Hoss Zaouali is trying to bring online learning into the 21st century

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Who: Hoss Zaouali, founder and CEO of Tech Adaptika
HQ:
Lower Jarvis and Queens Quay
Founded: 2019
Employees: 56

How it works: “It’s an online conferencing platform, where users create an avatar and explore a 3-D virtual campus. They can attend real-time lectures and interact with other people.”

Eureka moment: “In 2013, I started Voilà Learning, which designed online tutoring programs for kids in third-world countries. Tech Adaptika evolved from that. Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts limit interactions between individual participants. We wanted to recreate the interpersonal aspect of attending a conference—meeting people, shaking hands, exchanging business cards—except online.”

How much you spent initially: “$55,000. I hired staff on part-time contracts and rented the top floor of an elementary school in Regent Park, which allowed us to test the software with some of the students.”

Your turning point: “Covid-19 accelerated things. Educational institutions suddenly had to offer students a platform they could use at home. So, for example, the York Catholic District School Board and George Brown came to us.”

Your big-time backers: “The Texas Education Agency gave us $1.5 million (U.S.).”

The best advice you’ve received: “‘The elevator to success is broken, so you need to take the stairs.’ It means you often have to take the tougher route to do something meaningful.”

The worst advice you’ve received: “A couple of VCs once told me to take it easy after the company had a bit of success. Take it easy? I’m trying to revolutionize education, I can’t afford to slow down.”

Tech jargon you use too much: “‘Natural language processing.’ We wanted to make an avatar that can talk to you, but it’s hard, so we’re always talking about it.”

Typical work-from-home attire: “I dress like I’m still at the office: a hoodie, jeans and Nikes. I keep a couple of dress shirts nearby for meetings.”

Your tech role model: “Kwame Yamgnane, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He’s motivated by impacting people’s lives, not appearing in the news.”

Coolest thing in your office: “My De’Longhi coffee machine. I drink five cups a day, so I depend on it a lot.”

App you can’t live without: “LinkedIn. We’re only as good as the people we hire. It helps us find talent.”

If you weren’t running a start-up: “I’d be a politician, bringing public education into the 21st century.”