When Zack Tasker, a senior at Franklin High School, looks back on the first half of high school, he’s honest.
“My grades were bad,” he said. “I never felt engaged, and I was often bored.... But I was scoring in the top 2 percent in the country on the SAT and getting 4’s and 5’s on Advanced Placement exams.”
And he wasn’t the only one experiencing that problem. Several of Tasker’s friends also noticed a disconnect between their performance in class and on standardized tests, leading them to ask why.
He determined that part of the problem was the educational apps that were available to teachers. According to Tasker, many of the apps promised to help teachers better understand their students, yet contained design and functionality flaws that interfered with their usability.
So what did Tasker do? He worked with a few friends to create MindMap, a new kind of educational app.
Making learning more personal
Compared to other educational apps, MindMap is more efficient and thorough. By engaging students in a 15-minute game that they can play on their cell phones, MindMap gathers information about their personalities, learning styles, career interests, and more. It then shares this information with the students’ teachers, breaking it down on an easy-to-use Web platform and offering recommendations for classroom activities.
“The app helps teachers understand key traits about their students in a relatively short amount of time,” said Tasker. “They’re able to increase engagement in their classes based on the types of students in them.”
While making learning more personal started as the inspiration for MindMap, Tasker said it later became the mission of Testify Software Solutions, the education technology startup built around the app. Last February, Tasker founded the company with his three app co-creators, Femi Adebogun, a senior at Franklin High; Paras Shah, a 2016 graduate of Franklin High; and Druvesh Patel, a senior at River Hill High School in Howard County. Today, Tasker, Adebogun, Shah, and Patel serve as the company’s chief operations officer, chief executive officer, vice president of product design, and chief financial officer, respectively.
“Our company’s mission is to make the classroom learning experience more personal for every student,” said Tasker. “We understand the problems that millions of students face every day, and we’re committed to solving them one classroom at a time.”
As the four have worked toward that goal, Tasker said they’ve received a lot of support. Early on at Franklin High, school administrators helped them assess MindMap’s design and functionality, while teachers offered them feedback on its usability. Now, professionals in education and technology are helping the co-founders improve their app and expand their business.
“We’ve built a team of about 15 people who range from professors at universities to graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former teachers,” said Tasker. “Our advisory board is also packed with top talent.”
In addition to support, Tasker, Adebogun, Shah, and Patel have gained success. In December, they participated in the Venture D.C. Pitch Competition, beating six local startups with their app idea, pitch, and execution. Later this month, they’ll also be one of 100 companies presenting at Google’s Startup Grind global conference. And, on several occasions, they’ve been asked to talk about Testify at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.
But, despite how much they’ve already accomplished, the co-founders still hope to achieve more.
Creating more solutions
After releasing MindMap a month ago, Testify has started working on a new app called Jurnee. Intended to help high school students prepare for internships, college, and careers, the app is still in the development stage but could be available by the 2017-2018 school year.
“We’re not content with just one solution to increasing student engagement,” said Tasker. “With Jurnee, we’ll be able to help high school students get placed in the best colleges for them and gain real-world experience.”
For Tasker, that focus on real-world experience is particularly important, especially as he considers how far he and his friends have come since starting high school.
“We’ve learned that there’s much more in life than just graduating from high school, going to college, and getting a degree,” he said. “We’ve learned that we can take initiative in our lives and find success on our own, all while working on something that we strongly believe in.”