Few entrepreneurs would turn down a $100,000 capital investment for their startup. But for Jawwad Siddiqui, Queen’s alumnus and CEO and founder of SharpScholar, it wasn’t enough.
Siddiqui, Comm ’15, appeared Wednesday on Next Gen Den — a web-formatted spinoff of the Dragons’ Den television franchise focused on entrepreneurial pitches related to e-commerce.
His company, SharpScholar, is an educational software tool created in 2013 by Siddiqui in collaboration with Amin Nikdel, CompSci ’14 and Tejas Mehta, a University of Toronto graduate, in 2013.
SharpScholar, a web-based application, aims to enhance student-professor communications by providing information on student exercises and pre-class
preparation. SharpScholar also has a real-time component where students and instructors can interact during the lesson using features such as in-class polling.
Each user pays a subscription fee for the service, which allows the company to remain profitable. Siddiqui says he currently values the company at $5 million.
Siddiqui had initially pitched $100,000 for five per cent of the company to the “Dragons”: Harvey Finkelstein, chief platform officer for Shopify, BlueCat Networks’ Michael Hyatt and Nicole Verkindt, the founder of the Offset Market Exchange.
After haggling with the Dragons, Siddiqui rejected Verkindt’s offer for 15 per cent of SharpScholar. Siddiqui said he and his company didn’t take the proposed deal because they were more concerned with getting feedback from the Dragons than selling shares. He added that SharpScholar had also received more lucrative offers from other investors.
“We really just went [on Next Gen Den] to see if we could get a deal or not. It’s like a business validation, it’s like seeing if you have the credit limit to buy something,” Siddiqui said.
Siddiqui told The Journal that he and his co-creators had pitched SharpScholar to Next Gen Den last year, but had been rejected. This motivated Siddiqui to recuperate and get on the show for the following season.
“Once we got on Next Gen this season, we told a better story, we had better numbers, we had sales to actually prove what we’re doing is worth it,” Siddiqui said.
Since graduating, Siddiqui and his colleagues have been managing SharpScholar from their Toronto based office with “more than five” employees. Siddiqui said the company is planning to hire more employees to accommodate a growing number of users.
“The numbers of student [users] have been increasing because we’re legitimately operating as a company in Toronto”, he said.
Within the last year, SharpScholar’s user base has almost doubled from 65 to 120 teachers. The program is now used at a number of post-secondary institutions, including Queen’s, U of T, Ryerson, Wilfrid Laurier, Waterloo, OCAD and St. Lawrence College.
Along with managing the company, Siddiqui and his team say they’re researching education and learning strategies in order to incorporate into their product.
“Sometimes we take off our entrepreneurial hats and go to teachers and educators and work with them to conduct research,” he said.
Siddiqui added that the most valuable feedback he received from Next Gen Den was that entrepreneurs must champion their ideas.
“If you really believe in a certain problem, be ready to take a lot of no’s, but at the same time, learn why people are saying no so you can make that no into a yes.”
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