A FORMER Sunderland pupil has gone right to the top in the business world with the help of her old school.
Maria Albertsen was made redundant two years ago, but has now pitched her idea for a new venture to Sir Richard Branson at his home in Oxfordshire, winning the backing of the Virgin boss.
She was given the opportunity, along with three other entrepreneurs, after winning an online vote with more than 500 applicants.
The 32-year-old’s fledgling company, Jack and Jill’s Wooden Toys, makes rag dolls and wooden figures for boys and girls and has already been a success. Now it can proudly boast the backing of one of the country’s top businessmen.
Maria, a former Red House School pupil, had worked as a counsellor for young people before being made redundant.
With two young sons, Kai, four, and two-year-old Jacob, she had to find a way to make money, but did not want to give up quality time with her children.
She said: “My kids love playing with dolls so I just made them for them.
“When we went to places, people would ask me where I got them from. I told them I’d made them and that they weren’t for sale, but then I thought, ‘why don’t I make more and sell them?’.”
That is exactly what Maria did, producing a website to advertise her toys before the opportunity of a lifetime came up.
“It was an online competition by Virgin and people had to vote for you.
“Towards the deadline it was quite close, so a few teachers at Red House Academy got everyone to vote for me.”
The push for votes worked and Maria and her dolls found themselves in front of the Virgin boss and other leading lights of UK business.
Pitching first, Maria held her nerve and secured £750 of funding and support from Branson’s team of advisors.
The billionaire said: “Maria was very impressive and has an exciting business which I’m pleased to support.”
Maria’s proud mum Marie, 52, from Carley Hill, said she was very proud and added: “I think the dolls are great. She’s always had the determination to do something like this.”