Australian startup snapshot: Mathspace

“In the next three to five years, the textbook will be completely dead,” says co-founder Mohamad Jebara.

Mathspace, a Sydney-based startup, seeks to replace school textbooks with its interactive, Web-based e-learning service.

The Mathspace iPad app
The Mathspace iPad app

The pitch

“In the next three to five years, the textbook will be completely dead,” according to Mathspace co-founder Mohamad Jebara.

“There is no reason for a student or a school to purchase textbooks, which are just static content ... Mathspace has those same questions but every single one of them is interactive.”

Mathspace provides step-by-step help for students as they work on homework. Students answer maths questions over the Mathspace website or on the iPad app, and can ask to receive a tip at any stage of working out the solution. Assignments are also marked as the student works, providing instant feedback.

Teachers can choose the assignments and give them to students in any order. Teachers can review all the results to get a granular view of which question each student may be struggling to solve.

The maths problems themselves are written in-house by the Mathspace staff, which includes experienced maths tutors and teachers. The material is aligned with Australian curriculum and currently covers years 6 to 10, with plans to add years 11 and 12, he said.

Selling it

Mathspace has launched so far in Victoria and New South Wales, and has a dozen paying subscribers and an additional 40 schools evaluating the software, he said.

The service is sold by subscriptions. The company sells individual student subscriptions at $149 per year, but schools purchasing for students can get the discounted per-student rate starting at $20 per year for the desktop application and $30 for the iPad app, depending on the size of the school.

That is usually about half the price of a textbook, Jebara said.

While a few customers have replaced textbooks, other teachers are currently using Mathspace in a supplementary capacity, Jebara said. He believes more teachers will use Mathspace exclusively as the company adds more content.

Looking ahead, Mathspace hopes to add to its customer base of schools and expand into the UK and other markets around the world, he said.

The initial release was built for desktops but one month ago Mathspace released an app for the Apple iPad. The company plans to support Android and Windows tablets in the future, he said.

Developing the concept

Mathspace officially launched one year ago, following two-and-a-half years of development.

Cofounder Chris Velis formulated the idea for Mathspace three years ago, Jebara said. Velis had a tutoring company and wanted a way to teach multiple students at the same time. He decided to use the reach of the Internet to scale personalised one-to-one teaching to the masses.

Jebara studied actuarial sciences in university and worked as a derivative trader with Velis for four years. But when the global financial crisis hit and the company continued to succeed, Jebara quit for ethical reasons so he could do something where he felt he was contributing, he said. He started Mathspace with Velis soon after.

Mathspace funded itself in the initial stages. More recently it has received funding from private angel investors.

The company is working with Advance and will visit Silicon Valley next month, Jebara said. The startup will meet with investors and discuss how to take the business global.

Startup scene

The startup environment in Australia is “pumping” and “definitely growing,” Jebara said.

“We went to a [University of New South Wales] event a couple of weeks ago” to recruit help and discovered many “good graduates preferring to work in the startup world” than big commercial companies, he said.

“We were lucky enough to have some funding to get things off the ground,” Jebara said. “In terms of building a business, I think Sydney’s a great place to do it.”

“Silicon Valley is sort of the hub of where you raise money to scale the business,” he said. “But at the early stages I don’t think it would make sense to go to Silicon Valley. You can definitely validate your model in Australia.”

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If you’ve got a startup or know about a cool new Australian business, please email Adam Bender at adam_bender@idg.com.au or on Twitter (@WatchAdam).

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