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Posted by Kate Davies on February 02, 2022


The winners of the awards ‘BUSINESS CHAMELEON’ and ‘LOCKDOWN LEADER’ will be announced on the on the 17th February 2022 at the Imperial Museum Duxford

‘The 2022 has started with some excitement at La Dante in Cambridge, European Cultural Centre after two years of transformation online, retraining, building new platforms and having a completely new approach to give our students a thorough language learning experience online, in all similar to the face to face classes’ – Giulia Portuese, Director and Founder of La Dante in Cambridge, states. The Cultural Centre and Language school run by Giulia Portuese is celebrating two nomination for the Cambridge Independent SME Cambridgeshire Business Awards 2021: the ‘Business chameleon’ and the ‘Lockdown leader’ . These awards celebrate SME businesses punching above their weight during Covid19 in the past two years: in particular, they recognise how the business became resilient and thrived during tough economic times and how the team and leadership had a key role in the transformation.

Tell us briefly about you and your business 

La Dante in Cambridge is a European Cultural Centre promoting Italian, Spanish and English languages and cultures with a mix of online, face to face classes and enthusiastic native qualified teachers. Our Radio Dante's original programmes help develop their listening and comprehension skills. We are also developing our Ryze App: a pocket learning app which has hours of listening, texts, exercises people can use in their own time and place. Learning languages is now affordable for all with just $2 for half an hour of teachers' tuition. The App is packed with FREE content: it's fun, interactive and flexible.

Tell us briefly about the digital transformation within your business in the past 2 years which evidence your current business successes.

The digital transformation of La Dante brought some real results in the past 2 years : a) The director and founder Dr Giulia Portuese was given a knighthood from the Italian President Mattarella in Dec 2021 for the Order of the Stars of Italy, b) La Dante in Cambridge is a finalist for the SME Awards for the category of Business Chamelion Jan 22, c) The director was nominated finalist as a Lockdown Leader for the SME Awards in Jan 22 d) we are increasing our international influence beyond Europe and since the move to Online Learning, we are attracting students from beyond Europe, from Japan and Mexico. Our international reach allows students to learn languages in an affordable way and from remote places, thanks to a new Plateo Online learning platform which has a social media platform included. People learn and make friends. 

Our Radio Dante podcasts increased their listeners by 69% over the past two years (Buzzsprout, Youtube, Spotify). The Ryze App language pocket app has had its first trial and we received a really good feedback from your sample group of students. 

How your business differentiates from your competitors and has the leading edge

La Dante has three recognitions as Examination Board: a PLIDA Examination Centre for Italian (the only one in the UK), DELE Examination Centre for Spanish and Trinity College London Centre for English (registration n. 68910). We are the only Examination Centre in the UK to provide exams for Italian citizenship, recognised by the Dante Alighieri Society. The only office, among 400 Dante offices in the world, who have a regular cultural podcast programme via Radiodante.org which has interviews, music, traditions, cinema and cuisine in Italian and Spanish. It's run by volunteers, teachers and young graduates who wish to build up their experience in journalism. La Dante is also a European Training Centre with a consolidated European Internship programme running since 2010: we train young graduates on digital marketing, google ads, google analytics, website and SEO, skills that are essential in any business. We are also a Teacher Training Centre since 2010: we offer a programme of teacher training for obtaining CEDILS, DITALS as well as CLIL exams for European teachers. We are expanding the programme to Spanish and Italian teachers using CLIL techniques for teaching history, art, maths in English to children and teenagers.

Demonstrate with examples that this successful business performance is sustainable long term

Since 2010 La Dante has developed its business in language learning through live classes where native trained teachers had a communication technique using physical textbooks and being in a physical school until March 2020. Once Covid arrived, the leader started a digital transformation programme thanks to the Digital Grants from the UK government, £10,000 was invested in creating a new Plateo Online platform where students, teachers, marketing staff could be under one roof, where students could watch videos, have a social profile and communicate. A retraining programme started 3 weeks prior to the UK government closing all schools in the Uk in March 2020: teachers had to relearn the way they taught using digital resources, producing different material, learning to use Zoom and breakout rooms in Zoom, learn a more dynamic way of teaching. The marketing team and interns had to be retrained in using the platform, promote the school in a thorough different way via Google Ads, google analytics and SEO. This ensured that the business can embrace the most advanced digital technology and thrive in the next 10 years. All team, after some difficulties, embraced all our implemented changes. I feel proud.

We are also interested in hearing 

  • how businesses have adapted and changed to meet the challenges and opportunities of Covid-19 for consideration of a special award. Please advise 
  • how you have invested and developed new products, services, techniques, skills or processes to meet the changing demands that Covid-19 brought to your business and 
  • how you are maintaining or increasing your operations in established and new markets as a result.

La Dante showed a quick period of adaptability and change to meet the challenges and opportunities of Covid-19: we transformed the way we taught languages, making it fun from face to face to online for all, teachers, students and staff. We helped students who couldn't go straight onto digital for their age or because they didn't have the IT skills to change so quickly by providing FREE IT training for Zoom Education and Google Classrooms.  This allowed all to be safe in view of increasing infections since 2020 onwards. 

-           To respond to the Covid challenges, La Dante invested £10,000 in a NEW digital Plateo Online teaching platform, we retrained our marketing and teachers to use different techniques (Zoom was embedded, Google Classrooms, Blink Learning), lots of new technical skills and processes had to be learned over a year of intense training with external providers.  Ryze App was developed with the University of Norwich, Cambridge and Studious.org

-           We are maintaining the market share within established markets like Italy and Spain but equally attracting new business from Japan and Mexico. Online tuition is here to stay and develop to reach even more countries with digital marketing.

Tell us some stories on how the team responded, make it personal

Well, at the beginning the team was reluctant to big changes, especially teachers who had managed to build up their teaching material and relationship with the students with face to face lessons. Things had to change, not only in order to survive but to thrive. The leadership used by the director was to persuade them to embrace change and learn new skills for life, renewing skills through training and innovation without the risk of losing work. We trained teachers, students who were not IT savy and invested in new online platforms. By the end of the two years: we gained new students and maintained ours. 

We definitely welcomed change. Some teachers and some of tbe marketing team thrived during this period of change. We also had some personal satisfaction: 

We welcomed two babies to the world: Luisa gave birth to Zoe early in the Spring, Tamara gave birth to Massimo in December, Lucia and Emilia are expecting their first child in January 2022. All this brought immense joy to the team and all in all is a year that started with enthusiasm and energy that we all share at La Dante in Cambridge.




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