Infiniti Middle East held its first speed pitching session in December last year, which gave 30 budding entrepreneurs seven minutes to pitch their ideas to three judges in an Infiniti Q70, while being driven around one of Dubai Autodrome’s racetracks. Talk about a memorable elevator pitch, right? That was how Teach Me Now founder Thea Myhrvold described the experience too.
The 25-year-old founder of the educational tech platform was selected to represent the GCC and Levant region along with two other startups, social network Fallaha and booking appointment app Bookr. The contest’s finish line (excuse our pun) was held at the Infiniti Lab in Hong Kong, where the three finalists received mentoring and coaching sessions with Infiniti and Nest executives. Myhrvold’s startup won the final round of the pitch after a 10-minute presentation with a Q&A from the panel of judges, and gained US$40,000 in seed funding.
As a global marketplace wherein anyone can learn and teach with anyone on a one-to-one basis in real time, Teach Me Now’s business model is as follows: tutors can set up their own hourly rate, with the startup selling with a 15% markup for access to their virtual classrooms, and a pay-as-you-go system, so that students only pay for the time they spend learning with tutor of their choice.
With an average hourly rate of $25 per hour, some of the platform’s classes include languages, math, chess theory, programming and curriculums for IB, GCSE, SAT, and Ivy League graduates as well. Myhrvold believes that user feedback is essential in improving their product, so developing and creating new features, such as launching white-label and customized solutions for schools, institutes and governments for more teachers and students to use their technology is part of their next phase. Up and coming partnerships is also on Teach Me Now’s agenda.
While Aptec founder and CEO Dr. Ali Baghdadi is a mentor and chairman of the board for Teach Me Now, the startup also boasts of a partnership with Microsoft’s BizSpark, a three-year program that helps startups by providing free access to Microsoft’s cloud services, tools and support. This partnership with BizSpark proved to be especially worthwhile, because thanks to it, Myhrvold had the chance to meet Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during his visit to Dubai in January this year. "To have an hour with someone of his caliber listening to what we do, giving us feedback and potentially strengthening our partnership beyond BizSpark is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," says Myhrvold.
As Teach Me Now is her second venture in UAE (her first was IB Smart Economics, a gamified app for high school students with learning disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia), Myhrvold is no stranger to the ups and downs of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem- she mentions how the legal and business infrastructures can still be improved, while commending startup hubs and incubators in5 and AstroLabs for helping in reducing setting up costs.
“It is hard for small tech companies -who don’t need an office- to set up shop and hire people to even get to MVP,” says Myhrvold, noting that these hurdles are usually lower barriers to entry elsewhere. However, she insists the incentives to start up a business in Dubai and stay here outweigh it. “There is an amazing opportunity to make and impact the startup and tech space, and it is still early days in that sense. I am proud to be a female entrepreneur in Dubai, and there is nowhere else in the region I would rather start. I feel very encouraged and supported by the community and infrastructure.”
Tips for ‘treps: Thea Myhrvold, founder and CEO, Teach Me Now
What are your tips for entrepreneurs when speed pitching?
What’s one struggle you have encountered as an entrepreneur?
There are always challenges you never expect, but the most important thing is to keep going and know that you and your team will and can find a solution. I would call them challenges rather than struggles, but these only help you and your team learn, and as cheesy as it sounds makes your better [and] stronger. It is being open to change, being open to learn, and being persistent.