GoAbroad Interview

Tom Brushwood - Co-Founder & Operations Director

Tom Brushwood - Co-Founder & Operations Director

A graphic designer with an entrepreneurial twist, Tom co-founded Corkscrew with a mission to revolutionize education and to teach students about the incredible opportunities in starting a business. Tom has a history with startups, and came on board with Corkscrew after founding a social enterprise designed to “empower community events to do more.” After moving away from London, Tom’s career took an unexpected turn into teaching and youth travel, and he loves every minute.

How did you and Co-Founder Neil Finnie get connected, and what was the impetus for founding Corkscrew?

Completely by accident! I’d been living and working in London, where I was busy freelancing, working in branding agencies and charities, and moonlighting by running startups in my spare time. It was exhausting, but exhilarating. By the end of my time in London, I was running my own social enterprise full time and consulting for several other startups.

I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship, which runs in my family; but after having tasted the world of social enterprise, I was hooked. I love the idea that a business could make money and help people at the same time. I spent some time researching social enterprises and reaching out to several entrepreneurs around the UK.

Corkscrew program participants

Some of the early Corkscrew program participants, from left to right: Hannah (Sweden), Emelia (Sweden), Wendy (Netherlands), Tom and El (Ireland)

By complete chance, I ended up in a phone conversation with Neil. We realized quite quickly that we shared the same values, both wanting to revolutionize education and extoll the virtues of starting a business.

Corkscrew was founded with a mission to change the youth travel industry by creating unique experiences for learning, challenging, engaging, disrupting, innovating, and generally do-gooding. Vive la revolution!

You have a strong background in graphic design, marketing, and business, how are you able to apply this to running the Corkscrew programs and supporting participants in their projects?

I found that once you’ve found what you’re good at and what you love doing, you can apply it to most things. For me, I love people and I love ideas. While I’ve always been good at design, teaching was an unexpected skill for me. I found that it’s all about passion and curiosity. So when we designed the Corkscrew programs, we put that at the forefront.

We only use mentors with a passion for what they do, which helps us create inspiring travel experiences. We only use games that challenge and encourage our participants to be curious, so they can learn to take initiative and teach themselves new skills. Everything we do is about making the creative, passionate, socially conscious leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Corkscrew Thinking involves creative problem solving and learning new skills, how does the program structure teach this? 

Corkscrew Thinking is a term that we stumbled across early on at Corkscrew, and it perfectly summarized what we were trying to achieve. Winston Churchill first used the term during the Second World War to describe creative problem solvers: thinkers that didn’t use “straight lines” to go from A to B, but instead thought creatively and used every available angle to approach a problem.

Tom Brushwood

Tom in action!

Seventy-five years on, and much has changed. In the internet era, Corkscrew Thinking is more important than ever before, and involves three vital skills important to any success story:

  1. Creative Problem Solving – the skill to approach a problem creatively and think “outside of the box” to create a solution which is relevant, fresh, and original.
  2. Initiative & Self-Learning – the skill that allows you to teach yourself new techniques, take action, and evolve to do something better. Self-improvement is everything, and we respect people that look for opportunities to grow.
  3. Confidence & Leadership – the skill that allows you to work successfully in a team, and to present your ideas with confidence and clarity. Social media has made it easier than ever to connect and share with others, especially around issues that concern you. 

How many students typically participate in Corkscrew programs each year?

We like to keep our classes relatively small and close knit; we find it helps make the group dynamics that little bit more exciting. Last year we had around 100 students in total, and we’re set to host another 250 this year. With any luck, we can continue to expand and grow to help more disruptors, deviants, and do-gooders upset the status-quo and become the entrepreneurs and leaders of tomorrow. Can’t wait!

Corkscrew program participants work in co-work spaces with other small business owners, entrepreneurs, and startups, why is this shared environment so important to Corkscrew programs? 

A healthy, buzzing startup environment is key to creating an atmosphere where everything and anything is possible. Entrepreneurs are optimistic and opportunist by nature, “no” is just not in their vocabulary. Being in a vibrant, creative space like a coworking hub is the perfect breeding ground for great ideas. Imagine being in a place where everyone around you has a great attitude, an incredible backstory, and diverse knowledge? 

