Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Ghazal Qureshi and I am the proud founder and CEO of UpBrainery Technologies. UpBrainery is a startup tech company that focuses on revolutionizing modern education to fit the evolving needs of parents and children.
We sell three different types of products. First, are our popular Brain Bins. Brain Bins are education kits geared to students of all different ages. Each kit is specifically designed, conceptualized, and crafted by scientists, experts, and educators to give children aged 5-18 hands-on learning in STEAM education. Kits focus on multiple subjects, including technology, engineering, cooking, art, design, science, geography, and more! These Brain Bins can be used by parents looking for engaging ways for their children to learn or by educators to supplement their classroom teachings with hands-on activities.
We also provide virtual, individual tutoring, and small group classes where students encounter a holistic learning experience that sharpens their abilities in a subject while also providing the confidence and support needed to succeed. Lastly, we offer an exclusive, comprehensive online curriculum to parents and educators. Our curriculum blends AI technology and research-based content to help align the learning styles of students with the content and help them achieve maximum benefits whether at their own pace or led by an expert. The curriculum is hosted on our proprietary BrainLab Educational Platform whether learning virtually or in person.
We are also working on the B2B side where we are offering these same services as either a custom or white-glove service to organizations and schools so that they can use our innovative platform and our cutting edge content to offer to their own students or community members.
Within our first few months, we have cultivated relationships with organizations like the Girl Scouts, Girls Inc., Whataburger, NASDAQ, and the Houston Rockets. We are in the works to build a large network of opportunities with other corporations to provide educational content to children in their communities.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I am a first-generation American - I immigrated to the United States from Pakistan at the age of seventeen to go to college. As one of the only women in my computer science program at the University of Houston, I often felt isolated, and like I did not deserve to be there. When I had my two daughters, I wanted to make sure they never felt they didn’t belong - whatever profession they choose.
This desire to increase the inclusivity in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) led me to open an education campus dedicated to providing STEAM services to all children, focusing on inclusion and hands-on engagement. That one campus grew to 107 franchised locations in 4 different countries. After a tumultuous ending to 2019, I exited the franchise business I built for the last 12 years. Those months were a trying time for me professionally and personally.
However, in March 2020, I founded UpBrainery Technologies, an educational technology company focused on making STEAM truly accessible to the younger generation. Through UpBrainery, I have built a technologically innovative education platform that marries the principles of interdisciplinary learning with social-emotional learning, through neuroscience-based content coupled with hands-on education kits and manipulatives.
The UpBrainery idea was swirling in my mind before the pandemic hit in March 2020 and seeing the chaos that the education industry was thrown into last spring only further solidified that I was on the right track. My background in founding a franchise company dedicated to providing children with STEAM learning experiences provided a great foundation to stay in the education space but shift my strategies to providing a virtual education experience.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Since we have different audiences and different services for each, the process is a bit different depending on this factor.
When we first started, we needed an MVP. We knew what changes were needed to deliver an exceptional educational platform, but it was hard for others to visualize. After having a few conversations with potential customers, it was evident that we needed to build something fast to take our conversations to the next level - we needed to show them something that they could touch and drive for themselves.
Branding and rebranding and curriculum development can be a sprint, but other ideas like incorporating innovative technology and really enhancing the learning experience is a marathon.
At this point, we needed to get an MVP together fast. I hired a company that promised to deliver this within 3 weeks. We started to sell and continued talking to customers without a minimum viable product with the hopes that we will have something within a few weeks. Unfortunately, the few weeks turned into three months before we had something useful in our hands. This was tough as we had customers that had agreed to take a test drive and we didn't have anything to show. Luckily these folks believed in the vision and stuck around for us to get the MVP in place.
Then came COVID-19 and the world turned upside down. Educational delivery mechanisms became the most important part of the move forward plan for any educational institution. Now came the hard part. We had an MVP but none of the bells and whistles that were planned for future stages. We had to move the MVP into production to have our first client, Whataburger, offer online courses for kids that were stuck at home with the nationwide school closures.
They also wanted to send out interactive Physics kits that showcased Whataburger products and coupled it with an engaging curriculum that would be hosted on our software platform. However, the system was not completely built and was not able to assign students to online LIVE classrooms. Each night our team had to work on making sure the linkage between the classrooms, teachers, and students was manually inputted. It was a mad dash at night but seamless to our clients and end-users during the day. We pulled it off without a hitch!
All the while the development team was working feverishly to get the pieces fully developed and integrated into the background. We were the first to market with a solution that could go from LIVE classrooms to in-person classrooms and the ability to sync all materials. And it was all built while we were in production.
Now we have a software platform that works great in any setting and we are working on adding AI and Machine learning to our system. Any additional features to our software platform go through a product development lifecycle. We listen to our customers, look at the industry trends, and have a team that looks to incorporate innovation into our software. Our team then defines the product roadmap and figures out the features that will be delivered in each new rollout, We run this by our advisors, team members, and potential customers to make sure that we are on point with what the customer wants. Once this roadmap has been defined, the development team starts to work on each of the phases.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Tumultuous at best! When you consider that we launched right before COVID hit the US hard and the school shut down. Essentially, you can say it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. Best, because before COVID the main obstacle in our mind to widespread adoptions of our software delivery platform was going to be the mindset of the mainstream educational folks. COVID took that objection away.
However, the problem at hand is that everyone is thinking about how to create the classrooms of yesterday - today. They are not realizing that this is the time to fix the lack of successful implementation for the classrooms of tomorrow. UpBrainery is focused on not today but the future face of educational delivery whether in the classroom or at home or even in the office.
