A former professional sportswoman who launched a unique tutoring business designed to help students gain a better understanding of the appliance of science is expanding her business after pioneering a new online support service, which she developed during lockdown.

Ex-Doncaster Belles star and a former winner of the highly coveted US National Championships in soccer, Marta Bakowska-Mathews founded Doncaster-based SmartaTutoring in 2018 when she was just 24 years old. Since that time she has helped schoolchildren to improve their maths and science skills as they prepare to sit their SATs, GCSE and A Level exams by delivering one-to-one tuition sessions.

Like many businesses affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Marta found herself unable to deliver the face-to-face tutoring sessions which she had used to build her business. Forced to re-assess her business model, Marta decided to move her one-to-one tuition sessions online. The move has proved so popular with pupils that Marta has embarked upon an ambitious recruitment programme which will see her add five new tutors to her growing workforce.

Marta first began exploring the idea of developing a tuition business after spotting an advert requesting people with a science background to make contact. With a degree in physics from Florida State university, the young entrepreneur quickly realised that many students often struggled to understand how abstract concepts discussed during lessons could be applied outside of the classroom. The unique teaching approach pioneered by Marta helps students to gain an insight into how the skills they are learning can be applied in their future careers. It has proved to be a winning formula, reflected in growing numbers of enquiries from parents and students across the Sheffield City Region.

Having spent much of her time working long days as she began building the business, Marta realised she needed to reclaim a better work-life balance. At the same time she discovered a new sporting love in her life: non-contact American Football, also known as flag football.

Keen to build a business which provided her with the flexibility to train, travel and participate in matches across the UK, as well as working towards completing a MSc degree in biomechanics, Marta began recruiting her first tutors to share her demanding workload. To grow her business further, as well as finding a way of balancing her rigorous training and travelling regime, Marta turned to the Doncaster Chamber of Commerce for help. It was through her involvement with the Chamber that Marta found out about the Sheffield City Region Launchpad programme, a unique initiative which helps new entrepreneurs to build and grow their businesses during the all-important first three years of trading.

Through her involvement with the programme, Marta has taken part in a range of workshops and one-to-one sessions to help her master the essentials of not only running, but growing the business further. The ongoing training and support delivered by Launchpad helped Marta to make the transition from face-to-face tutoring to online support as demand for the services grew during lockdown. Marta has added six additional tutors to her workforce and is planning to continue offering online support services alongside her face-to-face sessions when the lockdown restrictions are lifted.

As the business began to grow, Marta’s new-found sporting career also began to blossom. Her talents on the pitch were quickly spotted by the Great Britain national side. Last summer she made her debut for the GB national team, where she was awarded the most valued player of the tournament, as well as helping the British team achieve its best ever finish: not only beating the pre-tournament favourites in the semi-finals and walking away from the tournament with a silver medal.

Marta Bakowska-Mathews, Director of Smarta Tutoring said: “Across the UK there is a national shortage of science teachers. I wanted to develop a way of not only helping children to overcome the difficulties they were facing with their studies, but to help them understand how they can use their science and maths skills to prepare for their future careers. Many of the tutors I employ come from industry backgrounds, meaning that they have first-hand knowledge of how to apply the subjects they are teaching.

“At a time when I feared I would be left with no income, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the support Launchpad provided has helped me to turn this into a golden opportunity. As a result I’ve been able to scale my business and successfully introduce new services, something which I wouldn’t have otherwise considered. Since launching the business I’ve achieved a near 100% success rate in helping students to achieve their potential something I’m incredibly proud of.

“I knew one of the biggest challenges my business would face, wasn’t the actual setting up of the company, but knowing how to build and grow the business effectively. It takes a lot of hard work to run a business and when I first started working for myself I would spend between 12-14 hours a day working.I was keen to increase the number of direct enquiries my business received, rather than being dependent upon third party websites, as well as achieving a better work-life balance – something which Launchpad has helped me to achieve. Since we’ve moved the business online, we’ve expanded the number of tutors we are using and we will continue to provide web-based sessions as well as returning to face-to-face tutoring as restrictions are lifted

“I had recently started to learn how to play flag football and I wanted to build a business which could provide the flexibility to enable me to train and take time out from the business to take part in international competitions. This year I was due to take part in the World Championships, which would have meant taking a lot of time out from the business to prepare. Like many sporting events, sadly the event has fallen victim to the Coronavirus pandemic, but I feel the measures I have put in place has helped me to develop a much stronger business model.

“Working with Launchpad has given me a great lesson in learning how to run and grow a business. The programme helped me to look holistically at my business. As a result I have been able to reduce the amount of time I spend working within the business, enabling me to balance my training commitments as well as becoming much more productive. It has helped me to tap into a wealth of experience and knowledge from seasoned entrepreneurs who understand the challenges new business owners face.”

Craig Atkin, Business Advisor at Launchpad said: “Setting up and running any type of business can be a challenging experience, but the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has forced many business owners to rethink the way they run their business and respond to the challenges it has posed. Marta’s business was entirely dependent upon delivering face-to-face support prior to lockdown and she was quick to turn adversity into opportunity by moving her tutoring services online.

“Through her work with Launchpad and Doncaster Chamber, Marta has also been able to develop her business skills by taking part in a range of workshops and one-to-one training sessions which have helped her to grow and build her business. As a result of the steps she took, Marta has seen demand for her services grow rather than contract and with the additional tutors she has successfully recruited, it will provide her with the flexibility to continue pursuing her international sporting commitments.”

Launchpad is a unique business support programme available to support both new entrepreneurs and business owners which have been trading for less than three years in the Sheffield City Region. The programme is financially supported by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by local authorities based in the Sheffield City Region and the Princes Trust.