SmartStart Initiative

By: Krithika Iyer

Information Access , Caretaker

Most of us take education for granted.  For many children, however, access to education is not always available. Take these sombering facts:

Although these might seem like far-away problems, within the United States, 1 in 4 children grow up unable to read, and ⅔ of students unable to read proficiently by 4th grade will end in jail or welfare.

The SmartStart Initiative works to increase educational access to combat the growing tide of drop-outs and give these children a fighting chance for a better future. And we're not the only ones who think this is important.  Take a look at this X-Prize video:


Globally, 1.6 million MORE teachers are needed and according to UNESCO, this number will will be double to 3.3-million by 2030. We've reached that critical moment when traditional educational methods need to be replaced by creative solutions that actually resolve the pressing issues faced by learners globally.

StartSmart Initiative's main proposal is to utilize technology to bridge the gap in access to education. Smartphones and tablets are quickly diffusing all over the world, including in developing nations, so we cater to that sector by providing apps and activities to complete.

We are developing mobile device based solutions that:

  • empowers parents to turn daily activities into brain building activities,
  • allows children to take control of their own learning so they can teach themselves and their friends.
  • operates in the most challenging environments (limited power / net connectivity)
  • leverages emerging frameworks such as and the Global Learning X-Prize challenge for widespread adoption.

We also host informational workshops in different cities to connect parents with free resources to educate their children. Currently, we're working on an app that can mimic the nurturing and motivating aspect of humans to deploy in areas severely lacking teachers.

One of our other main projects include showing parents how their time and attention are natural brain-builders for their child. The first five years are the most formative stages in child development. During this time, parents can use simple tasks such as chores and driving to teach their child many necessary skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking. By building these neural patterns young, children grow up with a strong foundation and are much more likely to succeed in school.

Our overall goal, however, is that by immersing children in technology, they view receiving an education as both gaining a valuable asset as well as having fun along the way. By kindling their passion for knowledge, students will be empowered to continue learning throughout their life.

  • Hi, I’m Krithika Iyer, a 16 year old from Texas! Growing up, I’d always loved going to school and learning more about the world around me. In 2nd grade, we got textbooks checked out to us for the first time, and I read half of it in the first night. My passion for reading led me to found Reading Logs, an online platform to help students keep track of their reading minutes and practice spelling. To this day, thousands of educators across the country have utilized this tool to benefit their classrooms.


Teaching with MineCraft

Jan. 15, 2016

We partnered with Nepris to host online coding sessions for classrooms across the country. Our goal at SmartStart is to connect children with educational resources they need to succeed. Programming is quickly becoming a necessary skill for the next generation, and this workshop allowed us to introduce elementary and middle schools to the complex world of coding through fun tutorials. We utilized the “Hour of Code” Minecraft and Star War tutorials, and then left the students on their own to program their own game. It was especially rewarding because we got to see firsthand how engaged and excited these children were to discover the powerful new world of programming!  

Advice for my peers

Jan. 13, 2016

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from launching the SmartStart Initiative is that sometimes adults or other organizations and companies may not take you seriously at first since you’re just a kid, so you have to stay persistent.

The passion you have and the seriousness with which you treat your work will show, and people will be more willing to work with you. I’ve had organizations hesitant to partner with SmartStart since it was so new, so I started focusing on affecting change where I could and started scaling up when I had more resources.

Discovering how the world worked around me has always been my hobby. My parents and teachers, who would always encourage me to participate in a multitude of extracurricular activities, nurtured this innate curiosity. It started as small things, from trying to find a “solution to pollution” in 3rd grade to performing osmosis experiments in 5th grade.

When, in middle school, my mother underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor that was later found out to only be benign, my initial interest kindled into a burning passion to solve some of the problems faced by our society. My first research effort focused on creating a Bayesian decision support system to reduce the number of false positives / negatives while interpreting mammograms. I was named a Broadcom MASTERS Semi-finalist for my work!

Moving to the molecular level, I started working on algorithms that could analyze cancer genes. I won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2nd Grand Award in Mathematics, European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) Special Award (all-expense paid weeklong trip to CERN headquarters in Geneva), and ExxonMobil Texas Science and Engineering Fair Overall Grand Prize, and was named a Siemens Competition Semi-finalist, as well as Texas Junior Academy of Sciences Finalist.

I also play competitive tennis, and I have been ranked top 100 nationally in every age group out of about 2,500 girls. I hold 10 State Singles titles and 5 State doubles titles. I've won the National Zone Team Championship as part of Team Texas twice, and I’ve received the Nancy Jeffet Sportsmanship Award twice as well! I also transferred my love of tennis to younger kids in my academy by coaching them, and that’s when I realized my passion for teaching! 

All of these achievements laid the foundation for my ability to affect change as a social entrepreneur.

If you’re thinking about starting your own social movement, my only piece of advice would be to start by contributing to a solution and then worry about everything else. Once you start affecting change within your selected sphere, you will find people willing to host fundraisers, create websites for you, and do other things necessary to help grow your organization.