We had to dive in headfirst due to COVID. Imagine this - we started and our website was not even developed. We started to throw together pages on our site as needed haphazardly to capture the interest of the new niches that were opening up fast due to COVID. Everything that we were trying to do was in our roadmap but over 18 months - not a mere 3-month window. It was exciting yet scary! Right now we are getting ready for our new and improved brand identity and our new websites to be launched.
The initial plan was to build the MVP, line up some beta clients, and launch a few small services for the consumers. However, because of the accelerated path needed due to the school closures, we had to launch much quicker and focus more on building the later paths of our platform a lot sooner. This meant that we were not able to focus on fundraising and had to settle for being creative with our cash flow.
We are now in a position to refocus on the fundraising and are working on getting you ready to talk to investors. Also, going through this process we have realized that we are on the right track and the potential impact is far greater than we even envisioned.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
UpBrainery is still in its infancy stages when it comes to growth, attracting, and retaining customers. Right now we're trying to be targeted in our approach to growth but still be open to opportunities. We don’t have to say yes to everything to be successful.
Our marketing efforts have consisted of the usual digital outlets like Facebook and Instagram. We’re looking to develop a stronger presence on Tik Tok and YouTube to create brand awareness around our Brain Bins. We have had success with influencer marketing and will continue to utilize and leverage this marketing tool to speak directly to parents.
We’re also leveraging LinkedIn to speak directly to companies that we can partner with to provide community outreach programs as well as education benefits like tutoring and education chat opportunities to the children of their employees. We see this as a huge added perk that companies can offer their workers to help ease the stress on families working and learning at home together. We’re also leveraging our relationships with organizations like The Girl Scouts and Girls Inc. to create digital content and Brain Bins to help with STEAM education for young girls.
During the upcoming holiday season, we’re connecting with bloggers and other media outlets to get our Brain Bins featured in gift guides.
As we meet with mentors and other trusted sources we feel Amazon is the place to be. Our Amazon Shop is in current development and we’re working hard and fast to make our shop the best it can be. We are excited to have our own store to feature our Brain Bins and potentially other products in development. They have some great features that will be a huge benefit to us. We’re excited to see where Amazon can take us.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our operations are small right now as we position ourselves to scale up. No two days are the same and there are no days off. We’re working tirelessly to develop innovative and creative content, learning experiences, and solutions to the education crisis happening.
Our short term goals are to position ourselves as a disrupter in the education space and change the way education is delivered and experienced. Long term we are positioning ourselves to be at the forefront of technology heavily utilizing AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, and AR (augmented reality) to enhance the learning experience in schools and at home.
Currently, our partner organizations are hosting their microsites with UpBrainery platform and offering digital content and services. Our Brain Bins are being sold through our website and our educational platform is being set up for use as a marketplace to connect subject matter experts, teachers, and tutors with students and parents.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We’ve learned some principles like branding and rebranding and curriculum development can be a sprint, but other ideas like incorporating innovative technology and really enhancing the learning experience is a marathon. As CEO, I want everything to happen yesterday and sometimes that’s just not possible. We’re trying to spark a balance to deliver the most innovative products and services we can while maintaining our brand identity.
Take timing for an example, I had this idea Pre-COVID and the biggest challenge in my mind at that time was that the widespread adoption will be another few years away. COVID changed that. Not only did it have users shifting towards more virtual platforms but also needing help figuring out how to achieve it all. How to shift leaning to online in a meaningful fashion.
That had us pivoting slightly to provide expertise and guidance to the community on how to navigate this uncharted territory. We are now providing support to our partners is not only hosting content but also helping to create content to be hosted. It turned into more of a collaborative effort. As the schools started shutting down, we had very limited time to provide this help and resource to our partners, we quickly pieced together parts of our solution and hand-tied pieces manually that were not yet developed to provide a very cohesive feel to our partners and client.
The lesson learned from all this was that while staying true to our core business, we have to be flexible and able to shift as needed.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use several different tools and platforms to help us stay organized, hire the best freelancers, and run the business.
We use Trello to stay organized and Upwork to hire talent. We use Hootsuite to organize social media and Canva and Adobe to influence the creative process. We use several platforms to work with social media influencers.
We have built our own educational delivery platform and use Jira to manage software development and integrate innovative technologies.
Trello is a big piece of the puzzle as it allows us to stay connected with our vendors and internal teams and manage the flow of steps.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m a huge believer in mentors and seek their advice often. My network is robust and includes friends and colleagues in all areas of the industry from Human Resources to Think Tanks to Education.
I wish I had more time to read books. The book Scaling Up was a recent recommendation that I’m working my way through.
My staff and I love podcasts and we listen to a wide variety of them to inspire us. Some of our favorite podcasts are Second Life, The Joe Rogan Experience, Startup Stories, Work Party, Mixergy, This American Life, and But Why (a show led by kids) - just to name a few.
I also have to mention the television show Shark Tank. It’s inspiring to watch and learn what to and what not to do.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
There’s nothing greater than entrepreneurial spirit. If you have an idea, be steadfast, driven, and purposeful in bringing it to fruition. Surround yourself with great people and mentors to help you along the way. Be prepared to pivot if things aren't going the way you want. Be open to opportunities that make sense and align with our brand. Be open to change and diverse better ideas. Hire a diverse staff and mentor them to share your vision and spirit.
AND Most importantly have faith in yourself. Perseverance is the key to success!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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