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Education in the Age of Student Entrepreneurs

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Entrepreneurship has become “cool” over the last 20 years since the Internet came into being. Youth entrepreneurship, especially college students trying their hands at digital start-ups, is now quite a phenomenon.

Today, we’re going to look at a team of student entrepreneurs who have launched a product and got it to a revenue generating stage while still at school.

Meet Yatit, Drew and Jak

Yatit Thakker, the CEO of Omninox, had always loved science. As an engineering student at the University of Florida, he was however, disappointed with the boring textbooks and tools used to teach science.

Though there were several online education programs, Yatit felt they were not utilizing the technology to its full potential. Even with powerful platforms like iBooks, the online education programs being created were mere digital reproductions of the textbooks, without much interactivity.

The iBooks platform, though, was capable of much more.

So, in the summer of 2012, Yatit with Drew Vincent and Jak Yap, his fellow environmental engineering students at the University of Florida, took it upon themselves to make science challenging and fun to learn.

The Founding of Omninox

The three founded Omninox and created interactive, mobile study guides called Omniguides for high school students using the iBooks platform. They funded the company from their savings accounts, with part-time jobs, and some pre-seed investments from their families.

Omninox aims to consolidate the material that students learn for Advanced Placement (AP) STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) classes by offering built-in software tools such as a calculator, quizzes and sketchpad with social sharing.

Their first interactive guide for Calculus 1 was one of the top listed Calculus 1 guides on the iBookstore. Over the next year, the market became more competitive. Companies like OpenStax, SchoolYourself and Houghton Mifflin had also started using the iBooks platform to create more interactive products.

However, Omninox had a first mover advantage and it upped its game as well. It became part of the iBookstore’s textbook section. This was a huge challenge for Omninox but had its rewards. A private school in California made the Calculus Omniguide a requirement for all its students.

Each AP Omniguide is sold as an integrated software package for $15. In 2013, Omninox released its first commercial product and it is already in the revenue stage. It has had more than 200 paid downloads across the world, with 120 of these in the past six months.

Close to 600,000 students are projected to take physics, calculus or statistics in the 2014 AP course. Assuming one-third of this target market has access to an iPad, it translates to a potential market of $3 million per year.

The Future of Omninox

Yatit says they plan to expand Omniguides to a web-based platform once they have a stronger base of content and customers. The platform will include more general preparatory courses for a subscription fee of $10 a month. This will help provide not only better content but also provide a more continuous revenue stream. They could also consider providing online tutoring for AP STEM courses.

One of the challenges that the online education sector faces is that many professors and academicians are not as savvy with Web technologies as their students. They have typically collaborated with eLearning companies and have released products and courses that have stuck to the sage-on-the-stage model. Online education’s true potential lies in exploring the guide-on-the-side model.

Is it then time to collaborate with student-led ventures like Omninox to bring out the true potential of digital technology in education?

More broadly, today’s generation of students are digital natives. They have been exposed to the Internet, smartphones, tablets, social media and many other technologies from a very young age. It is not surprising that we’re seeing a tremendous surge of entrepreneurship among students these days.

Image: Omninox Publishing Team, Omninox

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