Nhon Ma: Closing Educational Opportunity Gaps

Empowering students through AI-powered tutoring

Since he was a young child, Nhon Ma has valued his studies, and while he was fortunate to have resources and tools to advance educationally, he knew that reality wasn't the same for everyone. 

Ma is the CEO and co-founder of Numerade, a short-form video education platform seeking to arm every student in the world with a personalized artificial intelligence-powered tutor. Founded in 2018, the edtech company creates video and interactive content for learners of all ages across various topics. 

Nhon Ma

Nhon Ma

"Our fundamental belief is that we want to work with students as young as possible so they can get the reinforcement, encouragement, and support that they need," Ma told Lifewire in a phone interview. "We want to help students build the confidence that they need to continue on the track to master STEM." 

Numerade is on a mission to help graduate more students into math and science fields, regardless of their backgrounds. The company wants to close opportunity gaps for less fortunate students who possibly can't pay for tutoring. Numerade's platform has more than 1 million video lessons across subjects like chemistry, economics, geometry, physics, and calculus. The company manages an online platform and a mobile application. 

Quick Facts

Name: Nhon Ma

Age: 39

From: South Central Los Angeles

Favorite Game to Play: Contra, which can be played on Nintendo. 

Key quote or motto he lives by: “Quit. Don’t quit. Noodles. Don’t noodles. You are too concerned with what was and what will be. There’s a saying: Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, that is why it is called the present.” - from Kung Fu Panda

A Passion For Education 

Ma's family emigrated from South Vietnam in the late '70s to settle in the most affordable area of Los Angeles, which at the time was South Central. Ma stayed focused on his studies growing up, and he graduated from Columbia University in 2004 with degrees in economics and psychology. 

"For me, education was always a key focal point in life," Ma said. "My mom was a teacher in South Vietnam, so she imparted education as a priority. This allowed me to get into private schools in LA in high school, which ultimately led to scholarships and college at Columbia."

After working in finance in New York for a couple of years, Ma said he found the profession didn't resonate with him. He first learned about Google around 2006, and said he was most attracted to working for the tech giant because it valued universal accessibility. He went on to work for Google's sales finance division for a few years. 

"For me, education was always a key focal point in life."

"I remember reading a book about Google's story, which talked about how the company was going to create the next Excel, but it was all going to be online," Ma said. "I didn't believe it, but I wanted to jump ship anyway and work for Google."

Ma said that working for Google was a transformative experience in his career, opening his eyes to the possibilities of running his own business that could make a lasting impact through technology.  

Empowering Every STEM Student Across the Globe

When conceptualizing Numerade's mission, Ma knew he wanted to use technology to close educational opportunity gaps. He had met co-founder Alex Lee, a former volunteer tutor while studying at the University of Southern California, while working at Google. Feeling the same pain point about the discrepancies of access in education, the pair initially launched a company called Tutorcast, which focused on decreasing the cost of tutoring through a tech platform. 

"We came together because of our passion for education," Ma said. "We want to make tutoring accessible to as many students as possible."

While the two weren't able to lower the tutoring costs at Tutorcast, Ma said the concepts from that first company became the foundation for what Numerade is today. Tutorcast's platform allowed tutors to record their lessons for students to review. Ma said he noticed that students were going back to lessons and reviewing them multiple times. With Numerade, he wants to make learning content from real educators freely available and accessible to students worldwide. He wants to see the benefits of tutoring scaled to the masses. 

Numerade product shot with smartphone and whiteboard

Numerade

“Active learning is about getting the reps in as much as you need in a safe space, even if that means outside of the classroom," he said. "The story of Numerade is the story of human potential and the acceleration of knowledge."

Ma said that Numerade's team has been working more productively through the pandemic, since the company already was operating remotely. Including Ma and Lee, the company's team now consists of 12 employees. 

"From a fundraising perspective, there are assumptions that are placed with certain founders relative to others."

Numerade's real focus has been on securing venture capital. The company is in the process of raising a Series A funding round, which should close in the next month, Ma said. The edtech company previously closed a seed round of $4.4 million. 

"From a fundraising perspective, there are assumptions that are placed with certain founders relative to others," Ma said. 

This year, Ma said Numerade hopes to empower more STEM students worldwide to pursue careers in technology. He believes this starts with students having more confidence in their educational backgrounds. 

And if you're wondering, Lee is the one who came up with Numerade's name. Ma said he wanted to do a play-off of numbers and Gatorade, where the company acts as an aid to student's studies. Clever, right? 

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