By Ariel Visconti
Like many young students, Travis Ratnam struggled with math as a child. Fortunately for him, he could tap into the expertise of his father, a self-taught math whiz and tutor. With hard work and perseverance, Ratnam rose from the bottom of the class to receiving the Governor General Academic Medal in high school. His experience showed him that if he could achieve success, then most students have the potential to excel at math.
But research suggests that students’ math skills still lag throughout Canada. With the jobs of today’s knowledge-based economy demanding STEM skills more than ever, Ratnam sought to change how students experience (or relate to) math. Along with James Francis, Lambo Jayapalan and Arthur Lui, he founded Knowledgehook in 2014 to help educators identify why students are struggling with math concepts and help them improve. He and his partners decided that a combination of technology, social gamification, and strong math pedagogy would be an effective way to both engage and educate students. Knowledgehook’s platform uses a gamified approach and includes options for teachers to deliver questions in both a social, whole-class, interactive format and a self-paced, individual format.
But Knowledgehook is more than just an engaging platform for students. It’s also an extremely powerful instruction tool for their teachers. The software aggregates a huge amount of user data on how students answer math questions and uses machine learning to identify the misunderstandings underlying their mistakes. Using this insight, it equips teachers with alternative methods that address the issue.
The platform has made highly impressive inroads with teachers. More than 90 per cent of Ontario school boards and over 300 districts in the U.S. currently use Knowledgehook as part of their math curricula.
Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) began working with Knowledgehook when the team was based out of Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre, which shares space with OCE. In spring 2016, they received Market Readiness support as they focused on market expansion, increasing sales and raising investment.
“It’s been a pleasure working with Knowledgehook and helping them evolve since the early days,” says Ken Schultz, OCE’s Business Development Manager who works closely with Knowledgehook.
The company’s progress has earned them some enviable distinctions. In May 2016, Knowledgehook was one of 11 start-ups invited to Google’s annual Demo Day in California, where Ratnam and Francis pitched to a panel of leading Silicon Valley investors. The performance earned Knowledgehook Google’s Game Changer Award, a people’s choice award given to the start-up voted most likely to disrupt its industry by attendees and online viewers. Beyond being a huge honour for the young company, the recognition opened the door to discussions for potential investment opportunities with several high-profile VCs.
And the accolades continued.
Just weeks after Demo Day, Knowledgehook was named Top Disruptor by BNN’s The Disruptors, a series which profiles emerging tech innovators. The company was chosen out of 38 start-ups featured that season.
Then, in December, the team made a major announcement.
Knowledgehook closed $1.25 million in financing to fund the platform's expansion into global markets. The round was led by Sayan Navaratnam of Aadya Capital and CEO of Connex Telecommunications and also included investors Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, and John Abele, co-founder of Boston Scientific.
The funding will help Knowledgehook continue expansion in the U.S. and enter other markets such as Australia and the U.K. It will also allow the team to hire the necessary talent to support company growth. They expect to hire another three to five employees in the next six months, bringing the total to nine full-time employees and three part-time contractors in Ontario.