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Alumni of the month - February 2013

Jo Roach
BSc Media & Society, 1999

Miriam Kennet

Jo Roach is co-founder and COO of Makielab, a new kind of toys and games company based in the heart of London. Jo recently won a BAFTA award for Nightmare High, a browser-based educational game for 9-11 year olds.

“You'll often hear someone walking through the Makielab studio asking if anyone has a right leg, or a spare skull.”

Jo’s Shoreditch office is not your typical workplace. It comprises a studio full of tiny clothes, eyes, wigs and doll parts at the back of an industrial workshop. Here is where “game-enabled” toys are made and shipped out to people all over the world.
“It’s my job to make the company work effectively. I focus on delivering creative excellence, improving team efficiency and making things that people want.”

Before founding Makielab Jo put together the team who created the award-winning “Nightmare High”, an online game designed to help with the transition into secondary school. She rates this Channel 4 project as her proudest professional achievement to date: “It was the first project I directed and exec produced, so the recognition for that was amazing. It’s based on proven techniques that improve mental health, which are now being used in the US military.”
Since graduating from LSBU, Jo has worked for some of the UK’s most recognisable media brands including the BBC and channel Four as both Consultant and Executive Producer. Her focus has been on delivering innovative new products relating to education and entertainment aimed at young people: “I enjoy taking a brief from a few pages of an idea, through to delivery and have worked with some really fantastic people and delivered projects across all platforms: web, mobile, TV, iTV, radio, and print.”
There was no Facebook, Google or YouTube when Jo was an undergraduate. The communications landscape has evolved almost unrecognisably in the last decade. We are living in the information age; organisations and brands must now engage their audience, especially young people, on their terms and in their spaces. Rather than refuse to move with the times, Jo has adapted to these environmental changes to her own professional benefit: “Things are more transparent today. It’s possible to engage viewers in so many new ways. That's awesome, democratising and empowering for us all.”
As a 19 year old living in Scunthorpe, the decision to come to London and study Media was not a difficult one. Grasping at the opportunities and resources available to her, success in her career came quickly: “It made sense to study at LSBU and be at the heart of the industry for placements and experience. I then stayed on as Vice President of Communications at the Student Union, launching the student magazine, Scratch, which went on to be nominated for Magazine of the year at the Guardian Student Media Awards. I also won Student Designer of the Year in the Independent Media Awards at the end of that year.”
Jo still maintains friendships with her LSBU classmates, many of whom have also forged successful careers in film, TV, radio and the music. “I feel very fortunate that I got to do a job that I love. It’s hard work but very rewarding too. I want to make Makielab a sustainable business and to create beautiful, customisable toys for all ages. My advice for current students is to do what you love and keep doing it. Real experience in your chosen field and proof of commitment will put you further ahead than the next graduate. And be nice to people!”