Ramesh Balan is the founder of the recently trending and talked about education company Knomadix, which, after six or so years in the market, may be on the verge of being an overnight success. It’s a path, Balan correctly says, we’ve seen before.
“Companies like Google and Amazon took eight or nine years or more to be overnight successes,” Balan said.
Balan’s company Knomadix is interesting. It’s taken a new and potentially powerful approach to using AI learning and tutoring bots in day-to-day classroom instruction. Instead of building lessons with AI bots imbedded, or adding AI cues and prompts to existing curriculum, Knomadix puts the benefits of AI in the hands of districts, schools and teachers in a completely custom way. It’s a concept that Balan describes as building a bot-creation studio instead of building a bot.
“We thought it was best to develop a bot factory where districts, schools and teachers can build their own automated AI tutors, customized to their own lessons and classrooms,” Balan said. “Instead of a company coming in and telling them what we thought they wanted or needed,” he said.
But it’s Balan’s personal path to leading a break-out education company that’s more interesting than turning teachers into bot-builders.
Quiet and measured, his public demeanor suggests an analytical mindset. It’s easy to sense his passion for what he’s doing but it’s even more clear that he’s planned, cautious and calculated – a personality that may be expected from the oldest son of a high school math teacher.
Math, Balan said, came easy.
“I was really good at it,” he said. “By the time I was in middle school, I was helping my mom grade the assignments of her high school students.”
And while the term “prodigy” is overused and easy to toss around, Balan may fit. He graduated high school at age 15, was a degreed and credentialed engineer by age 20. Bored and hemmed in by engineering, he went back to school and earned a Masters in Computer Science at a time when the term lacked the commonality we appreciate today.
Moving from math to computing put Balan in fun company and in fun companies. He was among the first people to use a computer to do television animation, where he did ads for Super Bowls and graphics for the network newscasts. The company was eventually snapped up by Lucas Films. Balan worked at the highly prestigious Bell Labs and paid close attention to changing technology and what it might change.
“In 2006 or so I saw the stylus be integrated with tablet PCs and thought that was the big thing, that it would change everything, including and especially in education,” he said. “But I think everyone got that wrong. It was too early and it didn’t do anything to digital learning.”
A decade later, Balan was noting the emergence of teaching tools and platforms, next generation tablet devices, Google Classroom and Samsung’s delivery platform. By then, around 2016, he’d founded three other technology companies, successfully exiting one. All the while, watching the march of education technology and tinkering with his own IP, valuable tools and approaches that dated back to the 2006 stylus non-revolution.
“There’s more than ten years of intellectual investment and technology in today’s Knomadix,” Balan said. “We’ve been able to not discard or abandon useful advances but fold them in, make them an important part of what we’re doing today.”
And what they’re doing today is talking to districts and curriculum designers and publishers about how easy it can be to create and imbed AI-powered tutor bots into any lesson at any level – unleashing, as Balan says, the ability for classroom AI to really scale.
“We’ve known for some time now that AI, properly developed and properly deployed, can be a revolutionary tool for teachers and an outcome multiplier for students,” Balan said. “But building them one course or one classroom at a time was never going to work. Those are just bits and pieces that can only deliver marginal results. What we’re doing is turning districts and individual teachers into their own custom publishers and creators of AI-powered, interactive, data-rich curriculum and content.”
Balan calls it a “game changer.”
And it may be. As a seven year-old company with more than a decade of IP behind it, we ought to know more about this overnight sensation any time now.
If you’re counting up the odds, the really safe bet is that Balan already has. It seems certain that the math prodigy and engineer has done his homework. And he’s absolutely counting on the idea that Knomadix can help millions of students do theirs too.