Readingmate, an edtech company based in Norwich, has recruited four new people and moved into larger offices as it prepares to launch a new reading app for schools in September.

Established in January 2021 by James Rix and his wife Hannah, a former English teacher, Readingmate aims to address the “inequity of opportunity” for children – with only one in 11 having a book of their own.

“In 2019, the stats showed that 27% of kids went to secondary school not being able to read to the expected standard. That's eight out of a class of 30 – and that's in the UK,” he added. “On average, those 27% are three years behind their peers when they leave secondary school, which means the playing field isn't level for them – they go into the world with a disadvantage.”

To address this, James and Hannah set up a Facebook group and Instagram page where parents could review and recommend children’s books to other parents. They then developed an app for parents to track their children’s reading and pay a flat fee to have books delivered each month.

The Readingmate app launched in January 2021 and was downloaded by over 7,000 users. However, with only a few parents using it to order books, James and Hannah approached tech incubator and fellow Future 50 member Akcela, with whom they shared an office.

“I met with Matt Lawley and James Adams at Akcela, and they got the idea straightaway,” James said. “James has a young son of his own, so he totally understood the concept, and we started working together to actually commercialise the business.”

Matt and James became shareholders in Readingmate as it developed its ‘recommendation engine’, which uses an algorithm to recommend books to children based on their reading age.

“We did a lot of work on age-rating individual books with teachers, librarians and industry experts up and down the country,” said James. “Then we started using our recommendation engine to track a child's reading journey through the app and adjust their reading age based on what they're reading – plus the parents’ feedback on what they're reading.”

Readingmate is now sharing this data with schools through a new version of the app, which is currently in beta and expected to launch officially in September. It is already being used by 80,000 parents and 146,000 children across 511 schools.

The updated app will give children access to over 1,250 e-books – increasing to 5,000 books by January 2023 and 130,000 by September 2023 – which they can read on tablets at school and continue reading at home. Schools will have free access to the books until January 2023 – and will then pay an annual fee based on their size and the number of app features they wish to use.

To support the launch, Readingmate has recruited four teachers from across East Anglia to join its education partnerships team.

“We've tried to build a team that understands schools and cares about what we are doing,” said James. “If you're a teacher, you understand the importance of reading and what it can do to children's lives.”

The company has also moved into a larger office – but still in the same building as Akcela, which now has its first ‘graduate’.

“While it's sad for us to see people go, that's the aspiration for every company here – to get to a point where they're big enough to move on,” said James Adams, managing director of Akcela. “We have a founders’ meeting every third Tuesday of the month, and Readingmate are still part of that.”

James Rix added: “I said when I first met with James and Matt that I wanted to become a better founder and CEO, and the biggest compliment I can give them is that I have.”

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