The founder of EdTech with great chemistry

The founder of EdTech with great chemistry

When you think of the founder of an educational technology company, you probably don’t naturally think of someone with a Ph. in Chemical Engineering – and not that you should.

But you should know this edtech founder who happens to be a highly skilled chemical engineer.

Justin Weinberg is the co-founder and current CEO of Aktiv Learning. He is from New York City, attended the prestigious Bronx Science, graduated from the equally impressive Cooper Union and earned the aforementioned Ph.D. by Carnegie Mellon.

“I was just getting into the bio-pharmacy,” Weinberg said. “Edtech was a hobby that eventually became a passion and has now become a meaningful business,” he said.

That evolution began, Weinberg says, around 2010, when he was tutoring and collaborating with his college friend and current co-founder, Igor Belyayev. The duo teamed up to develop a smartphone app that helped students learn chemistry with video lessons produced by Weinberg himself.

“Video lessons weren’t really a thing back then,” Weinberg said. “But our theory was that smartphones were exploding and clearly the future and that we could use an app as a delivery mechanism for the aid of chemistry. And we found out we were right. We’ve had over 500,000 downloads without promotion, without marketing. It was just something we were doing as a hobby. ”

That number might grab your attention – many edtech companies would kill for 500,000 downloads. Even now.

Weinberg says experience has taught him two great things. “One was the order of magnitude of the people who were struggling in STEM and who needed help. The second was that the students looked at their phones as a way to learn. We needed to understand how we could take it to the next level, “he said.” The next level had to be focused on active learning: students sitting, solving problems, struggling, failing and solving things. We didn’t want to be another memorization platform. or lesson: we knew we could and should be different and better “.

These two things, in turn, led Weinberg to launch Aktiv, a learning platform created specifically for STEM, with a focus, as the name implies, on active learning.

“When we started building the company, we didn’t want to take the traditional approach to building a learning platform, just build a platform and upload content from the humanities to the STEM disciplines. This doesn’t create a good user experience for students due to a lack of focus, ”Weinberg said.

As CEO, he says his start in chemical engineering and biopharmaceutical has been worthwhile. “He taught me to manage large and unlimited projects with multiple people, an extremely valuable experience as an entrepreneur.”

And it seems so.

Aktiv is an in-course resource, adopted by teachers for use as part of their chemistry and mathematics lessons, designed to complement the lessons and encourage learning by trying. When the company launched its chemical in 2016, Weinberg said it had eight schools on board. “This year,” he said, “we have lecturers in nearly 600 colleges and universities.”

This is a 75x growth rate over six years.

Not only is the company growing, it is functioning. These things are probably related.

“We surveyed our students and 91% said our active learning approach helped improve their chemistry grades and 86% said it made them more engaged and more interested in chemistry. “Weinberg said. “And I think, from a teaching and learning standpoint, teachers would find that number of 86% pretty incredible.”

Even with that initial success and claim, running an education business was a learning experience, Weinberg said. “My background is science, engineering and teaching. I’m the product manager in the company, but I’ve developed an appreciation for the sales and marketing side – how difficult and interesting a challenge can be, ”he said.

“The truth is, you can have the best product in the world, that won’t make the market automatically come and buy it from you,” Weinberg said.

Looking ahead, Weinberg sees growth, not change.

“We have come to this point because we have remained focused on building the best platforms for STEM subjects. And I want to stay true to that as we continue to grow. ”

Aktiv recently added math to his chemistry offerings, a process Weinberg described as years of work. “We have thought deeply about what worked in chemistry and how that can translate into the challenges in teaching and learning math. through how chemistry and mathematics can meet, “he said.

This link is important because many chemistry students struggle with deficiencies in math, which is actually a problem in many STEM subjects. As a result, Weinberg says his company, “is thinking about how we can also help schools at the institutional level think about whether their students are ready for math and chemistry before they enter the course and, if not, how we can. pick them up. ”

Anyone who has spent time at the gates of education – in two-year colleges or career programs – can tell you that preparation and confidence for college-level courses are essential to success. Mathematics in particular. It’s really hard to overestimate how important it is to prepare students for STEM subjects and keep them in those programs. It is a fragile pressure point in the global economy and more generally for colleges.

And if it takes a chemical engineer or two to fill those gaps in education and training, great. Let’s do it. It may not be the traditional or expected path to improving education. But it could prove to be very important.

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