Sharn­dre Kushor

Founder of tu­tor­ing pro­gramme Crim­son Ed­u­ca­tion, Sharn­dre Kushor helps raise up stu­dents world­wide

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As a young woman of colour, Sharn­dre Kushor is qui­etly dis­man­tling stereo­types about busi­ness lead­ers. When she was 18, Sharn­dre and her boyfriend Jamie Beaton co-founded “ed-tech” busi­ness Crim­son Ed­u­ca­tion with $40 and a Face­book ac­count. Five years later the tu­tor­ing and col­lege-ad­mis­sions start-up is one of New Zealand’s fastest-grow­ing busi­nesses, worth $230 mil­lion and fea­tured in Forbes magazine this year. “We had no idea it would take off like it has,” says Sharn­dre, who could pass for a teenager in the jeans and sneak­ers she wears to work. We’re talk­ing at Crim­son’s new head­quar­ters in Par­nell, Auck­land, where half of the com­pany’s 200 staff work.

The five-year-old per­son­alised ed­u­ca­tion en­ter­prise cur­rently works with 20,000 high-school stu­dents from 40 coun­tries. Around 2300 suc­cess­ful univer­sity grad­u­ates are paid to tu­tor and men­tor stu­dents to achieve mile­stones such as in­tern­ships on a path to­ward their dream uni­ver­si­ties and ca­reers. So far, Crim­son has helped hun­dreds of stu­dents se­cure nearly 500 of­fers to the world’s top 200 uni­ver­si­ties, in­clud­ing 130-plus of­fers to US Ivy League col­leges such as Har­vard and Yale. Of the Crim­son stu­dents who ap­plied to Cam­bridge dur­ing the lat­est ad­mis­sions round, 60% were ac­cepted (com­pared to 21% of all ap­pli­cants). Hamil­ton stu­dent Soumil Singh was ac­cepted into 10 of the world’s top uni­ver­si­ties, turn­ing down a schol­ar­ship to Duke to study medicine at Har­vard. “Stu­dents do­ing well is the most sat­is­fy­ing thing you could imag­ine,” Sharn­dre says.

Groups of Crim­son stu­dents visit uni­ver­si­ties abroad, sit­ting in on classes and meet­ing lec­tur­ers and stu­dents be­fore com­mit­ting to study­ing there. Crim­son also takes stu­dents on six in­ter­na­tional tours in­clud­ing vis­its to Face­book’s HQ, NASA’s Ames Re­search Cen­ter, and Model UN Del­e­ga­tions to learn about in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and lead­er­ship.

As chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, Sharn­dre over­sees tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment, re­cruit­ment, com­pany growth and the op­er­a­tions at all of­fices. She spends roughly half her time in Auck­land and the other half in 23 – and count­ing – satel­lite of­fices in­clud­ing South Africa, Brazil and Kaza­khstan. In Au­gust, all of Crim­son’s coun­try man­agers gath­ered in the Auck­land of­fice for an an­nual sum­mit. Each put a pin of their lo­ca­tion on the world map on the wall.

This award-win­ning en­tre­pre­neur lives a sim­ple life. She still drives her first car, a 2004 Volk­swa­gen Polo. “It’s im­por­tant to stay grounded and have bal­ance.” She works long hours, but goes to the gym and


med­i­tates. When in Auck­land, she lives with her mum and sis­ter.

Her de­sire to make a dif­fer­ence was in­spired by her par­ents’ sto­ries about inequal­ity in apartheid-era South Africa. The fam­ily moved here when Sharn­dre was eight. She be­came Al­bany Se­nior High’s Head Girl, an aca­demic tu­tor, a com­mu­ni­ca­tion trainer for dis­abled teenagers, and a UNICEF youth am­bas­sador.

She and Jamie met on a trip to a Model UN event at The Hague with other Kiwi stu­dents. “Some­one was ap­ply­ing to in­ter­na­tional uni­ver­si­ties and I was in­trigued by why and how. Why shouldn’t New Zealand stu­dents ac­cess these uni­ver­si­ties?” The pair suc­cess­fully pur­sued seed fund­ing from in­vestors pas­sion­ate about ed­u­ca­tion. In Crim­son’s first three years, Sharn­dre also com­pleted a Bach­e­lor of Health Sciences at the Univer­sity of Auck­land.

Crim­son pack­ages cost an av­er­age $8000 a year, but the com­pany pro­vides dis­counts based on what fam­i­lies can af­ford – and

has given $2 mil­lion to help stu­dents who are oth­er­wise un­able to pay for the pro­grammes. It has also helped stu­dents ac­cess more than $60 mil­lion in schol­ar­ships and fi­nan­cial aid from uni­ver­si­ties world­wide. “It’s im­por­tant to me to sup­port stu­dents from less priv­i­leged back­grounds,” Sharn­dre says. Last year, Crim­son es­tab­lished an­nual Te Ara a Kupe Beaton schol­ar­ships, award­ing Crim­son pack­ages each worth $20,000 to five tal­ented Ma¯ori stu­dents. This year, the com­pany’s first Stu­dent of the Year Awards pro­vided pack­ages to six high school stu­dents ex­celling in dif­fer­ent fields.

Sharn­dre re­cently stud­ied a fi­nance course at Columbia Univer­sity to help her lead fur­ther ex­pan­sion, and sits on a num­ber of boards, in­clud­ing tech­nol­ogy-ed­u­ca­tion com­pany MedView, af­ter-school tu­tor­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion Num­berWorks'nWords, Uni­tu­tor NZ, as well as the ad­vi­sory board for the Kar­a­van/ Refugee Work Ex­change, fa­cil­i­tat­ing skill and ser­vice ex­changes be­tween refugees and other peo­ple world­wide.

With her quiet con­fi­dence and poise, Sharn­dre isn’t in­tim­i­dated by be­ing the boss of peo­ple decades older than her. “What mat­ters most is re­spect.” Yes, some peo­ple were scep­ti­cal about her run­ning Crim­son at age 18, in­clud­ing one man who said she should “know her place”. Her an­swer was to show him she could do it.

CAT­E­GORY WIN­NER: Busi­ness & In­no­va­tion

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