Arnelle Ansong and her friend Erika Hairston are listed by the Forbes 30 under 30 for their outstanding working in making the world of STEM a better one for all with their work called Edlyft. Female-Led EdTech Startup Edlyft Raises $1.4 Million Seed Round, Aims To Close The Gender Gap In STEM
Erika Hairston and Arnelle Ansong are two friends whose mission is to provide the right environment and tools for the next generation of engineers to succeed and, hopefully, get one step closer to closing the gender gap in STEM. Their startup, Edlyft, is a support platform and program helping college students and adult learners through their STEM courses, by connecting them to inclusive mentorship, online group tutoring, and personalized study tools.
“We started Edlyft because we realized that way more people were capable of learning these in-demand skills when given the right environment and tools. With Edlyft, anyone can learn the skills that’ll prepare them for high growth careers they’ll love. Supportive peers and mentors, and ample academic help can make a big difference between trying computer science once and becoming an engineer,” Erika Hairston, co-founder of Edlyft, shares with me in an interview.
Since launching in February 2020, Edlyft has now supported well over 150 students across UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and UCB (University of California, Berkeley) through Computer Science, Data Science, and Math courses – many of whom are women or community college transfer students. Deliberately bringing their platform to public universities first makes sense – reaching schools with large diverse student bodies can have the most impact (by way of comparison, about 34% of UCLA transfer students come from underrepresented minority groups).
Once a student joins Edlyft, they are immediately matched to a trained student mentor from their school who hosts up to three small group tutoring sessions a week for their class. All sessions are catered to student needs, recorded, and then uploaded to the portal where they can access them 24/7, along with personalized notes, community Q&A tools, and practice exercises. The platform also offers a model where anyone can provide a student with a scholarship to do a course on Edlyft for a term free of charge.
“We’ve already started to see promising early outcomes. For example, one of our cohorts at UCLA this past spring scored significantly higher on their midterms than the class average. In addition to helping more people succeed in the classes, another goal of ours is to disrupt the status quo of who traditionally becomes an engineer. Representation was a key piece of what kept us encouraged when pursuing our STEM degrees because we could see ourselves in what we wanted to achieve. Thus said, 50% of students who enrolled in Edlyft this fall were women and 52% of our mentors are female,” Arnelle Ansong, co-founder of Edlyft, ads.
Fundraising During The Pandemic
So far, Edlyft has raised over $1.4 million in venture funding from investors including Kleiner Perkins, Y Combinator, Kapor Capital, Village Global VC, January Ventures, Backstage Capital, to name a few, as well as some prominent angel investors such as Jeff Weiner (former CEO, now Executive Chairman of LinkedIn).
“We started our post-demo-day fundraise in the final weeks of Y Combinator’s winter 2020 batch. Given that Black women receive only .06% of venture funding, I had a determined mindset; yet no one could’ve predicted the challenges of raising at the peak of uncertainty across the globe. I remained optimistic however because due to pandemic and children and young people not being able to go to schools and universities, our work only became that much more needed in the world,” Hairston tells me.
“Initially, it felt impossible to build new relationships with institutional funds who didn’t already know us or who weren’t focusing only on their portfolio. As the world adjusted to fully remote, so did we and the investor community. One of the fun facts about our fundraising journey is that 10% of our investors came solely from introductions over Twitter,” she ads.
Creating A Business Opportunity In STEM
Ansong and Hairston are very passionate about what they do, not only because they are both women in tech. Getting more women and diverse people in the tech sector means greater economic opportunity for everyone involved since jobs in the computer science and engineering sector tend to provide higher pay and better benefits, and they have been more resilient to economic downturns than other private sector industries. It also offers more diverse solutions to various issues.
The world needs creators who are representative of the population and can build solutions for many problems people face. When only a subset of people is building tech, we are inevitably missing out on tremendous opportunities. Diversity of minds leads to a diversity of ideas. And diversity of ideas have better socio-economic outcomes for everyone involved, always. Let’s not forget that.