Today, Waterloo-based education technology startup Kaizena announced a $900,000 seed round, which is one of the bigger seed rounds in the Canadian edtech space.
The seed round includes some of the world’s most visionary leaders in education and technology: institutional investor NewSchools Seed Fund, Horizons Ventures (the private venture arm of Li Ka-shing), as well as angel investors Umang Gupta, (former VP of Oracle, CEO of Keynote Systems), Jeff Weiner (CEO of LinkedIn), Tom Williams (BetterCompany), and Victor Alcantara (Mountain 7).
“This seed round will support of our mission to bring personalized feedback to every student on the planet,” says Maxwell Brodie, co-founder of Kaizena.
So when one of the richest people on the planet (Li Ka-shing is currently ranked #17 on Forbes’ list of most wealthy billionaires) invests in a Canadian startup, one should take notice, right?
Kai·zen (改善), in Japanese or Chinese, means improvement. While it is powerful, it is not novel. In the corporate world, kaizen became all the rage in the 1980s as Japanese companies such as Toyota gained grounds in North America. In the startup world, it likens to Steve Blank’s Customer Development Model, where startups make rapid iterations in search for customers. In the education world, more kaizen champions are needed, and Maxwell Brodie is arguably its newest champion.
“My co-founder Edward Sun and I named our startup Kaizena because we think positive changes and continuous improvement, built upon rapid feedback and iterations, are keys to driving student success and learning outcomes. Try, compare, and try again,” states Brodie. “When I was part of The Next 36, feedback was fundamental to my learning process as an entrepreneur. However, when Edward and I studied the formal education system, we felt that the system was not really optimized, especially when it comes to assessments. It usually takes too long for students to get feedback, and that needed to change.”
It was the twin beliefs that every student deserves faster feedback and that every teacher can leverage technology to provide greater feedback that drove the development of Kaizena. After students finish a draft of an essay or project, they could use Kaizena to request feedback from either peers or teachers. The peers or teachers could highlight any parts of the essay or project, then record voice comments a central way to provide feedback, embed YouTube videos to explain complex concepts, or track skills such as “thesis” or “paragraph transition.” Students can review the comments, audio and video feedback/coaching immediately on Kaizena once they are made available.
“As a student, waiting two weeks to get feedback on a draft of your essay is normal, but you don’t improve very fast. By increasing the speed of the feedback loop, we’re helping to increase the speed of learning,” argues Brodie.
The thesis is a good one. Kaizena is free for teachers and is now used by thousands of students and teachers in over 80 countries. “We caught a glimpse of the future in Kaizena, a tool designed to scale and improve teacher feedback,” says Jennifer Carolan, Partner at NewSchools, when explaining the reason behind the seed investment in Kaizena.
When quizzed on the significance of Kaizena’s seed round, Brodie seems both pleased and humbled.
“We are pleased, but we are looking forward to doing more kaizen ourselves,” says Brodie. “I always think back to the time when someone tried to learn to ride a bike. You wanted to ride to the end of the street, but you probably fell off after three feet on your first try. So you changed something and tried again. You likely made it a little bit farther. This is one iteration of the feedback loop. This is our principle too. We are committed to enhancing the learning experience through feedback. In the coming months we’ll be exploring new ways to increase the speed and quality of feedback students receive.”