a strong social conscience, and my firm ethos is about making quality education affordable, so that it provides pathways for social mobility and brighter opportunities in your child’s future.

Since 2009, I have been leading a team of equally passionate teachers as founder of Spark Academy, an after-school tuition provider. I want to leave a legacy that inspires future generations to become the best version of themselves, supporting them to discover, accomplish and surpass their own perceived potential. In doing so, I continue to have fun, learn and evolve.

Aside from running the academy, I’m an educational consultant, working with education leaders in schools and organisations to enhance standards in teaching. And I wear one or two hats outside of work, including in an advisory capacity. I was very proud to be asked to support the team behind the fantastic Maths City, in Leeds.

When I’m not working, my interests are spirituality, philosophy, music, food and keeping fit. I’m a great believer in finding time for yourself to rest, meditate and care for your all round wellbeing.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Growing up, I had a teacher who told me that I wasn’t good enough to get a D, let alone an A. I remember asking that teacher for guidance as I was struggling, feeling lost in the face of A-level Chemistry.

When he said those words to me, I felt so embarrassed, like a total failure. I had always been a high achiever, but over time my spirit started to break. I lost my sense of direction. Eventually, after a rather turbulent period, I decided to move to a different college and start again.

My academic career came with a fair few challenges, and meant that I had to develop coping mechanisms to keep up to speed with my learning. Diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 21, I then came to understand why I had been processing information differently. This is why I’m an advocate of non-conformist learning techniques that will help any child realise their infinite potential.

I’ve learned how to unlearn negative beliefs and we now pass that knowledge on to our students, providing them with all the tools they need to succeed.

The surprising thing is that my story isn’t in any way remarkable. So many parents and students I speak to have unfortunately gone through similar experiences. This breaks my heart, but there is hope and so many brilliant, inspirational teachers out there.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

After moving college during my secondary education, I met Anne, my new chemistry teacher. Anne ignited my passion for Chemistry – a subject that I had previously felt was IMPOSSIBLE. I started to rebuild my resilience and to restore faith within myself.

I realised that if all teachers were as compassionate, encouraging, and supportive as Anne, then all students can build their resilience, develop their confidence, and ultimately enjoy the fruits of academic success – greater opportunities, greater social mobility, and the chance to live out their goals and aspirations.

At that moment, I decided that I wanted to teach – specifically A-Level Chemistry! From a young age, I had dreamt of becoming a doctor. This was the traditional career path for someone of Indian origin. In teaching, however, I felt a sense of deep purpose calling me. After completing my undergraduate degree and my PGCE, I worked in a school as a science teacher and specialised in A-level Chemistry. I vowed to ensure that no child under my watch would ever go through the same thing as I did – a sort of Hippocratic oath, just not in the medicinal sense!

Although I loved teaching in schools, there was something inside of me that wanted to do things differently, to follow my passion for working with small groups and incorporate a more robust, holistic approach. That’s where Spark Academy was born.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Becoming a business owner brought fresh challenges. There’s only so far that your gut and entrepreneurial spirit can actually take you.

So, I embarked on an MBA program, where I found myself among people from companies like Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola. I felt completely out of my comfort zone, trying to learn with these high flyers, all while trying to run Spark Academy at the same time.

As it turned out, I achieved my goal of earning a Distinction and was honoured to be named the MBA Student of the Year for 2021, a global award. My journey had come full circle. All those struggles had led me there to that moment and I had achieved all I’d hoped for, and more.

At the end of those two-and-a-half years, I had transformed into a completely different person. I developed a new love for learning and developing myself. My confidence grew to entirely new levels. I made some great improvements to the business and honed my ethos and my personal philosophy. That’s why I am so passionate about spreading the love of learning far and wide, and teaching the right strategies to help you along the way.

Being a role model, a woman in a leadership position and being influential, is important to me. There are many girls out there who lack confidence, but my message is ‘keep the faith, and be patient’.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

A major factor in my achieving successes has been fostering well-being and developing a growth mindset. This is most definitely the heart of academic success, and it has driven me in my education and subsequent career also.

Wellbeing and personal development go hand in hand. Part of it is about being self-aware of your energy levels. I suffered major burnout and depression when I was starting out in business, but I learned the lesson that you need to take care of yourself if you’re to be successful. You can’t let your business run you. You’ve got to run the business.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

We believe that every child has the capability of reaching their potential with the right level of guidance, excitement, coaching and mentoring. Mentoring is a big part of what we do at Spark, and I have been fortunate to have mentors, both men and women, who have given me guidance at important times in my life. Furthermore, I provide mentoring to other women starting out in business.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I was very honoured recently to receive the Outstanding Woman in Education award at The Women’s Awards gala dinner and ceremony in Nottingham.

For everybody there, it was a fantastic evening because we were able to celebrate the achievements of women across so many areas of business and society. Progress has been made in reducing the gender inequality gap, and both women and men have had a part to play in this.

There is, however, much more to be done, and initiatives such as The Women’s Awards and WeAreTheCity’s Rising Star and WeAreTechWomen awards are not only an opportunity to celebrate achievements, they are a chance to inspire other women and girls too.

In short, we need to celebrate and recognise women’s achievements across all areas of our lives, and create new role models.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

My message to my younger self is the message I have for the girls at my academy. It is this: Keep on going with what you believe in. Do this unapologetically. Have that steadfast faith and patience. Love yourself in the process. Then seize the day when you do not have to justify your place in this world and what makes you unique. You will be able to realise your limitless potential.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge is to expand nationally across the United Kingdom before breaking into new territories internationally. With our technology infrastructure and ed-tech platform, I intend to take Spark Academy across to new continents and emerging markets.

I intend to also start a foundation that supports young girls across the world access high quality education to empower them in their careers and life choices.

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