Recent graduates Vamsi Yerramsetty and Ben Spartz talk to Jessica Jonzen about starting their own business while studying for their Masters at Royal Holloway, and how the opportunity to win up to £75,000 of business support through the Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards is taking their business to the next level
Santander Entrepreneurship Awards
As UK schools return to some semblance of normality after the unprecedented challenges presented by the Covid pandemic, the British education system has never been under such scrutiny. A study carried out by UCL’s Institute of Education found that during the first lockdown, more than two million children in the UK had done less than an hour of schoolwork a day.
While many advantaged parents have turned to private tuition to plug the gaps in their children’s learning, at £35 per hour, it is a luxury which most cannot afford. Which is where Edicat Learning comes in.
Founded by Vamsi Yerramsetty and Ben Spartz while they were studying for their Masters in Digital Innovation & Analytics at Royal Holloway, Edicat Learning is an AI-driven learning platform initially aimed at UK secondary school students in years 9-11, but with ambitions to make it accessible globally. Using machine learning and psychometrics, the platform’s intelligent assessments identify a student’s individual knowledge gaps in order to design personalised study plans to maximise their potential.
“Our mission is to democratise good quality personal education for every deserving child out there, irrespective of their social economic status, so that one day every child will have equal access,” says Vamsi. “You can never replace a teacher or tutor, but I think this can be a very cost effective solution for providing individualised teaching.”
Vamsi and Ben graduated in 2020, and with the support and encouragement of Royal Holloway Enterprise Hub Ideation Consultant Emilio Costales, Edicat Learning has been entered in to the 2021 Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards. Launched in 2011 as a way of supporting businesses from Santander’s partner universities, the scheme offers student and graduate businesses cash prizes, mentoring and start-up support. The programme culminates on 6 October with a pitching competition at Wembley, where businesses will pitch for up to £75,000 worth of business support.
“We’re incredibly grateful to Emilio for recommending us to Dr Anica Zeyen, who nominated us to represent Royal Holloway at the Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards,” says Ben. “We were ready for that challenge and during the course of the competition we’ve had the chance to meet with some mentors, and meet other businesses going through the same issues as us and we’ve been able to incorporate some of those learnings in our business and that’s been really helpful. Getting that mentorship guidance is something you can’t really replace – I would definitely recommend anyone to get it if they can.”
Originally from India, Vamsi is an educator, with a PhD and more than seven years of teaching and consulting experience in education. He led the implementation of adaptive assessments for the Indian government before pursuing his Masters at Royal Holloway. Ben, meanwhile, grew up in Minnesota in the US and is a pricing analyst.
Vamsi’s experiences had led him to believe there was potential for the use of adaptive assessments in the education sector, and when he met Ben in 2019 it was a meeting of minds. “Ben is very passionate about technology and data and how we can use it in order to support growth, and he is also passionate about the education sector,” says Vamsi. “I shared the idea with him and he said it made sense and we started looking at the idea and slowly started presenting it clearly for others at the College as well. It all just progressed from there.”
It can’t have been easy starting a business while also studying for their Masters. “It was definitely not an easy experience,” says Ben. “To be honest if it wasn’t something in the education space or something we were passionate about it would have been harder for us to prioritise the time. It comes down to whether you believe in your idea; if you’re passionate about it you’ll find the time to make it work.”
While Edicat Learning has now grown to an international team of six people, Vamsi and Ben’s meeting at Royal Holloway established the culture for the business they wanted to create. “Ben and I meeting and being able to start our business was only possible because of Royal Holloway,” says Vamsi. “I think that in our class of 19 or 20 students there were at least 16 nationalities and that ushered in a lot of different perspectives. That is extremely important for growth. I think that Royal Holloway has done a stupendous job in terms of attracting folks of a lot of different nationalities and of harbouring that culture.”
“Where I came from is a million miles from where Vamsi did and we would never have met were it not for Royal Holloway, so I think it really does wonders,” agrees Ben. “Being in a really nice university environment allows you to make the most of that time in your life when you’re learning. I think that being in an international community allows for that type of unique situation to happen.”
The Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards are providing Vamsi and Ben with the opportunity to take their business to the next level and are clear on their priorities if they are successful. “Product development and marketing are our highest priorities,” says Vamsi. “We have expressions of interest from schools, universities and tuition providers but we want to make sure that we expand on the clientele and reach out to as many schools – especially in the disadvantaged areas.”
What do they hope Edicat Learning will achieve in the next five to ten years? “I really would want to be making as much of an impact on children’s lives as possible, and to be providing equitable opportunities for all students to get that personalised learning journey,” says Ben. “I can’t emphasise enough how important that is and how much of a difference it can make to realising your dreams. Often what can hold you back is not having access to the resources or the support you needed to grow – we want to make that opportunity available to all.”
Their advice to other students considering starting their own business is simple: “hustle,” says Vamsi. Talk with as many people as you can about your idea and learn, learn, learn. You never know what others can teach you.”
Matt Hutnell, Director of Santander Universities UK commented: “It’s fantastic to celebrate over a decade of supporting entrepreneurship with our Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards. It has been an exceptionally tough time for many start-ups and small businesses, so we’re delighted to have tailored this year’s programme of support to help innovative student and graduate businesses to scale, as part of our broader commitment to fostering entrepreneurship among university students. I look forward to meeting all of the entrepreneurs at Wembley in October and wish them the very best of luck in the competition.”
To find out more about Edicat Learning, visit www.edicat.co.uk