People behind the Powerhouse: Ian & Lisa McCartney

Tell us more about you and Plytime

Plytime Learning was created by founders Ian & Lisa, with a mission to make learning support more cost-effective, engaging and rewarding.

It’s an online learning platform that provides personalised AI-assisted learning, identifies student strengths and pinpoints any areas where more support is needed.  By automatically highlighting focus areas and gaps, we make it easy for parents and teachers to provide that support more effectively.  Or, at the click of a button, they have the option to add expert 1-to-1 Focus Tutoring®, in 15-minute chunks based on a child’s optimum attention span.

At the end of 2022, Plytime Learning was proven by Manchester Metropolitan University to be significantly more effective than traditional methods and in early 2023, we were approved as a National Tutoring Partner.

Plytime helps students to reach their potential regardless of ability or aspirations.  Our flexible subscriptions, with no tie-ins, make it easy for parents, teachers and tutors to provide the right support for their children. And we’re currently offering a free maths pilot for a small number of Primary schools across the country, to see the benefits for themselves.

What makes Greater Manchester (or the North) special?

Both of us are from the North West; Lisa spends all her working life in and around Manchester whilst Ian has also worked in the Midlands and London. You’ll find great people, businesses and cultures everywhere, but the North has so much to offer and is often under-estimated as a great place to live and work. It’s changed so much over the years – for the better – and we’re sure most visitors are pleasantly surprised when they experience it for themselves.

The North is full of ambition. We’re currently active on 2 different accelerators in the city and continually meet fabulous founders with great ideas and passion to change their industries.  We’re definitely seeing the tech ecosystem starting to evolve in Manchester and it’s a really positive, friendly environment with so many people willing to help.

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Getting the research results was a huge moment for us.  As parents ourselves we’d become used to seeing hundreds of products claiming benefit or posting wonderful testimonials, only to be underwhelmed when we used them.  So for us, getting external proof was really important – if we were going to claim something, we wanted it to be genuine.

At that time, we had a fairly basic MVP and to compound matters, by the time we’d agreed on the research spec with the University, we were fast approaching the end of the school year with summer holidays looming.  We had a small window to aim for but it was a big risk – at one point the University even told us they thought it would be better to delay until the following year because in their experience, being able to prove statistical significance over a relatively short period of time would be very difficult.  But we couldn’t afford to wait and decided to take the plunge.

So, for the results to come back a few months later showing statistical significance with a large size effect over traditional methods was fantastic.  It proved what we were doing had real merit and it gave our team a renewed sense of belief.  We also believed that with a fully functional product, the results would be even better.

Where do you find your motivation?

Our journey started when we made a maths game for our children that we went on to produce because we believed it could help other children and make a genuine difference.  It’s that same motivation that keeps us going today.  We’re passionate about making a positive difference and helping people reach their potential.  Building a business is hard and there are times when it feels like you’re pushing water uphill – but whenever you get feedback from a parent saying how much their child has benefited, it reminds you why you’re doing it.

In your opinion, what’s next for the North?

Over the last few years, the North has been trying to improve the funding landscape for founders but with 80% of funds still being invested in London, it has a long way to go.  It’s still small in terms of the number of players and quite risk-averse. Most founders we speak with say they end up travelling South to get the funding they need.  To kick start that change, we’d like to see a regional SEIS/EIS-type scheme to better incentivise investors to spread investment more evenly across the country.  Governments seem to think spending billions is the only answer to Levelling Up but this could be done more or less overnight at no cost to the public purse.

Get in touch with the team