Founder of tutoring programme Crimson Education, Sharndre Kushor helps raise up students worldwide
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
‘STUDENTS DOING WELL IS THE MOST SATISFYING THING YOU COULD IMAGINE’
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.
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