"Whether people realise it or not, they're in a classroom lesson. I'm just a teacher."

My favorite quote is: “Magic's just science that we don't understand yet.” Arthur C. Clarke My happy place is: Kenting National Park at the southern tip of Taiwan

Matthew Cortland

Making magic feel real with tech-led immersive experiences

CREATING A PLACE OF JOY. Matthew Cortland lives by the words of science fiction writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke, that 'magic's just science that we don't understand yet.' His company, The Cauldron, blends the two seemingly effortlessly with entertainment and hospitality spaces that bring the fantasy world to life. Using science and technology (and perhaps a dash of magic), they create immersive food, beverage, and retail experiences designed to delight and inspire.

Behind the magician's curtain, Matthew's founder journey is a story of resilience, persistence, and unexpected twists. An accomplished student raised in Southern New Jersey, he went on to study Art History at Rutgers but admits: "I didn't know what I wanted to do with my career, so I pursued things that I enjoyed, figuring that it would work itself out." In his junior year, he came out as gay, studied abroad in Europe, and later took on an internship at ACLU, working on the AIDS Project in Manhattan.

Matthew says it was a year that proved formative for "understanding my identity better, as a bisexual person at the time and now as a gay person." It also helped him decide his next career move, taking on a position at Teach For America (TFA). Placed in a struggling school in Miami, he organized a coalition to establish a diversity initiative for its LGBTQIA+ staff who, given Florida policy at the time, could be fired from their job because of their sexuality.

During his two years at TFA, Matt's classroom had become a safe space for queer students. He also created software with a group of teachers that interpreted students' reading test results and suggested specific activities for targeted improvement in areas of weakness, resulting in the second highest growth of improved reading levels in the immediate school district. Its success led him to gain a place on the Henry Luce Foundation fellowship, working at a technology company in Taiwan and later the George Mitchell Scholarship, taking him to Dublin, Ireland.

Matthew laid down roots in Dublin, meeting his now-husband and continuing his studies with a master's in creative digital media, where he learned how to code and build video games, board games, and interactive websites. But after a few years of working at startups, he found himself jobless and living on government assistance. At the same time, he launched a Kickstarter project for Cauldron.

TURNING IDEAS INTO REAL INVENTIONS. The original concept was to create the world's first wizard pub where visitors are given a magic wand and can interact with the food, drinks, and environment around them. Matthew started by building his own magic wand to pour a beer. With no experience in the hospitality industry, he moved to London and met his co-founder, Flare bartender David Duckworth at London Cocktail Week. Together, they pooled their small pot of savings and hosted a press night in East London to showcase Matthew's technology and David's drinks. "The whole thing went viral, and tickets for our popup bar pre-sold for months and months."

With The Cauldron and Wands & Wizard Exploratorium now successfully established in six locations across the UK and the US, Matthew wants to expand their offering as much as possible. That includes a children's book and its first consumer product, the Wizard Smart Switch – allowing you to control whatever is plugged into it with a magic wand. In his continued activism for the LGBTQIA+ community, Matthew is also establishing the Cauldron Foundation, "particularly for trans folks who are having a harder time of it right now."

Though shrouded in magic, Matthew's aim with Cauldron is ultimately rooted in education. "Whether people realise it or not, they're in a classroom lesson. I'm just a teacher."

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Presented with Pride Here is the first collection of one hundred incredible and inspiring LGBTQIA+ venture-backed entrepreneurs featured in this year's Gaingels 100.