A HIGHLANDS company that started life in a garden shed in the middle of the 2008 financial crash and is now a market leader in TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) training piqued the interest of Go Radio hosts Lord Willie Haughey and Sir Tom Hunter when co-founder Jennifer MacKenzie shared her business journey.

Established by Ms MacKenzie and Joe Hallwood and now based in Inverness, The TEFL Org offers a range of in-person and online TEFL courses, providing internationally recognised qualifications to more than 185,000 teachers who have gone on to find employment across the globe. It plans to the double in size within the next three years.

From garden shed to global, Highlands firm now set for employee ownership

Ms MacKenzie, who was among the first to take part in the Growth Advantage Programme at Strathclyde Business School’s Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and is also an ambassador for Women’s Enterprise Scotland, told the show that the seeds of the business were sown in Greece, where she met Joe when both were working as EFL teachers.

Later moving to France to teach they returned to the UK with the ambition to help others experience teaching English as a foreign language. Moving back to Scotland and the Highlands, where Ms MacKenzie grew up, the business took off from there.

“We were living in Leeds and wanted to go back to the Highlands but there were no real jobs there, so we had to create our own,” she said.

Moving out of the shed as the business grew and expanding south into England and then Wales, The TEFL Org is now recognised as a leader in its sector and is the most accredited TEFL course provider in the UK.

Coronavirus fuels demand for TEFL courses developed in Scotland

Andy Healy, who joined the business as managing director in 2022 after being approached by Ms MacKenzie via LinkedIn, said it was the “simple brilliance” of The TEFL Org business model that attracted him. “As I business I saw that it was really exciting and the culture that Jennifer and Joe had created was exciting – it was the simple brilliance of it.

“You can do a course in 120 hours for less than £200 and there is huge demand. In a virtual course you have people from all over the world learning together. If you are interested in changing your career it is a great option, if you want to travel it is a great option, if you want flexible working and want to teach online it is a great option.

“There are so many opportunities and it is so achievable and accessible.”

Post-pandemic, all the company’s staff are based remotely, from Inverness to the south west of England and even Alicante, Spain, while Mr Healy is located in Bath. While there can be challenges with the remote set-up, there are no barriers to The TEFL Org's goals to double the size of the business in the next three years, he noted.