Entrepreneur’s education technology venture rides wave of COVID change – Crain’s Detroit Business

Veteran Michigan entrepreneur Ann Marie Sastry sees opportunity to tap into the rapidly changing world of education technology that’s sure to be retained post-pandemic.

Sastry made news in 2015 when she sold her lithium-ion battery company Sakti3 Inc. to Dyson Ltd. as part of a $90 million deal, at which she continued working at for a time before leaving the major corporation in 2017. Sastry’s involvement in Sakti3, which she largely declined to discuss on the record, earned her a spot as one of Crain’s 2015 Newsmakers of the Year.

Sastry’s newest venture, Amesite Inc. (NASDAQ: AMST), formally launched in November 2017 with a focus on “looking at how the world learns,” Sastry told Crain’s late last year. In a September initial public offering, the Detroit-based company netted $15 million in new capital.

In its latest initiative, the company is partnering with Wayne State University to provide artificial intelligence learning for alumni of the Detroit university seeking to secure further education in the electric vehicle sector. The six-week training program will grant certifications in the area of autonomous vehicle technologies, data science, electric vehicle technologies, mobility as a service and autonomous systems programming.

“We chose to partner with Amesite because they offer the most advanced online learning platform in the market today,” Farshad Fotouhi, Wayne State’s dean of the College of Engineering, said in a news release announcing the partnership. “The feedback from our students and instructors has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Wayne State pays Amesite an undisclosed fee to license the platform and provide content.

Sastry, in an interview with Crain’s in November, identified such programs as a key emphasis for the company, given the reality of the current education landscape.

“It’s been obvious for some time that online learning is a way to get learning experiences to people,” Sastry said. “And it’s also been obvious that people are not going to do four-year degree after four-year degree. “They’re going to upscale and people are going to be lifelong learners.”

Like most things, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended many parts of everyday life and created an opening for companies like Amesite.

Once the pandemic hit last spring, many industries were able to rely on technology investments and continue operating largely undisturbed. The nation’s education system did not have such ease, Sastry said.

“Education was thrown for a loop. And the type of the lack of a digital backbone, the lack of resiliency, the last lack of mass customized solutions of the kind that are offered through AI, became painfully painfully obvious,” Sastry told Crain’s in an interview late last year. “And learning markets, in some sense, seized up as they as they tried to use tools that really were never meant to support fully online learning.”

A July 2020 report from Grand View Research pegged the global market for education technology at $76.4 billion and forecast to grow 18.1 percent on a compound annual growth rate between 2020 and 2027.

“EdTech is expected to play a crucial and significant role in creating jobs for future generations,” the report says. “Education across the globe is shifting towards student-centric and more inclusive learning. A key component of making an inclusive learning environment is implementing assistive technologies in an attempt to better cater to students with special needs.”

Approaching 3 1/2 years old, Amesite is very much still in the growing phase.

For the period that ended Sept. 30 the company reported net revenue of $110,000 and marked down a $5 million loss.

Sastry said that in this business the revenues will be recognized later, and the changes to the education sector brought by the pandemic should go a long way toward fueling that growth.

“We are quite optimistic about fast growth,” Sastry said. “One of the things that has happened in EdTech is that because online hasn’t been a priority (and) a lot of institutions rely on free tools. Well, those free tools are worth what you pay for.”

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