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Ready for the next stage

[SharpScholar Jawwad Sidiqqi]
 Upon graduation, Jawwad Siddiqui (Com’15), is looking forward to putting his full efforts behind his start-up SharpScholar along with partners Amin Nikdel (Sc’14) and Tejas Mehta, a graduate of the University of Toronto. Below are screengrabs of the app for teachers, top, and for students. (University Communications)

An app, developed by a pair of Queen’s University students, is helping connect students and professors to improve the learning experience in real-time.

Two years ago, Jawwad Siddiqui (Com’15) and Amin Nikdel (Sc’14), came up with the idea of using mobile technology to increase interaction between students and teachers through feedback on what parts of the lesson were working for whom, and which ones weren’t. And all of this is done in real-time.

The duo brought on board another student from the University of Toronto, Tejas Mehta, to help with growing SharpScholar, which is now being used in seven universities across North America, including Queen’s.

A key step in the development of the program, Mr. Siddiqui says, was identifying professors as the “core value proposition.” This changed everything.

Still, they had to connect with their target audience and they quickly realized it wouldn’t be easy. Professors often receive calls and offers for new programs to help in the classroom, so the team knew they had to design the app for the teachers first.

Simplicity was key.

“Once we took the modern approach to helping teachers, then they realized ‘Wow, this is so easy. I can do it in three steps and I’m done.’ In other words, taking a design approach to helping teachers’ lives,” he says. “We realized there’s a big opportunity to help these professors who were kind of not being served.”

The response to date has been very positive.

“It began with a very grassroots approach. We work with different teachers, from math to physics to computer science to business and we’ve just had tremendous success focusing on teachers,” Mr. Siddiqui says. “Teachers feel truly empowered when you value their time and initiative too.”

However, as is often the case when introducing a new, unproven product, created by a group of university students no less, getting their foot in the door would prove to be a big first step. They were entering the education realm and dealing with professional educators after all.

“It has been a very uphill battle in terms of building credibility, not just from a research perspective, because we did do research to back our software, but from a purely human relationships perspective, ‘Hey, these students they are not just out there to get our money or build their business,’” he explains. “Professors are just so tired of so many people emailing or cold calling them about this software or that software. So the personal journey of connecting with people, not necessarily for sales but for the betterment of society, in other words their teaching of students, has been a great experience to know how you really bring about change if you want to.”

The first professors they connected with were at Queen’s and U of T, who saw the potential in the technology. He says they “partnered” with these innovative educators for their mutual benefit. Once they had the validation, they could move forward and expand.

“That was essentially how we grew. Once we got it into the hands of the educators who were always testing new things, they were like ‘Oh wow this really works. This is unique and this is phenomenal,’” Mr. Siddiqui says. “They helped us build it. We gave them the ownership of it because, to be honest, we are not practicing professors, we can only hear and observe them.”

Expand they have, to where SharpScholar is already being used at seven universities.

With Mr. Siddiqui graduating this year, the team will be completely focused on getting the app into more classrooms.

It’s something that he is looking forward to.

“Fortunately we have an amazing team and an amazing group of people together, amazing community support from Queen’s professors and even professors worldwide, that it almost feels like an honour to graduate and work in it instead of more of a labour experience,” he says. “So in that regard it is absolutely fascinating but we do know we are stepping into a very risky landscape because currently we are in the stage of raising capital. And that would essentially give us the runway to get this going.”

Already, the journey has been a fruitful one for the team, one that Mr. Siddiqui describes as “liberating.” It has been a juggling act, of course, trying to balance studies with starting up a new company. Mr. Siddiqui says that he has found that balance, with personal development, school and his company “all falling together.”

For more information on SharpScholar visit sharpscholar.com.