The global tech industry has seen immense growth over recent years, with the past year only accelerating the digital transformation. This has led to massive amounts of capital being driven toward advancing innovation. One sector which has reinvented itself over the last year, and continues to do so through the global pandemic has been -- education.
Long before students were required to move to a digital remote learning setup, tech companies, focused on AI, were attempting to revolutionize not only how we teach, but also how we learn. One important step in this transformation to a more data fueled education system has been conquering the challenges of personalized education. A way to make every child count, and equalize the learning field for those children who may need a different way to engage with educational content.
Bringing educational textbooks to life
A possibly cynical Albert Einstein, once said, "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school." Many of you may agree, but new technological innovation is offering a new way to school.
Ann, is an Israeli startup attempting to do just that. Remember all those textbooks you had in school? Ann is helping those publishers bring their educational content into the 21st century.
“Educational publishers are now faced with the challenge of innovating their textbooks and ebooks, which fall tremendously short in comparison to the alternative learning methods that students popularly turn to,” notes Yotam Shtayner, Ann CEO and co-founder in an interview with Geektime. “At Ann, we’ve discovered that an essential ingredient in preparing and brightening our youngest minds for their future is, quite simply, emphasizing the way they experience learning. We’ve developed a unique AI engine, alongside a network of tech-driven tools, that seamlessly integrate with existing textbooks and digital products of all kinds, enabling educational publishers to bring their textbooks to life.”
According to Yotam, students are often over diagnosed, labeled with ADHD and other learning difficulties, often leading to prescription drugs replacing a child's curiosity and will to learn. However, Yotam says that often the main problem is that “they aren’t being meaningfully engaged by traditional schooling material.”
Ann combines digital textbook learning with AI to analyze the behavior of students while they learn. This helps the Israeli startup customize the learning experience for each student, according to their needs. Compatible with various content formats, subjects, and languages, Ann helps educators and parents identify struggling students, provide alternative learning solutions, and uplift and motivate students on their learning journey. “Reinforced with gamification, Ann actively assesses student progress to create an engaging, interactive, and personalized learning experience; all fully and effortlessly integrated into existing learning platforms,” adds Yotam.
Yotam, who himself and the other two co-founders felt a little let down from their own schooling experience back in the day, notes that educators no longer have to be the be-all-end-all of academic knowledge. “Teachers have further shifted to guiding students through information provided by an infinite array of other sources, rather than being the source themselves. Much like doctors who use X-ray machines and other medical equipment to extend their capabilities and deliver more effective and measurable results, educators will inevitably adopt AI-based tools to better prepare our youth for their futures,” he says.
With advanced AI and machine learning algorithms, Ann is driving the future of digital learning. According to Yotam, “Ann possesses the ability to analyze billions of data figures that shine light onto learning patterns, providing educators with meaningful insights that over time, will enable academic institutions to innovate the way they connect with and prepare students to lead a lifestyle of greater societal achievement.”
The company has made it its mission to reinvent learning by giving textbook publishers deeper insight into a student’s learning success. Ann adapts and customizes existing educational content, saving publishers from having to constantly create new content. Yotam believes that “tech-driven, human-sensitive tools will enable them [publishers] to enhance their existing content rather than creating new content, re-energizing the educational publishing industry and revolutionizing learning around the world.”
Yotam perfectly sums up the brilliance of Ann, saying that “although it’s deeply technological, it’s remarkably human. This illustrates just how AI can nurture our most human elements; much like giving our teachers superpowers.” This remark opened my eyes even more, as I also didn’t have the best learning experience, and realized that tech like this could make over diagnosed kids “relevant” again, and not only when they’re on medication.
From customer to investor
Ann is a graduate of the SigmaLabs accelerator program, powered by Sarona Ventures, and has taken part in the prestigious American StartEd Accelerator. The company has also received support from the Israel Innovation Authority. Now, the company announces raising a $1 million Seed round to spur further growth. The investment, surprisingly, was led by one of the startup’s main customers -- Yavne Group, one of Israel’s leading textbook publishers.
Regarding the investment, one of the first things Yotam notes was that “funny enough, we didn’t aim to raise capital, but they wanted to invest in our growth in addition to being our clients. Yavne connected with our team and our vision deeply enough to take part in it, and help impact publishers around the world.”
“A turning point in our progress, the partnership with Yavne is an exciting opportunity to benefit from their innovative culture, exceptional team and management, and to collaborate on our shared vision for the future of learning,” he adds.
Following the excitement of the Seed round, Ann quickly turned its attention to far more pressing matters, than an investment they weren’t really looking for -- expanding into the U.S. market. “We’ve structured deals with top-tier educational publishers in Israel and Mexico, and another in the UK, and after participating in an American venture accelerator program, we’re now targeting the US market.”
Ann was founded in 2018 by CEO Yotam Shtayner, Chief of Design Dan Bar Or, who both met while volunteering and connected over shared values of helping young individuals meet their potential. The duo was later joined by CTO and co-founder Elad Sulami.
The way our next generation is educated not only provides us a glimpse of the future but also highlights our standards and values in the present. There's no way around it, education is one of the most important pillars of individual and social growth. Ann's solution wants strengthen those pillars, and bridge the gaps in education.
Last, I was curious to the EdTech startup's brand and name, as it didn't ring "education" in my head. Until Yotam told me the reason behind it: "Ann’s logo is inspired by the Maslow hierarchy of needs Pyramid, which illustrates our natural human needs in manifesting self-actualization and striving to reach our potential... Ann is named after Maslow’s daughter, as we stand to be the next generation of learning."
Disclaimer: Sarona Partners is an investor in Geektime.