New to EdTechX360, this weekly feature will shine a spotlight on some of the best and brightest of EdTech. Every week, we will showcase a particular startup or scale-up who we believe are transforming the future of learning and work.
This week we sat with Maurice Khudhir, Co-Founder and CMO of StudySmarter, who won the inaugural Global Startup Super League at EdTechX 2019, to share his thoughts on growing his company, the reaction since winning the Super League and next steps…
What was the inspiration behind starting StudySmarter?
We founded StudySmarter based on our own experiences at university. We saw how friends and thousands of fellow students drop out or fail exams due to lacking structure, efficiency and above all, motivation in the learning process. Information overload in the form of thousands of pages of learning materials combined with an absence of helpful tools leads to frustration and all too often dropping out. With StudySmarter, we wanted to leverage modern technology to build a platform that empowers every learner, no matter the subject, university or status, to achieve their educational goals.
Tell us more about the tech behind the product
A key aspect of our vision is developing a genuinely intelligent learning platform. Here we benefit not only from our machine learning competencies (2 of the 4 co-founders have a machine learning background) but also from accumulating our unique learning database (> 1 million flashcards, > 100k summaries and > 150k documents) over the last year.
One important part of StudySmarter’s intelligence is the automatic enhancement of any learning materials. When a student uploads a document to StudySmarter, we automatically generate a concept map that recognises, visualises and connects the most important terms in the document. In addition, we can link the terms with further materials such as Wikipedia articles or tutorial videos. Currently, we are not only working on improving the concept map algorithm but also on automatically generating flashcards and summaries.
Secondly, StudySmarter automatically identifies which students are working on the same or similar topics and matches them into learning groups. For this purpose, we have developed an algorithm that recognises the similarity of two learning documents, regardless of whether they come from the same university or not. Thus, students can not only work together on StudySmarter, but we’re also able to provide students with individual feedback throughout their entire learning process.
What are you looking to achieve next?
Next for StudySmarter will be to expand our team and reach and improve the product so that we can become the largest and best learning platform in the DACH region (and ultimately globally). We will aim to make the platform even more intelligent and helping many more students to achieve their educational goals. Also, we are continuously looking for partnerships, albeit regarding funding, content or technology.
What has been the biggest obstacle in creating StudySmarter?
Definitely prioritisation. Our creative and young team at StudySmarter had so many ideas on how to improve learning on a daily basis. However, you can not pursue every idea due to resources and focus, which can be quite frustrating at times. In those situations, we ended up doing user interviews and analysed our user data to prioritise and select the next big feature or the next big marketing campaign.
Looking back to the day you founded StudySmarter, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I think the most valuable aspect we have learned over time is exposure. You definitely need to go out there, spread the word about your endeavour, talk to potential users, talk to other stakeholders who might not even operate in the same sphere and simply expand your horizon.
You’ll get a lot of valuable insights by continuously seeking feedback and observing processes from a rational and data-driven perspective. You never know, people who might not be in a position to help you now can be essential at a later stage, and it is truly inspiring to hear how others overcome their challenges.
What has the response been like since winning the Global Startup Super League?
It has been great. At the next day of the event, every single attendee already knew StudySmarter and our pitch, which is a great conversation starter and led to numerous very exciting projects we are currently looking into. Moreover, we got approached by multiple investors and got a lot of valuable feedback. easyJet wasn’t too happy about the 3L champagne bottle you guys gave me…which is fair enough!
How has starting your company in Germany helped you? What separates this ecosystem from others?
I would say if you can make it in Germany, you can make it anywhere. Germany was definitely a good place to start on multiple levels. First, the education here is very high-quality meaning there are very high standards you have to be able to deliver on, which is great preparation for international expansion. Especially in Munich, you have a great ecosystem — a great combination of academia (TUM, LMU, UnternehmerTUM) and entrepreneurship. For instance, I had the possibility to join the German delegation flying to the World Economic Forum in Tianjin and talk with leading politicians and spread the word about StudySmarter. However, Germany also has unique challenges in a lot of ways, so in the mid-term, we see ourselves expanding to the UK and US, long-term also in Asia.
How has technology helped reach your target market?
We always built StudySmarter as a content-agnostic learning platform, which allows us to be very flexible in terms of markets and education verticals. While the majority of the education industry is focusing on high-quality content, we want to make all content easy to learn. Our content-agnostic approach allows every learner, be it students, or even employees to upload their content and understand it in a very efficient and engaging manner. Moreover, in order for us to expand in other geographic markets, we solely need to translate the words in the platform and tweak a little here and there. Our “English first” approach helped in international orientation. All in all, we want to leverage technology in order to make content easy to learn in every market and every vertical & enable 3rd party content providers to link their content intelligently with our platform.
What do you think it is the next big thing that is going to happen in EdTech?
StudySmarter :) .
And …. There are a couple of very interesting trends in education. One trend that I personally find very interesting is the decentralisation of education. The accessibility of high-quality education for personal development, independent of organisations and institutions. The technological possibilities are there, but I think we still need a great mind shift. Companies need to start to accept employees who personally developed their skills on a diversity of channels, rather than the traditional ones.
The final thoughts Maurice shared was for EdTech companies and educational institutions, especially universities, to product young people a stronger voice to shape the future of education. There is certainly a need to change the status-quo, with education being more and more driven by students themselves. StudySmarter is starting to do this by hosting hackathons for young students. StudySmarter is one of the first platforms in Germany for student innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education. For every event, over 800 students apply to prototype their ideas to shape the future of education. One day, 20 teams, 3 winners, and a renowned jury of parliament members and university presidents. If you are interested in hearing more, you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.