Dubai Her zest for life is just like most 25-year-olds here in Dubai. She loves an occasional swim, a visit to places like the Bounce on weekends and even, time permitting, a tête-à-tête with a dance partner over Argentine tango.
Yet at an age when many a fresher struggles to find one’s bearings in a new job, Thea Myhrvold is starting an online education revolution that she reckons will engage a million students globally by end of 2016. Her magic wand: teachmenow.com, which she founded in 2013 for one-to-one learning in real time and has now got the backing of corporate giants such as Infiniti and Microsoft.
“We are already seeing hits from the US, Latin America, Europe, MENA and Asia. Our goal is to be the largest global facilitator of education. We may be a Dubai company but our mission and vision are truly global,” says Myhrvold who is working towards building a pool of at least 100,000 teachers from around the world for the website over the next 10 months to realise her dream.
In December 2015, she won $40,000 (Dh146,000) in ‘seed funding’ for her start-up after finishing first in the final round of a ‘speed pitching’ contest sponsored by the luxury vehicle makers from Hong Kong at their headquarters. A month later when she narrated her triumph over 29 other shortlisted business ideas from the region to none other than Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during his visit to Dubai, she managed another big chunk of funding - $10,000 per month as part of a partnership deal with BizSpark, a Microsoft programme that provides support to start-ups and software entrepreneurs globally.
“It was an amazing moment meeting one of the world’s top executives. It was an usual business pitch in an office setting unlike the one I had to make in the rear seat of an Infiniti Q70 being driven at breakneck speed in the contest in December. Can’t believe he heard me for an hour and eventually saw my vision,” says Myhrvold who accidentally discovered her passion for teaching during her undergraduate studies in Geneva.
Studying for a degree in international relations and economics with an eye on a job with the United Nations, Myhrvold – who is half Norwegian and half Arab - fell in love with teaching when she began tutoring two high school students. “One was dyslexic and the other was suffering from attention deficit disorder (ADD). Their teachers, and even parents, thought they would fail in their exams but they scored above average when results were declared. I could make learning enjoyable for them and that is when it sparked off,” explains Myhrvold who grew up in Jeddah, Athens and Oslo and studied in Geneva before coming to Dubai in 2011.
“Today the global tutoring industry alone is estimated to be worth $103 billion,” she says. “We aim to capture this market. With the partnerships we have in place for both our website and our enterprise clients like GEMS Education, we are targeting to reach one million students and teachers by 2016 end,” Myhrvold sums up her plan. “The bottom line is to make education accessible for everyone through technology.”
The first class of teachmenow.com happened between a professor in Venezuela and a Spanish student in Saudi Arabia. Myhrvold says her dream is to see the whole world engage one day.