Student feedback platform Kaizena nabs $900k in seed financing

Kaizena, a Canadian technology platform that allows students to obtain feedback on their work, has secured $900,000 in seed-stage funding. The company was backed by U.S. venture capital firm NewSchools Seed Fund, Hong Kong-based Horizons Ventures, the private investment arm of Asian businessman Li Ka-shing, and a number of angel investors, including LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. Kaizena, which has been supported in its growth by the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Garage, plans to use the proceeds of its investment to improve the speed and quality of its feedback loop.

BLOG POST (reproduced courtesy of Velocity)

Kaizena Raises $900K to Scale Feedback on Student Work

Today, Velocity Garage company Kaizena has announced a $900K seed round led by some visionary leaders in technology and education.

The funding to support Kaizena’s vision of bringing personalized feedback to every student comes from:

Institutional investors NewSchools Seed Fund and Horizons Ventures (the private venture arm of Li Ka-shing)
Umang Gupta, (VP Oracle, CEO Keynote)
Jeff Weiner (CEO, LinkedIn)
Tom Williams (Better Company)
Victor Alcantara (Mountain 7)

The team’s philosophy stresses that since everyone’s first moment on this planet, we have used feedback to learn about the world around us. From hearing yourself play a wrong note on the piano to a baseball coach guiding your swing, feedback is everyone’s fundamental learning process: try, compare, try again.

We sat down with Co-Founder, Maxwell Brodie to chat about the company and how the $900K is going to help them.

Why is it important for people to get feedback on their work?

Decades of research show students learn more when teachers provide feedback. Feedback results in more learning progress than smaller class sizes, tutoring, or increased parent engagement.

Feedback is the underlying process behind all learning: try, compare, try again. Whether we realize or not, we’ve always used feedback to learn. Think back to when you learned to ride a bike: you wanted to ride to the end of the street, but probably fell off after three feet. So you changed something and tried again, making it a little bit farther. This is one iteration of the feedback loop. Imagine if you had to wait two weeks every time you fell off your bike before trying again – you wouldn’t learn very fast. But this is exactly what happens in schools. As a student, waiting two weeks to get feedback on a draft of your essay is normal, and you don’t improve very fast. By increasing the speed of the feedback loop, we’re helping increase the speed of learning.

What impact is Kaizena having on teachers and students?

Katherine Cozens, a teacher in Australia, didn’t quit teaching because of Kaizena: “Most importantly for me, Kaizena has sped up the process a great deal: I’d say it’s reduced my marking time by 40%. This has made a huge difference to my general sense of satisfaction at work: I feel less burdened by the marking load, I’m putting more time into planning, and I have decided to stay on the profession for at least another year.”

One of our teachers asked her students what they thought of Kaizena:

“I really like the feedback that you gave on Kaizena because not only were you able to tell us our mistakes but you were able to tell us the reasons behind each of our mistakes. I appreciate all the time that you put into our essays, I learned a lot from your feedback. :)”

“It was much easier to understand what problems I had on my essay.”

“It was extremely useful…it felt like you were sitting right next to me and helping me with my writing. I know I can always go to tutorial if I want this kind of feedback and collaboration, but oftentimes there are other kids who also need your help in the classroom, or I have to do something else during to tutorial. Thanks for the massive the amount of feedback you gave. “

“I loved Kaizena. It made it much easier for me to fully understand the feedback you gave me — before, when it was just notes on a paper, the explanation for why something was wrong wasn’t always clear, but with the audio feedback you were able to give more personalized, detailed comments that were VERY helpful.”

What are the trends and opportunities in the ed-tech market?

Three years ago it wouldn’t have made sense to create Kaizena. Three years from now it would likely be too late. K-12 schools are undergoing a once in history transition from paper to digital. Right now, one in three US schools are providing every single student with a device (Chromebook, iPad, laptop, etc). This means that technology is no longer an accessory to learning – it’s something used in every class and at all times. Education is arguably the most important function of any society, and it’s going digital the same way every other discipline went digital over the past two decades.

What stands out to you from your time as a young entrepreneur at the Velocity Residence?

Edward and I met at the residence – but the most incredible thing about the residence is everyone is interested in building things. Some people just want to build cool stuff and see where it goes, some people want to start with the customer and build a business on day one, but everyone wants to build something. This is very different from the broader university community, and immensely valuable.

As a past Velocity Fund $25K winner, what advice would you give to companies that are preparing to pitch next week?

Get feedback 🙂

How has the Velocity Garage space helped your company grow?

It’s not so much about the space as it is the people who are in the Garage and come through the Garage: the velocity team has been amazing throughout our journey, and it’s awesome just to be able to walk up to their desks with any problem or question. Like the residence, there’s a deeply binding community here. The Velocity Garage has also become a destination for people who are otherwise hard to get in contact with.

What is the plan for the $900,000 investment?

Our ultimate goal is to increase the speed of the feedback loop – in the coming months we’ll be exploring new ways to increase the speed and quality of feedback students receive.

Congrats to co-founders Maxwell Brodie, Edward Sun and the whole team!

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock