The Center for Data Innovation spoke to Tanmay Dhote, co-founder of Polymath AI, a rising edtech startup that aims to empower teachers through intelligent technology. Dhote shared insights into the challenges and opportunities of implementing AI solutions in the educational landscape and how Polymath AI sets itself apart in a crowded edtech marketplace.
The interview has been edited.
Aswin Prabhakar: What motivated you to explore the intersection of AI and education?
Tanmay Dhote: Funnily enough, we never planned on working in the education space. My co-founder used to be a middle school teacher and spent a lot of time planning lessons. One day, we decided to put together a tool to help teachers plan lessons more quickly. Initially, this was meant to be a one-time launch with no subsequent feature upgrades. We shared this tool with the teaching community and saw strong, word-of-mouth-driven growth. In under four months, the tool attracted over 40,000 users from over 100 countries, highlighting the global nature of the problem. We then began deep-diving into the actual pain points of our users. Today, we have more than 14,000 monthly active users. The key to our tool, Polymath Teaching Tools, lies in its user-friendly interface; teachers need to input what class they are teaching, the subject, and the topic from a drop-down menu, and they don’t have to do any prompt engineering. Our platform also allows teachers to seamlessly integrate it with their existing teaching methods and curriculums, including CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education, India), IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education), or various State Boards. It’s designed to simplify lesson planning, with features for generating lesson plans, activities, teaching slides, and more. Our platform enables teachers to create customized learning paths based on individual student performance and interests, making AI technology accessible and practical for educators.
Prabhakar: You’re based in India, a rapidly growing tech market. What opportunities and challenges do you see for AI startups in the Indian context?
Dhote: Being based in India is both a huge advantage and a challenging endeavor for us. On the one hand, the market here is massive. We have one of the largest populations of K-12 teachers in the world, so the potential for scaling educational AI tools is truly exciting. Plus, India is incredibly diverse. We have many languages and different educational needs across different states and communities. This diversity opens the door for AI solutions that can provide personalized support, something that’s desperately needed here.
On the flip side, this very diversity also presents challenges. Because of the range of cultures and languages, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution that’s going to work across the entire country. We have to be thoughtful about localizing our offerings to meet specific needs. And then there’s the issue of infrastructure. While cities like Bangalore and Delhi are racing ahead in terms of tech infrastructure, a lot of rural areas still lag behind. The limitations in these regions make it challenging to implement AI solutions widely.
So, yes, the Indian market offers a sea of opportunities, but it’s not without its share of challenges that we need to navigate carefully.
Prabhakar: How does Polymath AI differentiate itself in a crowded field of edtech startups?
Dhote: Our target users are teachers, while most other companies focus on students. We strongly believe that AI will never replace a teacher. Teachers already have tough jobs; our goal is to help them perform their duties in an easier, more effective manner. We don’t aim to replace teachers but to make them more productive.
Prabhakar: Starting up is often a series of pivots and iterations. Have there been any key learnings or surprising insights since you launched Polymath AI?
Dhote: Our journey hasn’t been a straight line, to say the least. We initially started in the video commerce space and spent a good amount of time and resources on product development. However, we quickly realized that just because you build it doesn’t mean it will scale. That was a hard lesson, but it led to our first major pivot.
We then tried creating a search platform for Indic language users. That’s when we came to understand another crucial point: solving a real-world problem doesn’t necessarily make for a viable business opportunity.
It was actually while we were working on no-code AI tools for internal business processes that we stumbled upon what would become Polymath AI. What drove us towards the educational sector were the lived experiences and the genuine needs of our user base.
So, if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s this: move fast and be ready to adapt because the market won’t wait for a “perfect” product. Also, always keep an eye out for surprise opportunities; you never know when a side project might just turn into your main gig.
Prabhakar: Since most K-12 educational institutions in India are publicly funded, how do you plan on integrating your services with the public sector?
Dhote: Given that most K-12 schools in India are publicly funded, we see incredible opportunities and unique challenges.
First, there is an opportunity to leverage government partnerships. Public-private partnerships offer a path for integrating private sector innovations into public institutions. We’re keen on forging partnerships that allow Polymath AI’s tools to be piloted in government-run schools.
Second, we must align our AI-driven teaching tools with government-approved curricula to achieve successful integration. This ensures our tool becomes an integral part of the education system, heightening its relevance and applicability.
Finally, we need to ensure policy alignment. The revised National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 emphasizes technological integration in education at all levels. By aligning our tool’s capabilities with the NEP’s recommendations on personalized learning and technological integration, we’re better positioned to propose collaborations with publicly funded schools.
By carefully navigating these areas, we aim to integrate Polymath AI’s services into the publicly funded educational landscape in India, thereby amplifying our social impact while sustaining a viable business model.