DIFFERENTIATOR: This company employs tutors who speak various Indian dialects to teach students who speak those same dialects. And, it teaches coding, as well as math…
As the pandemic continues to wane, a lot of students in the U.S. and abroad continue to supplement their learning with tutoring. There are many American companies offering this service, both in-person and online.
One of them, Techfunic — which teaches math and coding using the Socratic method — is set to launch a pre-seed round in May. It’s looking to raise $1.5 million through a combo of equity and debt financing with SAFE’s (simple agreement for future equity) and convertible notes.
The founder, Ann Andrews, is a computer science engineer with 20 years of corporate experience. Over the past year, she’s been incubating Techfunic at the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute. She has also been selected as a semi-finalist for the NYU Stern Berkley Center Entrepreneur’s Challenge.
And, she was awarded the NYU Female Founders Fellowship for her pioneering work and contribution to America’s education system.
Techfunic’s HQ is in Jersey City with plans to move the HQ to NYC.
The Socratic Method
The mission of Techfunic is to provide “high-quality, specialized tutoring in a fun, interactive and safe” environment that engages children in a productive way.
Tutoring is available for elementary, middle and high-school students.
Techfunic uses the “socratic” tutoring method, in which a tutor leads with practice problems and questions, with the goal of getting their students to articulate their logical thinking.
This keeps the child engaged, and, ideally, when they participate in discussions, concepts are permanently ingrained in the students’ minds.
This method of teaching is highly effective for children on the ADHD spectrum, who learn in different ways, according to Andrews.
“Generic tutoring, where the teacher explains concepts, and asks the children to practice at home, does not work for many children,” she said.
Techfunic tutors are specially trained in this method.
“Research shows this method to be highly effective in resulting in strong learning outcomes that last a lifetime, and change the child’s life, resulting in better education and career potential,” she said.
High Ratio of Female Tutors
Andrews has been a U.S. resident since 2006, but visits India often.
“Since I grew up in India, I have a strong understanding of the economy,” she said. “And, I have a network in India, which helped me setup a strong process to hire, train and mentor tutors.”
As women in certain parts of India have social restrictions on working outside their homes past 6 p.m., which limits their income opportunities, Andrews said she’s proud that 80% of her tutors are women.
“Techfunic is fulfilling work they can do from the safety of their homes,” she said. “It gives me satisfaction to provide them with an opportunity to empower themselves and gain financial independence with meaningful work. (The) Indian economy was hard hit by the pandemic. I have several tutors who were able to support their families with their income from Techfunic.”
India is considered the global breeding ground of technology and math talent, according to Andrews. Techfunic has partnered with top-tier Indian universities to hire tutors.
“Most of our tutors have ambitions to pursue their higher education in the U.S. and are preparing for their GMAT, a highly-competitive, quantitative exam,” she said. “Tutoring middle/high school children doubles as their GMAT prep, so it is a win-win on both sides.”
And the tutors are very excited about what they’re doing, she added.
“Our tutors don’t see this as a job, they are passionate about making a difference in the lives of their children and are committed to their work,” she said.
Techfunic has also hired college undergrad tutors in Uganda, as well as other nations in Africa. And, it started hiring tutors in the U.S. after the company joined the startup accelerator program, including NYU grads and undergrads.
Three Core Programs
Techfunic has three tutoring options: Arithfunic/ArithEnrich for Math and Techfunic for Coding/Technology. And it serves elementary through high school students.
Tech Junior for elementary school students uses platforms such as MIT Scratch to introduce children to simple coding and game building.
Tech Senior for middle school students explores Java and Python. It also teaches AP Computer Science to high school students.
Tutors use low-code/no-code platforms to prompt students to implement their own algorithms using block-based coding. They can drag and drop blocks of code to execute their logic. And, if necessary, they can double-click the blocks to read the underlying code.
“This results in the children being able to read any coding language,” Andrews said. “Technology is the future and it is important that children learn the building blocks of technology early in their lives. It’s just like learning to bicycle. Once you gain that skill in childhood, it stays with you through life. They will be able to interface with engineering teams more effectively in any career they choose to go into.”
