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UCL startup helping millions of students achieve their potential

Education technology and social-impact startup ZNotes delivers quality education for school students, regardless of their background, through free revision notes and other online content.

Rows of study guide books, with text saying: "For students, by students"

9 September 2021

Founded by UCL alumnus Zubair Junjunia, ZNotes has helped over 3 million students in 198 countries, at various stages of their education. This ranges from high school exams to university applications.

In 2021, Zubair received The Diana Award, which is one of the highest accolades a young person can achieve for social action. It's backed by The Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex.

Creating an online community

Zubair was born and raised in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents who worked for a development bank. He went to a good school, where he received what he describes as a “holistic, international education”. But while studying there he became aware of the “disparities and inequalities” in education provision, even in neighbouring schools in his area. With this in mind, he began to share some of his revision notes online in an effort to help others.

“I never originally planned for this to be anything but a simple blog to share some resources. I think the pivotal moment came when other students decided to help as well. I’m prouder of that than anything else. It wasn't only people contributing notes but also students supporting each other through this ecosystem.”

Taking the offering global

Zubair started his Master’s degree in Mathematics at UCL in 2016, graduating in 2020 with First Class Honours. During this time, he was continuing to run ZNotes. 

In the second year of study, he approached UCL Innovation & Enterprise for assistance in evolving the ZNotes community, platform and branding. He successfully applied to the UCL Launch programme (now called ‘Build your own business 3: Launch your business’).

He comments: “I learned a whole host of things, from the legal side, to financing. But more than anything it gave me the confidence to speak about what I was doing and share our ambitions. From there, things just happened.”

The company has received numerous awards and nominations. For example, it was recognised as one of the top 12 education technology (EdTech) startups in the UK among 3,500 other companies in the GESAwards. They were recent finalists in the Social Innovation category at Minority Supplier Development UK (MSDUK). Zubair was also the youngest participant in the inaugural Facebook Community Accelerator and receiving grant funding from GlobalGiving.

Over 3 million people have visited the site to access content in the 6 years they’ve been active, and there are currently more than 80,000 active users. 

ZNotes is currently in residence at BaseKX, UCL’s dedicated entrepreneurship hub, run by UCL Innovation & Enterprise. BaseKX plays host to a community of the university’s most promising startups by providing free, tailored support and dedicated office space.

Staff from UCL Innovation & Enterprise also helped Zubair in obtaining a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, meaning he could continue growing the company in the UK after graduating.

Towards educational activism 

In addition to its globally successful revision aids, ZNotes has now launched several new content offerings. For example, ZNotes Insider is a student-centric newsletter that promotes discussions between students worldwide. Meanwhile, The Tomato Timer is a podcast offering insight into potential careers, university experiences and building a business. Contributors are experts from all over the world.

The company is now structured as two separate entities. ZNotes Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation to promote the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which calls for inclusive and equitable quality education for all. Alongside that, ZNotes Education operates as a fully-fledged EdTech company, scaling up with investments.

“I’d like to describe myself as an educational activist and social entrepreneur. Though I might be saying that a bit too early, I'd certainly like to head towards that direction.

“For me the focus is on making education more affordable, accessible and inclusive. I want to use this amazing technology and leverage the greatest minds so that anyone anywhere in the world can get the very best education.”

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