Knack is an edtech company that empowers colleges and universities to power and scale peer-to-peer tutoring programs. The company onboard and trains qualified student leaders to serve as tutors as an army of frontline campus support. As these college peer tutors serve their needy classmates, Knack is also helping them acquire 21st-century soft skills in the process valued by employers. The result is schools being able to provide meaningful and flexible campus employment opportunities for their top-qualified students, while in turn, providing stream-lined and oftentimes free tutoring for students in need of support. It’s a win-win.
Proving the system wrong, one student at a time
Our educational system has never been perfect. Inequality has always existed, but COVID-19 has really thrust disparities amongst students into the spotlight. How can we expect students to focus on virtual school if some of them don’t have computers at home, or internet, or even a home to work from?
Tutoring is no different. Often, it requires significant financial and/ or emotional investment that, for many students, especially younger students, is inaccessible. This our team knew from firsthand experience.
Samyr Qureshi, Co-Founder & CEO of Knack, moved to the United States when he was six years old. Not long after, teachers alerted his mother that he was the “opposite” of gifted and that he was going to need extensive tutoring to make it through school. Samyr’s mother became his first tutor, spending hours upon hours with him, and together they proved the system wrong. Samyr left high school after his sophomore year to pursue an Associate’s Degree at St. Petersburg College, where he became Student
Body President. He then transferred to the University of Florida, where he graduated early and went on to work as an Emerging Technology Account Executive at Gartner.
While Samyr was at Gartner, the sharing economy started to explode. Folks spent a lifetime learning not to get in the car with strangers or stay at their houses, and now most all of us do it regularly via an app.
Technology was really being leveraged as a trust mechanism for the first time, and after having a long talk with Dennis, now Knack’s Chief Product Officer, both saw an opportunity where they could apply this model to drive increased access to individualized tutoring. Shortly thereafter, Samyr quit his job at Gartner, recruited two other co-founders David Stoker, a friend from UF serving as Chief Technology Officer, and Shawn Doyle, a former coworker serving as Chief Marketing Officer to join the exciting journey, while Dennis enrolled Knack in The Gator Hatchery, UF’s student startup incubator.
Knack was part of the first graduating class at The Gatory Hatchery, and Knack really had two goals: 1. Validate the idea and 2. Test assumptions. Knack participated in that year’s Startup Weekend in Gainesville, and, well, it didn’t go well.
The next year, the Knack Pack had their first major win, beating 300 other teams to win UF’s Big Idea Business Plan Competition ($25K Cash Prize), and they then moved the company to Tampa shortly after.
Since then, Knack has raised over millions in venture capital, launched the model on over 70 campuses nationwide, won the Lumina Foundation’s Education Innovation Grant Prize, partnered with Florida Power and Light and dozens of educational institutions to provide free tutoring for students. The Knack Pack is now seventeen full-time employees running strong.
Sitting on the dock of the Bay
Tampa is home. It was the first place Samyr landed when he came to the United States, and to not only be able to bring Knack back here, but to make an impact and contribute to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem has been special.
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that the future of entrepreneurship needs to be diverse. Tampa Bay, and Florida as a whole, certainly has that. Innovation needs to be rooted in equality, and having a successful business hinges on the ability to bendable, but not breakable. Nobody is immune to outside forces, like coronavirus. As we disrupt our respective industries for the better, we also have to be stewards of innovation naturally happening around us.
Knack has been innovating the education space since the start. That’s the entire business model. But, the company is also tasked with supporting our partners and the institutions they work with to adapt to an increasingly digital-first environment. 80% of college courses don’t offer tutoring – let alone virtual tutoring – and Knack’s role is to enable educational innovation, as much as it is to innovate as a nimble startup.
Knack’s story has always been about making sure every student has the resources to reach their full potential – to prove the system wrong, one student at a time. That story is still very much in progress.
Consider this Chapter 3 of 20.