EdTech has been generating big buzz. As the edtech space evolves, we can see that women are beginning to take entrepreneurial initiatives in the field of educational technology. And specially educators who have been in the classrooms and seen the problems closely.
We believe that we must highlight these educators who are building their own business and who share our passion of improving student learning with the power of technology.
Today, we have with us Ms. Alefiya Bhatia. Alefiya is the Co-Founder and CEO at Crescerance. She is passionate about making mobile an easily available and powerful channel to thousands of schools worldwide.
Now that I have interacted with Namit and you, I know about Crescerance. But for those who don’t know about your company, what would be an elevator pitch?
Crescerance is a company that is very much focused on helping schools and districts across the world leverage mobile and mobile technologies in a lot of different ways. Crescerance specializes in mobile solutions for schools based wholly on the specific needs of a school and its community.
Crescer means to grow or expand, and that is what we are helping students to do through mobile.The way we started doing this 3 years ago was through communications; creating custom mobile apps for schools and parents to have information right there in the palm of their hands.
And what we are doing for the last several months is also teaching kids how to create mobile apps. We are bringing technology not just for schools but also for students so that they become creators of technology and not just consumer of it.
What is the driving passion, why are you passionate about this company? What is your vision?
I am a former educator myself, in fact I should not say “former” because once an educator, you are always an educator. I have spent several years in the classroom, and I used to work with the young ones (6 years old), and I just loved it. It has always been something I have been passionate about and I knew I always wanted to do something in education. After 3-4 years in the classroom, I realized that I was facing the same problem that thousands of educators are facing that is the lack of connection between the parents and the educational process.
We were doing great things in the classroom, we focused on making sure that students become passionate about learning and not just content, and that they understand what it is to be a lifelong learner. But parents were not in sync with us, they did not understand the educational process. And as educators we know that it takes a village, it is not just the teacher’s job, not just the principal’s job; it really takes the support of parents, grandparents to help develop a child to be successful in life. So we wanted ways to connect to our parents in a way that was natural to them, and that is where we got the idea of using mobiles. And now we are using mobile to connect to and engage the students too.
When I was in college, I studied psychology and education, which powers my passion for wide-scale education improvement. I am happy that I have been able to develop that passion into several programs for schools.
I like to use the word Edupreneur, as educators were always edupreneurs, were creating new ways of doing things in the classroom and making education better, we are mixing education with entrepreneurialism and making great things happen hopefully.
What has your experience and learning been in teaching the young kids as a teacher?
I am actually a Montessori trained teacher and I studied in a Montessori school so I have numerous experiences as a Montessori child. I taught small kids, and you seriously learn a lot from such young kids, they are fearless, they are not scared to share their ideas and to figure out how to solve problems which is very inspiring for me personally. I love teaching such young kids for the same reason that they open, free and fearless and do not have a box around them. I feel that’s how we all need to be, which is not easy at all though.
The edtech community in the US is a pretty strong network and edtech entrepreneurs are happy about reaching out to each other and supporting each other. Which communities or networks have helped you reach out to other similar entrepreneurs?
It is absolutely a phenomenal community. I think education across the world is a rare industry where people genuinely care and genuinely want to do good in the world, you may not find that in most other industries. A lot of time it’s about the money, but if you’re into education, you know it’s not about the money, because there isn’t much.
It is amazing to meet such people who are trying to do good to the world. We use Twitter to create our network of educators, edupreneurs, edtech companies that we take inspiration from. So if you’re an educator and you are not on Twitter yet, you better join today! It is a very good resource of information, we learn from each other, and even though you meet people online, you can always put a face to the name by meeting them offline in several events and conferences which is really a great experience.
Tell us about your team, who do you have supporting you? How did this start?
My partner is Namit Bhatia, who is also my husband. So he is not just my business partner he is my life partner. He is the technology mind of the company and has 10-15 years of experience creating very large products in the financial services space, and I am the education mind of the company.
We have a team of about 35 people now spread across the world, including the US and India.
How has the journey been for Crescerance so far in the US and other parts of the world?
It’s been a great journey. It has been such a phenomenal learning experience. I don’t have a technical background, I don’t know how to code and program but since we started our programs 3 years ago, we have learnt so much in the process. We have really understood who our schools are, what they need. It has not been like creating a product and going and selling to school, it has been like understanding what problems the schools are facing and figure out how we can solve those problems. And almost half of our team includes educators so we have a good understanding and we are very passionate about how a school works. We have a former Principal, former Science Teacher, former Arts Teacher, and they have enhanced our understanding of schools more.
The journey has been great as we have grown substantially over the last few years.
Talk to us about your recently launched product MAD-learn and how it enables students to become creators of technology.
MAD-Learn is a program that is helping make the concepts of programming and coding easy and actually develop skills which are needed by anyone in the workforce. Even though I had zero experience with programming, product development and technology I have learnt a lot over the last few years. And that was what we wanted our kids to experience very early on in schools. We talk about app development equals skills development and that is what we trying to achieve through this program.
We have seen great level of excitement in students during the program. Students as small as 5th graders have achieved great success in creating apps and one of the girl now has over 50,000 downloads on her app. Students are excited to share their work, and brag about it :) Teachers told us that we thought it would be a program for those techy kids, but every single one enjoyed the program.
What according to you are the biggest challenges of being an edtech startup?
The biggest challenge is understanding focus, there are so many things that we are exciting about doing and can potentially do, but it is impossible to do any one thing well unless you focus on it. For us it has been really understanding who we are, what we are doing and for whom. In fact we also have an important pivot, where we initially created technology only for the school management, we decided on bringing new technologies in the classroom. Pivots are essential from a learning perspective, two things I would say about pivoting are that:
- Be okay with pivoting and changing as you have to know the market and listen to what’s needed and change the product.
- Pivot! to ensure that you can focus, as focus is essential to make something successful.
What/Who motivates you? Any thought leader or companies with innovation which you follow for success?
Most of the folks I look up to as inspiration are fellow educators, people like Angela Maiers, Sir Ken Robinson, Eric Sheninger, as they are truly passionate about the work they do every single day. I watch their videos and I go and listen to them at conferences, talk to them on phone whenever possible, they all are phenomenal leaders in their own respective places.
What are your views about the growth of Education Technology industry?
It is really a huge space, it is growing exponentially. It was big 5 years ago, but much bigger at present. And this growth in technology will produce more jobs related to technology in the future, about which we are really excited. Because of this reason I believe students need to be creators of technology and not just be consumers of it.
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