Not only that, but coworking spaces are always in central locations in culture capitals, just minutes away from famous sites and world famous eateries. Coworking hubs are the perfect place for an internship with a difference. And we should know, Corkscrew started in a coworking hub.

Is it really possible to “create entrepreneurial mindsets”? What if some people just aren’t entrepreneurial by nature?

Not true. We’ve taken people from all walks of life, from all locations, and all ages. We’ve taken people who never even dreamed of starting a business, and shown them that anything is possible. And so far, we’ve had 100 percent of students creating an exciting, viable idea for a business. Being an entrepreneur is just a state of mind, and if you don’t feel like you could be one, you’ve probably just never been exposed to it before. We want to show you that entrepreneurship is for everyone, but that it doesn’t mean everyone experiences it in the same way.

Everyone (literally everyone) fits into one of three types of entrepreneurs. You’re either a Hipster, a Hustler, or a Tycoon, and each has a different style of entrepreneurship.

  • Hipsters are naturally creative and love creating something new.
  • Hustlers love a good deal and are great at spotting opportunities.
  • Tycoons are natural born problem solvers and always look to improve the world around them.

Which one are you? You’ll have to come on a program to find out!

Eating at the Quay in Exeter, England

A night out with the participants - We work hard, we play hard! Celebrating with pizza at the Quay in Exeter!

What kind of mentorship do Corkscrew participants receive throughout the program? 

We believe in “light touch” mentorship. Sure, you’ll receive one-on-one support when you need it, but the mentor’s real job is to inspire you and to set interesting challenges, problems to overcome that will push you to learn new skills, lead groups, and that naturally build your confidence.

Keep doing something that scares you and soon you won’t be scared of anything.

How are Corkscrew participants able to get to know Exeter, Dublin, Berlin, and Barcelona? Is there much free time?

The travel element is a big part of the program. You’ll have free time outside of the program to travel around and explore the sights, sounds, and tastes of the city. There’ll be lots of opportunity to explore the city with your new friends on the program. It’s important to us that you have an immersive travel adventure, it’s part of the fun of the program!

Do you have any recommended reading materials for participants before they arrive? After the program? 

Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Austen…only joking! Don’t prepare! We like our participants to come with a fresh perspective and a keen attitude, that’s the only thing we need from you. Travelers who like to come prepared should read a relevant travel book to find some local haunts that they want to check out while on the program.

After the program there’ll be lots of opportunities for reading materials to hone your newfound skills and keep that startup inspiration going!

How do you stay in touch with Corkscrew alumni? 

Our Corkscrew alumni are second to none. You’ll never meet a better bunch of people. We actually run a yearly meetup around the world, open to anyone who’s ever attended a program. The last one took place in Dublin, and this year Stockholm is in the cards. That’s always one to look forward to, a place to meet up with new friends and old, and we get ex-Corkscrewers flying in from all over the world to attend.

Our community is just brilliant, exactly what you’d expect when you put hundreds of bright, enthusiastic, adventurous travelers together. There’s the “Traveling T,” a t-shirt traveling all over the world, which only changes hands when two Corkscrew members meet up. There’s “Corkscrew Couchsurfing,” if you need a place to stay in Europe and around the world, we’ll probably know someone there who can put you up for the night. And there’s loads more happening besides.

I know everyone of our alumni personally and I would do anything for them. Though support for getting that killer job seems to be at the top of their list! 

Corkscrew internship group in England

#CS17 – Corkscrew’s 17th internship group with a great turnout!

We’ve heard you have plans to expand the program to Cape Town and San Francisco in the next year or so, what is the focus for 2015? 

Absolutely. Exciting right? It’s as simple as this:

We know that Corkscrew is an incredible program. We’ve built the program from scratch to make you more employable, entrepreneurial, creative, driven, focused, and daring. 

We want to provide this program to more and more people around the world, because we know what an impact it has on people’s lives. An impact not just now, but in five, 10, or 20 years time when you’ve found your real purpose, found a meaningful career, and you’ve started a business changing lives around you.

With the help of new partners, we’re investigating all sorts of options including providing the program to inner-city underprivileged adults in New York, implementing our materials into the education system, and opening up bases around the world, including Cape Town and San Francisco, so now is certainly an exciting time to join the program!