Brain Building Moments

June 29, 2015

Research shows there is no better time to create a strong foundation than the first five years of life, because this is when brain development is the most rapid. And, the things that matter the most, like talking and playing, can be layered onto existing routines.

The SmartStart Initiative works to transform everyday activities into effective brain-building acgtivities by providing tools and training. To maximize our impact, we work with several community organizations, Head-Start programs, church groups, community centers, and school districts. In addition, we utilize third party apps such as Vroom and conduct hands-on workshops for parents / care-givers.  

Recently we presented at the 2015 Dallas Mayor's "Back To School" Fair which boasted 35,000 attendees. This gave us the opportjnity to talk about our free tutoring services and educate parents on Vroom.

The video below is one of the first training sessions we ever had with Vroom. The Daily Vroom app was created by the Bezos Foundation to help show parents how to utilize daily activities into brain-building moments. We partnered with them to help pilot the app in Dallas. Here, we hosted a small workshop to give parents a hands-on introduction to the app.

Growing the SmartStart Initiative

Under SmartStart, we plan to reach about 10,000 people by the end of the year. Some of our recent projects have included helping pilot apps in the Dallas Metroplex to thousands of families and utilizing online platforms to teach code to hundreds of students across the nation.

Our plans to expand include introducing code to children internationally as well as releasing our own app. 

Meet the SmartStart team!

Meena Ramakrishnan: Hi! My name is Meena Ramakrishnan, and I'm a junior at the IB World School at Plano East. I'm a lifelong dancer, passionate writer, and obsessive Sherlock fan. Most of all, however, I'm a student, a student who has been lucky to have supportive teachers and an abundance of opportunities to pursue my passions. And that's what I aspire to bring to every child. With the tools to succeed, and a platform for their voice to be heard, children everywhere can build a path to a better future. I believe that SmartStart can be the stepping-stone towards that path.

Anthony Douglas: Hi! My name is Anthony Douglas, and I am a junior at the IB World School at Plano East. I’m a graphic artist, history lover, and over-the-top music enthusiast. I hope to one day combine all of these passions into my career and carry over my knowledge to the next generation through a creative and diverse educational system. I strongly believe education is one of the foundations for a better life, and I hope that I am able to provide the knowledge necessary to create a thriving future for the community.

Melissa Abraham: Hey, I'm Melissa, a 17 year old from Plano, TX. I am a junior at the IB World School at Plano East. Every child should have the right to education because it empowers individuals to think and express their beliefs. Human minds are born with the natural tendency to ask questions. To me, education is something everyone should have access to and the opportunity to have it is the door to the future. I feel every child should be offered that opportunity and that’s where SmartStart comes in. Apart from SmartStart, I like to do Bollywood dance and hang out with friends.

Sophie Walsh: Hi! My name is Sophie and I’m a junior in the IB program at Plano East. I have a younger brother, Ryan, who has Down Syndrome, and because of him, equal access to education has become very important to me. In my free time I love to travel and write about it on my blog. I’ve visited 9 different countries and 14 of the 50 states! 

Monish Challagondla: Hi, my name is Monish Challagondla, and I am a junior at the IB World School at Plano East Senior High School. I think education is one of the most important tools that an individual can have to empower themselves to make a difference in their life and the lives of others. The SmartStart Initiative is a phenomenal way to help provide this quality education for those who do not have access to it. I really enjoy working with the Initiative because I know that I’m helping others get the education that they deserve, and I could be helping someone who can go on to make a difference in the lives of millions of people. On the rare occasions that I have free time, I really like relaxing on the couch and binge-watching movies and TV shows.

Shriya Beesam: Hi, I’m Shriya Beesam! I’m a horrifyingly fanatic book nerd and tenth grader at the IB World School at Plano East Senior High, and I know how privileged I am to go to such a great school. Millions of other children aren’t as fortunate, even though they deserve an opportunity just as much as I do. So, when I joined this organization and learned about how it aimed to provide higher quality education for people from all backgrounds, I knew that this could have a huge impact and truly make sure that every child has a chance to reach their full potential. No child should be left behind or have their bright future be dimmed by the lack of proper resources. I am glad and proud to be a part of the SmartStart Initiative, because it reminds me that I’m making a difference, no matter how small. 

Adhya Beesam: Hey, I’m Adhya Beesam, I’m a tenth grader at the IB Academy this year, and my favorite hobby is studying until I pass out. In my opinion, education is extremely undervalued in today’s society. Too many children and teens don’t really take the time to appreciate our education system in its unbridled entirety. They take this privilege for granted and don’t fully utilize the breadth of resources offered in schools like PESH because they don’t attempt to focus on learning. I hear people say things like, “I hate school,” and “Schools sucks,” daily, and while it is understandable at times, I find school to be a place where everyone given an equal opportunity to further their knowledge and learn more than we could ever need to know. Many others aren’t able to learn as well as we are. That’s what SmartStart’s about: trying to level the playing field for students so we can all have an equal inherent opportunity to further our knowledge.

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