Q&A With Yonatan Doron of Branching Minds
EdTech Times was honored to be speaking with Yonatan Doron, Founding Advisor and Director of Marketing at Branching Minds. Branching Minds is a company that develops an online tool and mobile application to help parents to assess and identify a child’s individual learning needs, and then connect them to appropriate, high quality services to address these needs.
Company at Glance:
Founders: Maya Gat (CEO) and David Magier (COO)
Category: Classroom Management; Content Discovery and Curation; Intervention Core; Learning Dashboard
Product stage: Beta
Company twitter: @BranchingMinds
Founder twitter: @DavidSMagier
ETT: How would you define the market segment your company is in? Who are your core customers?
YD: Branching Minds is a tool for different segments within the education technology market – school and school district administrators, teachers, parents, juvenile correctional facilities, and learning resource companies. Our Issue Identification tool provides a particularly value for school districts with quickly changing demographics (such as large ELL student populations) that routinely have a disproportionate share of their students over-identified as Special Ed. It is also particularly valuable for juvenile correctional facilities interested in reducing recidivism rates. The Learning Supports Recommendation tool is useful to teachers, as well as parents who have a strong desire to find the educational tools curated for their student’s specific needs.
ETT: How did you identify the problem you’re addressing? What was your process in identifying it?
YD: As a teacher at a charter school in the Bronx, our Founder & CEO Maya Gat was painfully aware of the challenges that teachers face in the classroom. She saw how difficult it is for teachers to differentiate their lessons for students, without knowing what their exact needs are or which specific resources were appropriate to help them, combined with the difficulties of tracking student progress.
ETT: And what was the process of arriving at the solution to this particular problem?
YD: As Maya lived the challenges in the classroom, she followed the advances made across the learning sciences and Artificial Intelligence technology outside of the classroom. Scientists were making tremendous advances in the research into how a child’s brain learns as well as the neuro-cognitive impediments preventing them from learning better. However, that research remained in academia and wasn’t accessible to schoolteachers who needed to apply it. At the same time, Maya knew that web-based consumer technology products, like WebMD’s Symptom Checker, helped consumers to identify and learn about their health challenges, while other products, like Amazon Marketplace, helped consumers discover products and services that fit their own specifications. Maya knew there had to be a way to combine the research with the technology to help students like her own.
ETT: What makes your solution different from the competitors’ – what it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors?
YD: Branching Minds uses a patentable algorithm that maps out and simplifies the complex interplay between observable student behaviors and underlying cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Some competitors assess a child’s reading level, for example, but not the underlying neuro-cognitive issues preventing the student from reading better. Other assessment tools use exam questions and test scores to determine how a child learns, as opposed to collecting data on observable behaviors through a dynamic Q&A with the teacher or parent, who knows them best. We believe that testing serves a valuable purpose, but it only captures a snapshot in time and does not accurately reflect many students’ learning profiles.
ETT: Please tell us more about your product stage and what we should expect to see from your company in the next 12 months – i.e. describe your potential next milestones.
YD: Branching Minds is currently beta testing the Issue Identification tool for literacy, including reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language modules. We expect to launch this product, along with a corresponding Support Recommendation tool, in the Fall of 2014. Over the next year, we will launch an Issue Identification tool for mathematics and social/emotional behaviors. We will also roll out a Progress Tracking and Reporting tool for school and school districts during the year as well.
ETT: Do you believe you will remain as a disruptor in near foreseeable future or become a more mature company? Why is that so?
YD: We believe Branching Minds will be able to continue to grow and expand into different segments of the education technology market. Because of the strength of its AI technology, Branching Minds will constantly learn more about how students learn as well as which supports helps them to learn better. In this way, Branching Minds will be able to build an evidence-base for educational products and services that is currently limited.
ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?
YD: Our COO, David Magier, was previously the founder of Couptivate, a consumer web startup. He also worked with a number of early-stage startup companies in his capacity as a corporate attorney.
ETT: Did you or do you currently have a mentor who is/has been helping you through the startup stages of the company? Who is that mentor?
The Kaplan Ed Tech Accelerator, powered by Techstars, has connected Branching Minds to some fantastic mentors, including Seppy Basili and Howard Bell at Kaplan and Steve Kupfer and Ben Rayen, who have provided us with valuable insights and advice into the education technology market.
ETT: Where do you see the education technology market going in the next few years?
YD: The education technology market is increasingly moving toward an adaptive learning model. As technology and learning sciences improve and move into the classroom, more students will be able to receive an education that is personalized and adaptive to their changing strengths and weaknesses.
ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
YD: Listen to teachers early. Too many education technology companies are created by brilliant technologists and business-oriented people with very little insight into the day-to-day concerns of teachers. Because our CEO, Maya Gat, was a teacher herself, she was able to add a perspective to our development and design that other companies have lacked. Our advice would be to add teachers or former teachers onto your team early on. If not, make sure to meet with teachers regularly – not just to tell them about your product, but to listen to their challenges and concerns in the classroom.
EdTech Times thanks Yonatan for speaking with us and we encourage you to check out Branching Minds at:
Yevgeny Ioffe, or as people call him, Yev, has been working in both the startup world and established companies. His career spans from joining Xplana Learning as it launched to Cengage Learning to MBS Direct when it acquired Xplana in 2009. Yevgeny brings to EdTech Times his passion for start-ups and technology, along with his interest in the ever evolving world of edtech. Yevgeny obtained his BSc and MA from Brandeis University and MBA from Boston College.