After spending the bulk of her career working and studying astrophysics and aerospace engineering at both Harvard and Stanford, Nina Hooper realised there was a gap between traditional education and some of the vital soft skills that many great entrepreneurs possess.
“In 2018, I went on a road trip around the United States and visited 50 schools for a day each. I found all the teachers by posting in some Facebook groups and just asking if I could shadow them for a day,” she said.
“It was very enlightening to see what happens in a wide range of classrooms – what challenges they face, how different teachers manage their classrooms, what students care about.
“At the end of the trip, I felt motivated to give an education startup a go. I’d reflected a lot on how it wasn’t just academic skills that lead to success, but actually soft skills – all the things I learned reading How to win friends and influence people and Richard Branson’s books – were what had moved the needle for me in everything I’d done.”
The experience led Nina to found Abrility, an online learning platform that helps children develop the soft skills often overlooked but play a vital role in success, especially in the world of business.
“Abrility was born to address the fact that 70% of parents recognise there’s a gap in soft skills education in existing education offerings but don’t have the time, training or structure to help their kids develop these skills themselves,” she said.
“To address this need, we’ve developed an online learning platform to deliver live after school that teaches kids the most essential skills through fun, real world projects.
“The format is live, online classes on our interactive platform once per week in a small group (6-10 students) with a coach who guides and encourages them along the way.
“In the future, we’ll expand our programs beyond entrepreneurship. The unifying factor is that all the programs involve the kids creating something from nothing and focus explicitly on the development of soft skills and positive mindsets.”
Finding investors to scale
To date, the response from the families involved in the program has been positive, however, she has still faced challenges getting the business off the ground.
“One broader challenge has been convincing investors that this model can scale with live classes. But we see that there are several other companies that deliver live, online classes to hundreds of thousands of students around the world, so we’re confident we can do the same.”
Earlier this year, to turn the idea into a reality, Nina joined Antler, an early-stage VC that enables and invests in people who want to build companies with the potential to go global from day one.
“Without Antler, I’d have never met my incredible co-founder, Philip,” she said.
“It’s really hard to find someone to start a business with who cares as much as you do and he’s totally brilliant at what he does.
“He’s built an amazing, interactive platform in a matter of just two months that way surpasses the quality of experience we were able to deliver on Zoom.
“Beyond forming a team with the help of Antler, being part of the Antler community has been a great way to meet like-minded people in the startup ecosystem.”
Going forward, Nina has big goals for Abrility and wants to expand around the world.
“We’re excited about the future and have so many plans,” she said.
Our five-year goal is to reach 100,000 students around the world, work with a university partner to get accreditation and study the impact of our programs on student outcomes and position ourselves as global experts in the domain of soft skills.”
- Startup Daily is the official media partner of Antler in Australia.