Hello! My name is Spiffy, I’m an Interplanetary Journalist traveling around Planet Earth. Lately, I’ve been speaking with innovators from around the world who are working on UN SDG 4: Quality Education. Today I’m going to introduce you to one person who is working hard to level the educational playing field. Let’s meet Michael Houston, founder and CEO of ElevateU. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome, Michael! Let’s jump right in! Can you tell me what challenges you are addressing ElevateU?
Michael: Thanks for having me today, Spiffy! At ElevateU, we believe that by consolidating the knowledge of humanity into inclusive learning experiences that leverage emerging technologies, we can accelerate the rate at which individuals learn and the world can unlock a brighter future.
Spiffy: Whoa, Michael, accelerate learning? What motivated you to work on that?
Michael: I received my college degree before I received my high school diploma—not because I'm some genius, but because I was frustrated at the way the education system worked. I strongly believe that education is a 'snowball' effect, in that when everyone in the world who wants a quality education can have access to one, the rate of innovation and positive change throughout humanity will be immeasurable.
Spiffy: I’m curious how you’re working to make the world a more equitable place for people?
Michael: We're building technology and educational experiences for everyone, not just those who can afford it. Students do not need to pay a large tuition bill to gain access to our learning material. By enabling individual learners to access our content directly, we drastically lower prices and circumnavigate any instructors who may not be motivated by the same values and goals that we hold dear.
Spiffy: That is leveling the playing field to education! What exciting milestones have you reached lately?
Michael: We recently built technology that helps us to understand the best way that individuals learn. By paying attention to how everyone in the world learns and completes their classwork, we believe that we can optimize education in many ways. Rather than forcing students to do constant 'busy work' and study concepts they've already mastered, data can help us make sure that those learners who are falling behind can catch up, while those who are excelling can move ahead and learn at unreal rates.
Spiffy: I’m always curious about how entrepreneurs deal with failure. What about you? What have you learned from failure?
Michael: It's funny, Spiffy, when I was growing up, I watched TedTalks for entertainment. I sped through every aspect of my personal standardized education, I taught entrepreneurship and innovation at Arizona State, and yet my first attempt at building ElevateU absolutely failed. We spent four months and six figures building version one, and the second we thought we were ready to go to market, I decided to throw away every single line of code. I failed to listen to my own teachings and I discovered that even though I was building a learning company, I still had a lot to learn. I went back to the basics, reflecting on the mission statement that we've had since day one, and suddenly, everything clicked. Focusing on the WHY is what can truly elevate humanity and catalyze innovation.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Michael: Everyone should focus on learning something new every day. I always say, “I'm wrong way more often than I'm right.” What matters though is a bias towards action and curiosity. Even if you fail—which we will all do many times—we will learn and become better individuals from our experiences.
Spiffy: It sounds like you believe in the mantra, no fear in failure! Michael, I have a feeling you’re going to inspire and impact a lot of people—young and old! Thanks for sharing your story, it’s been an honor.
Michael Houston, CEO at ElevateU is a lifelong learner working to shift the paradigm of education through emerging technologies. (Nominated by Pathway Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on September 22, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.