We talked to Amrutha Vasan of Inspirit Learning about its free virtual labs for complex science topics.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Amrutha Vasan: My family has been lucky enough not to be affected by these COVID-19 times. I’m thankful for the roof we have above our heads and access to food.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Inspirit Learning.
Amrutha Vasan: I conducted a study on immersive education with ~300 high school students during my senior year at Georgia Tech with my co-founder, Aditya Vishwanath. I absolutely loved watching the students’ eyes light up as they watched the rudimentary 360 biology videos we had made (available on our YouTube channel inspiritvr). We knew that there was potential, but we weren’t sure exactly what we wanted to be building, or even whether to start a company or an NGO!
After graduating, I went on to work at Procter & Gamble, but Aditya and I stayed in touch. We did a few side projects with some universities setting up VR labs, but we knew it wasn’t enough to truly make an impact. With many VR startups focusing on corporate training, the next generation tools were leaving behind education yet again. There wasn’t a product that replaced the digital whiteboard and gave teachers the tools they needed to bridge the gap in STEM education. We decided to take the plunge and try to raise capital for our idea based on prior research. We were lucky enough to raise the money in July 2019. The day after we raised money, I quit my job at P&G and moved to Mumbai a few weeks later to spend the next 8 months building out our engineering team!
How does Inspirit Learning innovate?
Amrutha Vasan: We strive to be the best replacement for the digital whiteboard. We have created a Web XR platform with interactive open free-roam virtual science labs allowing users to try out impossible experiments to build their intuitions in science. Our virtual labs allow you to experience gravity on different planets, view 3D free-body vector diagrams, and even shrink to atomic sizes!
Aditya is very close to cutting edge innovation in immersive education through his PhD research at the VHIL Lab at Stanford University. I stay very close to teachers in the classroom and try to understand the challenges they face in STEM education. We combine our research with real problems teachers are facing to develop the tools teachers need in our labs to bridge the gap in STEM education.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Amrutha Vasan: We have actually been doing well due to the pandemic. Remote learning has created a huge demand for our platform as educators realize that tools like Zoom and YouTube videos don’t cut it. With more educators willing to try out new digital tools, the demand for our platform has increased. We believe the blended learning model will continue to be the reality even after the pandemic as students are now being given a chance to take learning into their own hands. It’s up to us and other EdTech companies to provide instructors and students with the tools they need to adopt effective blended learning models.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Amrutha Vasan: We decided to move away from high-end VR devices earlier this year as schools began shutting down. One of our core values is ensuring that our platform is accessible. Since most students don’t have access to VR devices, and students won’t be sharing materials anytime soon, we had to adapt to a new world. We decided to put a hold on our VR work and make our entire platform compatible with a web browser.
When building a product, it’s important to build what your users need, and not what you think is cool. No matter how difficult it is, you have to stay close to your users and make sure that what you’re building solves their problem.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Inspirit Learning in the future?
Amrutha Vasan: I exercise every day to clear my head and get my thoughts in order. The EdTech industry is currently hot, and we’ve definitely been lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. That being said, we have to make the most of the opportunities we’ve been given. I have complete faith in the incredible team at Inspirit, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to build a new frontier for education!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Amrutha Vasan: Our competitors are other supplemental STEM education companies. We plan on staying in the game not by creating ‘the best version’ of an existing solution, but by creating new solutions that fill in the gaps in STEM education!
Your final thoughts?
Amrutha Vasan: Given the uncertain times and the struggles we’ve gone through as an early-stage startup, I’ve experientially learned that your mental health can either make or break everything you do. We hear about people doing great and awful things every day, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves and to handle whatever comes our way. It’s okay if you make mistakes, and it’s okay if things aren’t going your way. It’s important to take each day at a time and realize that a lot of the things that happen to you and the people around you occur due to luck. The formula for success is 10% hard work and 90% luck. So cut yourself some slack and take care of yourself. No matter what happens, your mental health comes first.
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