A buzz of activity takes place on the eighth floor of a large industrial-looking building just by Stade Louis II in Fonvieille one midweek morning. Funky office space totalling 240 square metres has been built in cubicles where students take their lessons with tutors or simply study alone. Shelves full of books line the space and by a hub of armchairs inviting you to relax is a fridge by which I meet 15 year-old Max who stops to get a milk for his coffee in between his Maths and English lessons. He’s studying for his IGCSE exams.
“This started with a desk, a chair and one student'” says Olena Prykhodko, a young woman in jeans and trainers comfortably sitting on the armchair next to mine. She is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Modelex Education Monaco, a company that provides tuition, education consultancy and group courses to students in Monaco and beyond.
“The idea came when we realised there are so many families with different backgrounds and the lack of tutoring services on the market – you would have individual, private tutors that would go from home to home but unfortunately this sector is not regulated. We wanted to bring quality and make sure that families here get the best supplementary education there is.”
Olena started Modelex together with her husband Luke Sullivan, a British citizen and a serial education entrepreneur, in August 2016, only a month after they got married.
Originally from Ukraine, Olena has studied law at the University of Nice. And only last December defended her Phd (Doctor of Law) in Constitutional Economics on the topic of Public-Private Partnerships within the Framework of Constitutional Economics.
“Doing law was great because it is like maths for your brain – it structures the way you operate. I am very happy to have a law degree. More challenging, though, was the transition from being ‘anything is possible’ to study and live in a more confined environment.”
“Right after obtaining the degree I started my internship in Monaco – I worked in a real estate company that dealt a lot with tax advice to potential new residents – I was involved a lot in legal support but I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur.”
“I don’t think I was a good employee – looking back at myself when I was maybe 21 – 22 I would never employ myself. If I had a job interview with my younger self I would think twice before hiring me. I was too outspoken without much experience. To all young employees I would say: ‘This is the age when you are supposed to just listen and learn. And that’s it.’ ”
Or you become an entrepreneur.
“As an entrepreneur you must be comfortable to live with the notion of risk – a person who takes calculated risk but also a person who brings something new, an added value and solves problems – with these attributes you have a product which you can sell. I absolutely believe that every business has to solve a very specific problem or a need and keep it simple. Always focus on one thing.”
Olena is now still only 28 years young but definitely not short of experience. In 2015 she joined the JCI (Junior Chamber of Commerce) in Monte-Carlo. She became National Vice President in 2017 and was elected as National President in 2018. The youngest ever. At the international level, she served as European Development Councillor in 2019 and since 2021 as JCI Vice President assigned to Austria, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia and Switzerland, representing 13000 individual members.
“I started my professional career here and a lot of what I know I have learned with JCI. The connections I’ve made via JCI are invaluable. Also Monaco is such a special place to do business – quite slow in some ways and you kind of play a long game here – you can’t provide a bad job and bad service because people will know – it is important to cultivate relationships with people and be fully responsible and accountable for what you do. That is something I appreciate and it is not what you automatically experience in big cities and other places.”
Olena has also been awarded the State Medal of Ukraine for her outstanding contribution towards Youth Development, served as the Advisor to the Mayor of Kharkiv, where she was born, and discussed the challenges facing education today as a guest speaker at the Davos World Economic Forum in 2018.
All this while actively developing her Modelex business which grew at the new premises acquired in 2020 with new staff, teachers and students.
Her idea of ideal education is “a mix of personalised learning with a strong focus on critical thinking and analytical skills. There is so much information available on the internet (including fake news and propaganda), that a smart individual must be able to analyse it all and make up his/her own mind. And this is a skill that needs to be taught. It is also crucial for students to be flexible and be able to be ready to reinvent themselves, as the world is moving faster and faster, and some jobs that our students will be doing in the future have not even been invented yet.”
In September this year Olena and her husband are opening the new British School of Monaco. When I interviewed her the premises couldn’t be confirmed yet – literally days before the final signings. “I anticipate this to be between Feb 1 and Feb 15. We are currently submitting plans to the authorities to get a preliminary OK on the school layout.”
The school will start with primary education and the sixth form college. It will gradually “grow” with the students until all years are fully operational.
“The core team is ready, recruitment for additional people is ongoing, we are already an accredited Cambridge International School and we will follow the English National curriculum.”
Around 150 students have already pre-subscribed and this is without any promotion whatsoever. Their first Instagram post led to a further 60 subscriptions over a weekend.
“The plan is to stay small though, at a more manageable level and we also want to focus on the development of online schooling. We are looking into VR and metaverse for immersive learning for older students studying A-Levels with us.”
And we are not only in the Monaco market here but we are already attracting Asian and European students through our connections in those regions.
“Modelex will continue to run as it is for all bespoke homeschooling and supplementary tutoring needs, alongside elite school and top university placements in the UK, US and worldwide. It provides a great service to Monaco families and is the base where everything started. It will continue to grow alongside the school.”
Currently Modelex caters for around 150 students, 25 homeschool pupils with synchronised teaching and learning, tutoring students from 6-18 years old, specialising in school entrance exams, IGCSEs and A-Levels. “Some of our home school students are catching up on the content, some are professional tennis players or racing drivers so they have a personalised schedule because they cannot balance their sporting obligations with a normal schooling timetable. They need to build their school timetable around their sports, and we can do that when the teaching is 1-1.”
The days may not be long enough but Olena appears to be incredibly calm and composed. She does have some free time and she dances, goes to the gym and reads to relax. She also loves cooking: “It’s the sort of switching the attention from your mind to your hands, I love this balance”. Travel is her biggest passion. Apart from her job, that is…