When we started to source EdTech companies, Squirrel AI learning came first to our shortlist, this biggest adaptive learning system is the best application scenario of AI technology in Education, which is also the only AI-powered adaptive education provider being able to create and imbed their own-designed content. Gratefully, the founder of Squirrel AI learning, LI Haoyang (Derek) has met us, LinkAsia team, and shared us the inspirations of AI learning and also his inspiring entrepreneurial experience.
- LinkAsia: you have been working in Education sector for so many years, what is your understanding about Education?
- Derek: To me, the essence of Education is developing students’ ability of learning new things, even after forgetting all the knowledge learnt in the school. Which can not be 100% presented by grade, but also how they self-empower and assess their own ability.
- LinkAsia: In your perspective, what is AI. How can we differentiate various AI technologies?
- Derek: “AI” is a common topic and has always been misunderstood. For me, I classify AI technology into 3 levels. 1) Well-developed AI applications such as customized search engines. 2) Promising on-going AI research products such as AI smart speakers. 3) Science fiction technologies which are impossible to apply in near future. It is important for us to learn more about AI and understand the technics to evaluate different AI applications.
Devoted to Education nearly 20 years and ran two successful educational companies, Derek always insists on aligning a user-centric product/service to his educational goal. While building his previous business – Only Education, the key selling point is its self-developed curriculum and materials, in this way, the teaching and research group is able to keep improving the materials based on the feedbacks from teachers and students.
And also, during that experience, Derek found a big issue is that each individual student has different capabilities/interests of receiving different subjects, the teaching research became a challenge while matching every students’ needs. That’s when AI-powered learning technology came to his eyes, also with the same principle mentioned before, Derek decided to develop the teaching content by using this AI system, so that it can better assess every student’s levels on the classified micro modules and provide the learning materials accordingly to develop a most efficient learning methodology. On the same time, a dedicated international AI scientist team is the key resource of Squirrel AI, with the massive data collected from students, this self-learning AI system could improve continuously.
Squirrel AI Learning Intelligent Adaptive Learning System is characterized by accurately detecting students’ weak points of knowledge, accurately providing the learning path that is most suitable for each child, and motivating and encouraging student learning with interest, thereby improving learning efficiency. Which can reduce the required students learning time by 80%. The product is cost-effective, with the artificial intelligence (70%) + human teacher (30%) model as it requires fewer human teachers. This business model resulted in great acceleration in numbers of learning centers which was enabled by the company technologies.
As a successful serial entrepreneur, Derek has also shared with us the tough time that he has gone through and recommendations to the young entrepreneurs:
- LinkAsia: Could you please share us some stories about your entrepreneurial experience and the most difficult time?
- Derek: Prior to Squirrel AI, I was the co-founder and vice-president of – Only National K12 Education – was one of the members who built the company from scratch and led the company to IPO. However, being an entrepreneur is not an easy ride. There was once a period that Only National K12 Education was facing bankruptcy and I even had to borrow from friends and relatives to pay employee salaries. I had borrowed any single penny that I would have borrowed. It feels like drowning in the sea, waves after waves, endless. It took me 18 months to overcome the financial challenge and back to profit. All these entrepreneurship lessons are brought to Squirrel. I normally start to prepare for next round fundraising right after sealing the current deal.
Only Education was A-share listed in in 2014 as the first private education company in Chinese stock market, valued at 14 billion RMB. As a co-founder of Only National K12 Education, Derek grows Only National K12 Education into the largest chain of young children education in China, with more than 1900 learning centres, nearly 20,000 employees, providing English education to more than 1 million students annually.
- LinkAsia: How do you cope with the stress during that time?
- Derek smiled and told us it was doing some extreme sports to de-stress during his young age. “I won’t recommend to young entrepreneurs, though”, he continued, “Now, having family and kids, it becomes roller coast and solo travelling, or even watching TV series for 24 hours”
- LinkAsia: any recommendation for the future entrepreneurs?
- Derek: I would recommend entrepreneurs to think through prior to building a start-up, including the focus industry, the consumer segment with in-depth customer research, and product strategy. It took me 5 years to polish my ideas before starting Squirrel AI.
It has been an inspiring conversation with Derek and as of today, Squirrel Ai has around 2000 learning centers in more than 400 cities across 20 provinces and autonomous regions, enabling adaptive education to primary and secondary kids.