Purdue student startup participates in Y Combinator seed funding program in Silicon Valley

August 6, 2015  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University students who developed a cloud-based computer science education technology have been accepted into the Y Combinator, a prestigious international program for funding startups in Silicon Valley.

Prahasith Veluvolu, Jacobi Petrucciani and Colton Voege, all students in the Purdue College of Science, created Mimir, a Web-based platform for automatic grading and a learning management system for computer sciences. The team interviewed for the seed funding accelerator program in late spring and took their team to the Silicon Valley for three months starting in June. 

"We're excited to be accepted into this program. Only 2 to 3 percent of applicants are accepted, so we are honored to have this opportunity," Veluvolu said. "For Mimir this is a definite jump start. We had goals for our company but even after the first few meetings with some of the YC partners, we now have even bigger goals and the confidence to achieve them."

The Y Combinator helps early-stage startups get through the first phase of their company and to the point where they are able to attract investors on a larger scale. Since 2005 the program has funded over 800 startups, which include notable companies such as reddit, Dropbox and airbnb.

"The partners of YC are amazing at what they do. They have seen everything at least once so their knowledge and ability to provide good solutions to problems startups face is invaluable," Veluvolu said. "Having access to this type of network is huge. We can ask for help from any of the YC founders and they are always willing to go out of their way to give advice or put us in touch with another reputable person."

Acceptance into the Y Combinator program comes just as Mimir is launching a new service to their platform.

"Up to now our program supplemented already existing classrooms by providing automation tools, analytics and so on, to instructors and students," Veluvolu said. "We have now created a fully automated computer science course that high schools, which otherwise may have not been able to afford an instructor and materials for the course, can now offer their students."

Mimir's platform provides a solution for high schools unable to afford traditional computer science courses.

"There are 80,000 high schools in the U.S. that do not offer a computer science program and only about 15 percent are able to afford it right now. We want to bring that number to 100 percent," Veluvolu said. "We created this program to include pre-requisite topics for AP computer science courses. We teach the entire class so that schools don't have to hire an instructor, we take care of handing out assignments and grading them, which is all done through our existing program."

Mimir acknowledges the importance of student-instructor relationships and says the platform doesn't aim to replace them. 

"We don't mean this platform to be a replacement for teachers. We realize the importance of one-on-one relationships and think they are the best way to learn. With our platform we're aiming to provide a good solution for schools who can't afford conventional computer science programs," Veluvolu said. "We have seen a few different ways schools may want to implement the program, by offering it to students as a traditional class or others are offering it as a before or after school additional program for students who really want to learn coding."

Mimir's platform has interactive features that are designed to allow students to learn.

"Students have access to videos and tests like most programs but our program is different because we will ask students to program different things and then submit them to us. We will grade those in real time and let students know where they went wrong and how they can fix the problem," Veluvolu said. "Other programs often expect you to learn by watching or reading content, we want you to learn by doing. We also have a help button that will connect students to a live instructor for a one-on-one video chat so students have access to help at all times."

Mimir is excited about the next stage of their company and believes they were accepted into the Y Combinator because of their approach to education.       

"The partners I have talked to at YC are excited about our product, particularly in that we are trying to disrupt education," Veluvolu said. "Currently when you think of adding a course to a school curriculum you have to go through the process of hiring a teacher and starting the course around six months later, we are trying to introduce courses so that they are an on and off switch. If a school wanted to start teaching a course they can make a decision the same day students can start learning from that course."

Mimir credits the Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization hub in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship and the Anvil, a co-working space for Purdue students and the surrounding community at 320 North St. in West Lafayette, Indiana for helping them get to this point.

"The Purdue Foundry has always been there for us, they have always welcomed us and are happy to help us with everything and anything we've ever needed. A Purdue Foundry member even met us in California to help us make introductions, so they are extremely resourceful and helpful," Veluvolu said. "Our company would have never existed if it wasn't for the Boiler Competition put on by the Anvil. They really took our idea and helped us turn it into a product and from that stage the Purdue Foundry took over and brought us to the point where we were able to raise money."

The Mimir team said they are looking forward to the help they will receive from the program to help achieve their goals.

"We have 34 schools from across the nation ready to implement our program and we are excited to see that number increase as well as working on eventually adding different level courses to the program," Veluvolu said. "We see YC as a growth engine. Money definitely helps, but the advice we are getting and the relationships we are creating has really put us in a position that we are confident to be able to get our computer science program into 100 schools by the end of the summer."

About Purdue Foundry

The Purdue Foundry is an entrepreneurship and commercialization hub in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship whose professionals help Purdue innovators create startups. The Purdue Foundry is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year by the National Business Incubation Association for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org.

About Mimir LLC

The Mimir platform is a cloud-based tool that may reduce the overhead it takes to teach a computer science course. The platform is capable of grading projects, checking for plagiarism and providing detailed analytics in an automated fashion.

Writer: Hillary Henry, Purdue Research Foundation 

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Cynthia Sequin, 765-588-3340, casequin@prf.org 

Source: Prahasith Veluvolu, 317-674-2594, pveluvolu@mimirllc.com 

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