Note: The image displayed on the tablet screen is only a sample.
forEst, established in May 2012, is a business venture started by Tokyo Tech students that develops digital workbooks for tablet devices. The CEO of the company, Takumi Goto, is a 2nd-year master's student of the Graduate School of Innovation Management. Fumiaki Nakamura, a graduate of the Department of Computer Science in the School of Engineering, has been working with Goto since the company's foundation and serves as the CTO of the company.
Goto discussed the service they are developing.
About Tokyo Tech Venture
Tokyo Tech Venture is a designation given to business ventures founded by Tokyo Tech students1 or use the technologies or intellectual property rights of Tokyo Tech. The Tokyo Tech Venture designation gives credibility to startup companies that have limited track records. In fact, many companies have been able to expand their businesses shortly after being given the designation. As of August 2014, 71 companies held the Tokyo Tech Venture designation, 28 of which were launched by students.
These include companies founded by those who graduated or withdrew from Tokyo Tech within a year prior to founding a company
and those who left Tokyo Tech and founded a company without being employed in between.
You may have experienced products being recommended to you when shopping online. Online shops store data related to purchase and search histories of their users, and automatically pick products that might interest each user. In a similar way, forEst's service, ATLS, stores the learning data of high school students and suggests a series of exercises to each student.
ATLS offers digital workbooks on tablet devices, but users do not have to modify their existing study routines. Most of the workbooks that ATLS offers are available in hardcopies, which means that users can use materials that students in higher grades have used and are proven to work. ATLS users simply solve the problems on paper, and then check the answers on their tablet devices. ATLS plays the role of both a bookstore that carries workbooks and a bookshelf for workbooks that users own.
ATLS is unique in that it stores each user's learning history and analyzes them. The data include when the user did which exercises, how long it took the user to solve each problem and whether the answers were correct. Based on the accumulated data, ATLS analyzes the user's weak points and when the user should review the exercises. It chooses recommended exercises from the workbooks the user has purchased, and gives suggestions for review at optimum timing. This way, they do not have to spend time looking for appropriate exercises or creating study schedules. For its distinguished concept, ATLS won the 10th Japan e-Learning Award in the category of digital study books. forEst is currently working on further development of ATLS in an effort to launch the service by the end of 2014.
"When I was a high school student preparing for entrance exams, I was looking for a service like this," says Goto looking back on the beginning of ATLS.
"With the development of information and communication technology (ICT), I thought that a tool for effective learning would be on the market in a few years. However, after about four years, I searched for one but could not find anything. When I talked to my friends about this, we decided to develop our own service. The prototype of ATLS was born from our desire to create a tool for and culture of effective and fun learning with the use of ICT."
Goto started to prepare for his business venture in May of his fourth year as an undergraduate student. As he took part in business contests, the concept of digital workbooks gained recognition, and he became more and more confident. In Trigger 2011, a business contest for students that more than 100 student entrepreneurs took part in, his team was selected as one of five teams to advance to the finals. This experience gave him a boost to launch a company. Then, in May 2012, forEst was established, and the company was given the Tokyo Tech Venture designation in July 2013.
"For the domestic market, we will develop ATLS as a tool to make learning more enjoyable. One of the reasons why people don't enjoy learning is that it is difficult to relate their studies to their future aspirations. Suppose that a high school student wants to become a robotics engineer. Mathematical matrices are used to control robot arms, but not many high school students think about that when studying matrices. ATLS will provide information about real-world applications of the subjects that the users are learning so that they can enjoy acquiring new knowledge. In order to spread this information to each high school student, we must first provide the ultimate learning tool for passing entrance examinations. By doing this, we can establish a foundation for many high school students to receive the useful information ATLS offers."
The ultimate goal that Goto hopes to achieve would surprise many: to fight world poverty with the power of ICT.
"I first became aware of the issue of world poverty when I was in elementary school. I was watching a documentary and learned there were children who wanted to study but could not afford to go to school. Since studying wasn't very appealing to me at that time, I thought it was strange that children who sincerely wanted to study could not."
To find a solution to this problem, Goto thought about working abroad as a volunteer when he was in high school. However, after doing some serious research, he came to the conclusion that the social system had to be changed in order to address the core of the problem.
"I believe that the issue of poverty has two sides: education and employment. Personnel expenses account for a large proportion of the cost of education. With the use of e-learning, high-quality and affordable education will be available, and people will be able to enhance their competitiveness in the labor market. Using the data collected by ATLS, I will analyze how to develop effective learning methods for not only high school students but also the general population, and improve the quality of education. I also want to improve their employment situation by creating an environment where they can remotely participate in the labor market of developed countries through crowdsourcing."
Goto is learning about crowdsourcing in graduate school. He may soon be able to apply what he is learning to achieve his goal.
Lastly, Goto shared his experience and left a message for students who aspire to become entrepreneurs.
"Reflecting upon my own experience, I would say that you should give it your best once you commit to your business. When I started forEst, I faced many obstacles and thought about quitting and getting a job. I couldn't make any progress because I couldn't make up my mind about whether to run a company, find a job, or continue my research. That's when my acquaintance, a fellow entrepreneur, asked me whether I was doing my best and told me that I wouldn't be left with anything if I wasn't. I began to resent my half-hearted efforts and decided to give it my all. I stopped job hunting and devoted myself to forEst, which made me feel very relieved and confident. In a way, being a student is a privilege because people will support you for doing your best. People whom you normally would not have the opportunity to talk to spare time for you. You may have fear of failure or defeat. Nevertheless, once you make up your mind, you shouldn't take precautions against failure. If you devote yourself to your company, you might see a different world."
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Published: October 2014