"What about free school meals?" When Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked how the government was going to help feed vulnerable children as the nation went into lockdown in March 2020, he had to react quickly. Peter Dabrowa, founder of Wonde, immediately engaged with the Department for Education (DfE).
"We spoke to them on the Thursday to fully understand their requirements, and we started work on Friday," he recalls. "By Sunday, we were ready to help UK schools support their families."
Serial EdTech entrepreneur Dabrowa was uniquely positioned to help, thanks to Wonde's innovative school data management platform already providing schools with the ability to manage, maintain and control their data and their relationship with third-party applications.
"Via our platform, schools have the capabilities to identify children eligible for free school meals and enable them to distribute supermarket vouchers so parents could still provide for their children."
Wonde sent out a single email, notifying schools they could now provide voucher support to their eligible families via their Wonde dashboard.
The response was overwhelming.
"We thought that a few hundred schools would opt in," says Dabrowa. "But we underestimated how much this provision was needed. We had over 4,000 schools register on the first day resulting in millions of pounds worth of voucher orders. "
The whole 80-strong company had to pitch in, working through the night to ensure schools were fully supported in the purchase and distribution of vouchers. Whilst the voucher solution provided essential support for the most vulnerable families, Wonde was also instrumental in the ability for schools to manage the immense challenges facing them in the continuity of education during school closures.
Remote learning was something schools needed to adopt overnight. Thanks to Wonde's existing provision and the introduction of secure login protocols, staff and teachers could safely and securely access their systems no matter their location, ensuring they were present for pupils. Dabrowa's lightning-fast response to the significant problems facing schools in the UK, has helped the company to grow from an ambitious start-up to a profitable GBP200m-turnover technology superstar in just 12 months, "Our relationship with the supermarkets, enables us to provide the solution at no cost to schools or the DfE," explains Dabrowa.
He has continued to design and build several voucher solutions, helping local authorities distribute clothing vouchers to asylum seekers, for example. Wonde was created in 2015 to address a challenge that Dabrowa had encountered in his previous start-up, the learning platform, eSchools.
"We found that schools use multiple applications to manage data, and often have to send CSV files or input data manually into each application," he explains. "We wanted to find a better way of accessing school data through an API, meaning a reduction in the administrative burden for schools as well as increased security, and no one in the UK was currently doing it, so I thought I'd give it a go."
Wonde now works with over 23,000 - "We're the largest company in our sector by school penetration in the UK" - and Dabrowa has international ambitions. Wonde has expanded into Australia, where it holds 20% market share after launching there just 18 months ago.
"Our API doesn't care where you are in the world," says Dabrowa. "If there's a student, a parent, or a class, Wonde can add value to how schools support them."
Dabrowa has always been entrepreneurial: "I used to pinch apples from the church orchard and sell them at the bottom of my road," he says.
He started his first business aged 18 and this venture grew to become the UK's largest student website.
"I've built many businesses and nothing beats the joy of creating something," he says. "It's never been about making money.
I find the combination of growth and impact thrilling."