TUTOREZ: Innovation in the tutoring niche

Entrepreneurship

Sapiens interviewed Alejandro Carbonell and Alejandra Lizarazu, both industrial engineers, promoters of Tutorez, a Panamanian startup launched in 2015 that helps families and students connect with the tutor they need for personalized teaching.   Since its creation, Tutorez has facilitated for some 400 tutors to perform more than 20,000 hours of tutoring in Panama, reaching more than 1,500 students of all ages and levels. After five years as CEO de Tutorez, Alejandro Carbonell has recently passed the lead to his entrepreneurship partner Alejandra Lizarazu, who intends to continue consolidating the Tutorez positioning in Panama and grow towards new markets and business models.  Carbonell will now turn his attention to his new position as Director of the Innovation Center of the City of Knowledge.

In recent years, how do you think the Panamanian educational system has progressed?  Where do you think education should evolve toward?

Carbonell: There have not been many changes in the educational system in Panama in the last decades. We continue to have an education designed to teach people to work in factories, where a teacher speaks and the 30 students in the classroom listen.  There have been technological changes, the Internet is used in classrooms, and that has caused small transformations. But we need to make more radical changes, because the world changes very quickly, not only in technology, but also in careers, for example, and we are not going to prepare young people for the careers of the future if we keep the current system.

Lizarazu: Education must understand that everyone is different, with different types of intelligence and learning. The information given in a classroom has been transformed into an accessible product for the student; the teacher is no longer the main source of information, that one is on the Internet, accessible on the cell phone and in less than five seconds. Therefore, the teacher has to become a facilitator so that the students can find and understand this information in the best way.   This is where I think the radical change in the educational system will come.

Carbonell: The biggest trend for me is personalization of learning.  Being aware that we are all different and learn in different ways; that is what will make us improve as professionals and also our educational system. For example, when a student receives tutoring, he learns and understand something in one hour, which he failed to do in five classes at school.  It has nothing to do with the teacher not having taught well, but rather the tutor has the ability to teach him in a personalized, individualized way.  In the future, teachers are going to become facilitators, even artificial intelligence and other new technologies are going to help us know what the best method of teaching each person is.

How did the startup that is Tutorez today begin?

Carbonell: It started five years ago solving a problem that we considered was the basic one: that students need extra help, personalized learning, and that is why there is a tutor.  In the company, what we do is find them that ideal tutor.

Lizarazu: WE RECENTLY CREATED A TEST, ALONG WITH A PSYCHOLOGIST, WHO MEASURES AND GETS A PROFILE OF THE PERSONAL LEARNING TYPE AND WHAT THEIR EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONS ARE.  This test indicates whether the individual has a more kinesthetic or more oral learning, or is more visual and in his executive functions, has a higher inhibition of behavior, that is, he is not distracted, but he has a low executive function in time management.  

Once the test extracts this information and we know how the person learns, it is provided to the tutor to create a personalized teaching method for the customer.  The company also established this test for tutors, in such a way that they teach according to the requirements of the students.  What will come in the future is the match, that union of really getting the ideal tutor, who is available for the subject, the schedule, the location and who is the ideal one in terms of how the student learns.

Carbonell: We are moving in that direction and we are developing that as a business, because Tutorez started in Panama in the capital and has now expanded.  We have subsidiaries in eight Latin American countries and we will continue to grow. In the end, it is a need that will always exist and now even more, because we have this educational system that has not evolved much in almost all of Latin America. 

How has Tutorez benefited from being part of the City of Knowledge?

Carbonell: The City of Knowledge has always been the headquarters of Tutorez.   Before launching it, when the partners entered the company, when it was only an idea, I entered CdS in a co-working environment, which is a shared space.  I remember that our first sale was in November 2014.  I was sitting at my desk, alone, and that’s when I said, “this can be a big thing” and the next year, in March 2015, we launched it.  I have seen this community grow, I have been part of it.  Coworking spaces have multiplied.  We started in building 234, then we moved to Innova 109, then Innova 104.  I feel that this has given some strength to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, being able to talk with other innovators in Panama, share ideas, the problems we have; I feel very close to all that.  Every week, people from the innovation community write to me asking me for mentoring. I think that as an entrepreneur you must have mentors, it is super important.

Lizarazu: In 2016 the City of Knowledge Acceleration Program became an investor in Tutorez and that gave us greater recognition because it meant that an organization like this trusted us, putting money, resources and mentors.  That has helped us greatly.  From 2015 to 2016 we almost quadrupled the tutoring, in great part, thanks to that support.  

Are you satisfied with what you have achieved so far?

Carbonell: On a personal level of what was achieved with Tutorez, yes.  Almost 400 tutors have done tutoring, which has produced more than a quarter of a million dollars in income for the tutors.  I am happy because we have reached other countries.  I feel satisfied from this point of view, I have also seen how a community has been created.  From a business perspective, we are not even at 1% of what Tutorez can and will become. It is a very long process, which requires a lot of resilience, but personally, I am happy and it is a matter of enjoying the journey, we do not know when or where we are going to arrive, however, it is feeling the satisfaction of doing something good for the world, for the country, for the people.  I am very happy for the new opportunity in the City of Knowledge team and from there to continue contributing to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Panama. Tutorez is in very good hands.  I trust in Alejandra’s leadership to take Tutorez to new frontiers, and to accomplish the mission that we have always had to connect people to expand knowledge.

Lizarazu:  I am very happy to be contributing to a startup that positively impacts education and people.  To the parents in bringing them the peace of mind that their children are learning in a personalized way and to the tutors who are generating additional income in the best way, which is helping a student. 

From the beginning I saw the potential in Tutorez and took the opportunity to start as a co-founder.  This role has been significant in my life, because it has allowed me to apply all my knowledge that I have learned in my career, master’s degree and previous jobs, maximizing these leadership and business skills.  And, as Alejandro said, at the business level we are not even at 1% of what we can become. However, we have managed to reach our goal, which is to connect people, every time a parent finds their ideal tutor on the platform in a matter of minutes.  I have visualized many plans so that Tutorez continues to grow and continues to give the most to my users, since their satisfaction is my motivation.

Daniel Urbano Bellera, tutor.  

“In my early years of college, I was looking for a job that could help me with my educational and personal expenses. My mother, being a French teacher, recommended that I give private lessons in English or in the area that I was most fluent in, in this case mathematics and physics.  I saw it as a good option, because giving private classes gave me the freedom to distribute my time between university and work.

It has been a good experience with Tutorez, because we work together in a dynamic way.  The platform offers many benefits for those tutors who want to start tutoring and earn an income with the help of their talent.

Tutorez has helped me achieve that financial independence that many young people need, but, most importantly, it has helped me strengthen my knowledge and skills in mathematics and physics by teaching.   My customers are always surprised by the services in this platform, since it offers peace of mind to parents or representatives that they will always have someone qualified available for their son or daughter to improve in their studies. Even if it were a typical Sunday night, at the last minute.”

Priscilla Quadri, parent.

“I discovered Tutorez through my son’s school and, simultaneously, through a friend.  I decided to use it because I was desperate, since the tutors I got were irresponsible and I saw no progress in my son.   I have been using the services of Tutorez for three years and would not change it for anything. My son has improved a lot in school.  I see that at the end of the classes, he understands the lesson and goes to school ready. On the other hand, I don’t have to be stressing thinking whether the tutor will come or not, if I have the cash or check to pay them, for me it is a blessing. And, also, when I have any questions, I text them and they solve it for me right away.”

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