Built by refugee, Enlight’s edtech tool bets it can help students hope harder

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Raised in a refugee camp in Tanzania, Dieumerci Christel’s first contact with entrepreneurship began with chewing gum.

In the early 2000s, the kids in his camp all gravitated to a brand of chewing gum named after Barack Obama, the future President of the United States. Noticing the growing interest, Christel started selling Obama gum to his friends, and soon enough he had some disposable income.

While chewing gum sales taught Christel the power of breakage and smart timing, it’s what he spent his income on that taught him the biggest lesson in entrepreneurship. He used the money to go to the movies, where he would get a glimpse of what life was like outside of his world. He was struck by scenes with computers, horny college students in lab coats, and the general appeal of school in America. The visuals and desirability of a computer gave him the motivation he needed to study how to get out of his predicament.

“You go to school in a refugee camp knowing that you are not going anywhere,” he said. “[Movies] for me it was the place where I could see the window across the world.

Today, Christel is the founder of Enlight, a web platform that aims to help teachers define the intrinsic motivations of their students at scale. He wants to recreate what Christel fell on on his own: a reason to go to school, communicated in a language that resonates with his natural interests.

While Christel was motivated by America’s opportunity and access to computers, another student may be motivated by the overlap between their dream of being an artist and how English lessons might get them there. .

The goal of motivating students based on their interests is a philosophical one, but Enlight, who is participating in TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield this week, believes it’s about providing educators with better data about their students.

Built by a refugee, Enlight’s edtech tool bets it can help students hope harder. Christel’s class in Tanzania.

Christel’s class in Tanzania.

To accomplish this, Enlight invites students to complete a profile and answer questions such as top interests and learning mode preferences, as well as answer open-ended prompted responses such as “if you could solve a problem in your community or in the world, what is it and why?

The data is starting to be aggregated so that teachers can see the common denominators within their classes when it comes to teaching style or hobbies.

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The platform also gives teachers the ability to conduct polls to check the temperature of their classes. By integrating live commentary, as well as student interests, into one platform, Christel believes it will be easier for teachers to have a holistic view of their lessons.

This is where the impact of the startup will be tested: what will teachers do with this information?

If Enlight works as Christel wants it to be, he thinks it will help “everyone find their why”.

“How can this educator understand that you have a passion for writing and then ignite that potential to keep you following it?” ” he said.

This is a question that Enlight will have to do more than ask to be an effective product.

Image credits: Dieumerci Christel

Enlight is currently working with a charter school to help teachers develop a curriculum with passion data that they aggregate.

“We want to become a recommendation engine for the teacher on how to make better and faster decisions. [that] truly engage students emotionally and in the classroom, ”said Christel. He compared Enlight’s data profile for educators to how TikTok provides analytics to content creators that show what their audience looks like and where they’re coming from.

For now, teachers and students can use the basic Enlight product for free, but the startup is experimenting with a paid tier that could show a district view of student interests or provide more analytics.

Beyond implementation, a challenge for Enlight will be the sheer fatigue that teachers and learners already face today. Another platform, even with good intentions, might add more work to their plates or some other to-do list item.

Image credits: Dieumerci Christel

“You don’t have to go see every student and find out about them right away,” Christel said. “Instead, you can get insight into how to tailor your teaching. We find a common thread among students and give that teacher the data to help them adapt to the masses. Enlight also creates a feature. Student of the Week to motivate teachers to continuously learn about their students without the need for a 1: 1 meeting.

Enlight’s communications goal means it may have to compete with ClassDojo, a well-capitalized communications app to help parents and teachers better communicate about students who have recently become profitable.

“I think the thing they are missing is the student,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like these people are making decisions for you … student feedback is lacking.” Enlight believes that it can differentiate itself by involving students in communication channels, by better aligning decision-making with what they ask for.

Getting students involved is important, but it’s not that simple. At first, Enlight thought there was a huge problem when it started seeing students unable to list their passions or interests on the platform. In the long run, he believes Enlight can be the center where students present their learning in and out of school, giving communities, schools and employers a better understanding for generations to come.

For now, his focus is on testing and fine-tuning the platform. To date, he has only raised $ 365,000 in funding from investors such as Techstars, UUntapped VC, Headstream and Teach for America. About 200 teachers use Enlight to date, with almost 500 on the waiting list.

Christel said that one of the first issues they faced during these testing days were the students who said they had no interest or passion in filling out the profiles.

“[But] then the teachers said that’s another data point for us, so we can actually have conversations with those kids who don’t even think about that stuff in the first place.


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