JumpAgrade: This start-up is the modern answer to grinds

13 Aug 2018

From left: JumpAgrade co-founders David Neville and Pádraic Hogan. Image: Daniel Meehan/Shadowman Sports

Our Start-up of the Week is JumpAgrade, an education company focused on improving the performance of second-level students.

JumpAgrade is an online service for second-level students,” said co-founder Pádraic Hogan.

“It helps them prepare for exams by giving them tailored worksheets designed to address their individual learning needs and providing detailed personalised feedback on how to improve.

‘It is extremely challenging for teachers to provide one-to-one feedback to each student’

“In a nutshell, JumpAgrade is the modern alternative to grinds,” said Hogan.

“The problem we saw was that in the typical classroom today, there are 25 students to one teacher. It is extremely challenging for teachers to provide one-to-one feedback to each student,” Hogan explained.

JumpAgrade assesses the specific challenges facing a student and the area in which they need assistance.

“For example, a third-year maths student struggling on algebra – our team of teachers design personalised worksheets for each individual student on a weekly basis. When students submit their work, our teachers provide comprehensive feedback on how to improve their grades.”

Co-founder Ethan O’Brien explained that JumpAgrade is all about building confidence in students and ensuring that they are exam-ready – and that’s just the start of the company’s plans.

“We want to take students from learners to earners,” said O’Brien.

“That starts with helping students in school so they can get into the courses they want in college. The JumpAgrade online platform also helps prepare students for third level – making assignments available online, submitting work online and the autonomy to work at your own schedule are all ways of working that they will encounter at third level.

Co-founder David Neville added: “The future for JumpAgrade is to help learners go from exam-ready to college-ready and then work-ready. We want to support them each step of the way.

“The final step would involve professional exams and professional development for life in the working world.”

The market

“The private tuition market globally is huge and the online portion of that market is set to grow by 14pc in the next three years,” Neville continued.

“We are targeting the grinds/private tuition market. While our users are students, our customer is the parent of our students. The grinds market here in Ireland is conservatively estimated at €60m at second level solely. In the UK, £2bn is spent on private tuition where over 2m students sit post-primary exams annually. By 2022, the global private tuition market is estimated to be at $227bn.

Neville said that the potential for growth is both horizontal and vertical.

The horizontal growth involves expanding into new countries, with the English-speaking markets being the most likely next step. The vertical growth comes with expansion into third level and professional learning, with the idea of nurturing lifelong learners.

The founders

O’Brien, JumpAgrade CEO and a former private tutor for seven years, leads the start-up’s technical team. He was systems architect to Electricity Exchange, the smart grid operator that Bord na Móna acquired a 50pc share of. He has a bachelor’s degree (1.1 ) in computer engineering and a GradDip in business and management.

Neville heads up JumpAgrade’s marketing efforts. He previously managed EMEA channel marketing for Kemp Technologies in Limerick after starting out in its New York headquarters. Prior to this, he has experience working in finance for GE and Royal Bank of Scotland.

Hogan directs business development. He has more than four years of experience selling financial solutions to multinationals across Europe. Initially, he was an account manager for Oracle before leading sales for Miagen, where he managed a number of education clients.

The three founders came together with a shared desire to improve the education system they had all gone through themselves.

O’Brien is passionate about students being crystal-clear on what is required of them to get the grades they are aiming for, and is a big advocate for low-stakes testing and frequent feedback.

Neville has a real issue with students thinking of themselves as “not smart” and believes that everyone learns differently and has different strengths and weaknesses.

“Einstein said: ‘Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’”

Hogan wants to change the majority mindset from fixed to growth. “There is no ceiling to anyone’s intelligence – it needs to be channelled into something they are really passionate about for their mindset to grow.”

The technology

O’Brien said JumpAgrade is digitising a traditionally offline industry.

“We see ourselves as a demand side unit for education where we aggregate the top tutor talent and make feedback better and more accessible to more students. The JumpAgrade process provides individual students with the personalised feedback they need to improve.

“With the high standards that we can deliver through our platform, JumpAgrade doesn’t just raise the ceiling of the quality of feedback students receive, it raises the floor of feedback in education.”

O’Brien said the start-up is building a system that will allow every student in Ireland and beyond to access and benefit from top tutoring talent.

“Our network of tutors will deliver the benefit of their collective expertise to every student by using artificial intelligence to ensure every one of our tutors perform as well as our best tutors. This is the best application of machine learning: pairing humans’ ability to make judgements based on expertise and experience with computers’ powerful pattern recognition capabilities,” added O’Brien.

Methodology for improving pedagogy

The ultimate goal? “Our aim is to make personalised feedback available to every student across the world, regardless of their ability or demographic,” said Hogan.

“Educators and learners exist in all walks of life. JumpAgrade is there to connect the dots through a seamless and efficient process to improve that knowledge transfer.

“We share a vision to assist people to be lifelong learners from primary school all the way through to their working career.”

JumpAgrade recently launched a corporate benefits programme that enables staff of various organisations to avail of JumpAgrade for their children as part of their benefits.

“This opportunity came about when we noticed that a large number of the parent email addresses of existing customers were email addresses from large multinational companies, so we knew the demand was there from employees that were parents of second-level students,” Hogan explained.

“We looked at corporate benefits packages and found that education was being largely underserved where pensions, healthcare, wellbeing, childcare and even gym memberships are taking priority.”

He pointed to a recent HSBC survey of 16,000 parents, which found that 49pc said funding their children’s education is more important than funding their own pensions.

Levelling the playing field

Hogan added that the team is excited about JumpAgrade’s Equality of Education initiative.

“We are enabling students from disadvantaged backgrounds across Ireland get additional assistance outside of the classroom, providing them support that they would otherwise not get.

“Northern Trust sponsored a pilot in the lead-up to exams in June. We are now in the position to grow the Equality of Education initiative significantly.

“Being able to provide these students with help outside the classroom that enables them to meet and exceed their own expectations is something that we are hugely proud of at JumpAgrade,” said Hogan.

A leap of faith

JumpAgrade’s biggest challenge in its first year was convincing parents to trust the platform.

“Our early users were the forward-thinking parents who were happy to challenge the norms. They saw the flock of students going into grinds schools and realised that there must be a better way.

“They saved hours each week by removing the need to travel and got their sons [and] daughters fully personalised help from top tutors that has delivered measurable improvement.

“Seeing them start off sceptical but then fully embrace the JumpAgrade process and reap the benefits was one of the most rewarding parts of the journey so far,” Hogan concluded.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years