Andrews believes “to democratize education, every child in the U.S. should have access to affordable, personalized tutoring.”
If children need extra help and parents cannot afford to pay for tutors, this may cause students to underperform and fall behind the rest of their classmates, making it a socioeconomic issue, she said.
Andrews has a Bachelor of Technology from the University of Kerala. Before starting Techfunic, she amassed 18 years of experience in corporate technology, mostly in data modeling and enterprise data management.
She has worked with programs like C, Java and HTML web development, as well as data modeling, database design, product management and business intelligence.
She first launched her company in the U.S. in 2020 when COVID-19 caused public schools to shut down. Soon, she said, parents from Europe, Singapore and other countries also started signing up.
Teaching in Indian Dialects
“We even started having (Indian) parents sign up their children from Germany and Switzerland for our coding classes, because their children did not speak English, but spoke…the Indian dialects that our tutors spoke, requesting us to conduct tech/coding classes in Indian dialects,” Andrews said. “With some (groups of students), our tutors repeat instructions in English and the Indian dialects, which is a very enriching experience for the children, as they learn coding and are exposed to their conversational mother tongue.”
The company has an operations team that coordinates classes across different time zones to teach international students.
“Especially for our tech and coding language classes, children have a unique experience of learning with other children from different parts of the world,” she said. “They get to make friends with a diverse group of children.
Parents value this experience, she added, “especially when children learn to recognize different accents and study together in a safe circle with children outside of their immediate school or social circle.”
For some children and teenagers, “it is no longer cool to learn with their friends,” she said.
“They want to seem as if they are getting top grades with no effort at all,” she added.
Personal Catalyst as Inspiration
Andrews said her inspiration for creating Techfunic arose from what she experienced with her own children, as she witnessed what she believes is critical for students to have in India — a solid foundation in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math.
“Techfunic is ideal for children who are easily distracted by social media and entertainment, and find it difficult to submit homework on time, or lack the motivation to study by themselves consistently,” she said. “They may not be able to focus their attention in class, missing out on the understanding of key concepts.”
Many of them fall (somewhere) on the ADHD spectrum, she explained, especially the inattentive type, and they may not have been diagnosed.
Those that have been diagnosed may have certain unique accommodations and may have been recommended tutoring. So, their parents may be looking for options, and finding them expensive.
Techfunic offers “affordable small group tutoring that helps these children focus and practice math, which can then result in higher grades,” she said.
Funding the Company
Andrews invested the equivalent of $500,000 towards the initial expenses of the company to develop curriculum and lesson plans, as well as the requisite technology for recurring tutoring at scale. And, to offer continuous training to her select group of tutors.
She plans to use the money she raises in her pre-seed round to invest further in the underlying tech — to create compatible study groups at scale, with intelligent data insights from existing classes.
She’s also working with ADHD coaches and education experts, who specialize in Socratic tutoring, to hire and train the “best” tutors to provide specialized tutoring in an “affordable” monthly plan.
Cost and Competition
Typically, a private tutor in the U.S. costs $45/hour, and can reach up to $100/ hour, according to tutors.com.
Techfunic’s monthly plans for its math and coding are $99. The classes average $12/hour, which Andrews claims is “less than the cost of a babysitter in the U.S.”
“Your children are learning from global experts in classes with an average size of three students,” she said. “It is a very personalized, yet social experience and is great value for (the) money.”
Other private tutoring companies, like Sylvan Learning, also provide online tutoring in reading, math and study skills — sometimes with just one student getting the tutor’s full attention.
How Techfunic Tutors Are Selected
Andrews said her company invites applications from tutors who have scored 99% in competitive exams that qualify them for engineering degrees. They then go through a screening test and are benchmarked on the kind of classes they can handle based on how they fare in the test.
Tutors then go through a personal interview and behavioral assessment to ensure they meet Techfunic criteria “to holistically engage with children.”
Coding instructors take a customized coding test that has inbuilt plagiarism detection. Math tutors take a timed test of select questions and upload their work, which is then manually evaluated, to ensure thoroughness of their thinking process.
New tutors then shadow existing tutors and share teaching time with them, before they are given an independent class.
A free trial class can be booked here.