2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Benchmark Learning, Washington University (Olin)

Benchmark Learning

Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School

Industry: Education, Online Tutoring

Founding Student Name(s): Paarvv Goel

Brief Description of Solution: Benchmark Learning is an online tutoring company specializing in personalized, affordable one-on-one private tutoring for K-12 students in Mathematics, English, Science and Coding.

Funding Dollars: Pre-seed (2022) $130K round

What led you to launch this venture? When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, students in schools across the country bore the brunt of the sudden, hasty shift to online learning. Research has suggested that mathematics and English proficiency have slid back as much as 33% between 2020 and 2022, leading to a serious learning gap. At a time when students needed extra help the most, the scarcity of high-quality, personalized, affordable tutoring options led me to create Benchmark Learning.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with the venture? For me, Benchmark Learning’s greatest accomplishment is not necessarily defined by a single metric or event, but rather by the impact we have been able to deliver on so many lives across the United States. Our tutors are trained not only to be academic teachers, but also to build lasting relationships with our students and become key mentors in their lives. As a result, I regularly receive messages from parents telling me how Benchmark has transformed their child’s life in ways beyond academics. I hear about our students becoming more confident both in school and out and becoming empowered to find their interests and passions to inform their future careers. This impact is our greatest accomplishment.

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company, and how did you solve it? In the early days of Benchmark, perhaps the greatest challenge was convincing the first few parents to enroll their children in our service, especially as I was a 20-year-old undergraduate student (at the time). It was very much a “chicken and egg” situation, where we needed testimonials and referrals to convince customers to join, but we needed customers to get testimonials. I learned two very important things during this time: the importance of a clear, convincing, well-crafted marketing message and a robust recruitment process for new tutors – the combination of which ultimately landed us our first few customers.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The MBA program at WashU Olin provided a stellar community of entrepreneurs. I took a class where we would have a new founder come to talk to us each week, each one more impressive than the last. All of them had raised hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital funding or built multi-billion dollar brands, and they were very available for students to ask questions and get guidance. Just listening to their stories pushed me to dream a bigger dream for Benchmark

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? My grandfather has always been my greatest inspiration in starting my own entrepreneurial journey. A career entrepreneur himself, he started several businesses in India. He was always thinking of the newest technologies in his industry and how he could bring them to India. Growing up, I would visit India once a year for a couple of months and spend hours listening to his stories about how he had traveled all over India building his business and discussing his ideas with him. Somewhere in these discussions, I gained an interest in business and knew I wanted to be like him and do something of my own.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup, and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? A class called “The League” I took at WashU was very valuable. We had some truly extraordinary entrepreneurs come to talk to us, and just listening to their experiences and having the chance to interact with them in such a small group setting was life-changing. This class also gave us the opportunity to network with other WashU entrepreneurs on their own journeys, which was very insightful, too. The class taught me the sheer scale of the problems people were solving.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Doug Villhard, who leads entrepreneurship at WashU, has been a valued mentor and advisor throughout our journey. A successful entrepreneur himself, Doug has always given me realistic feedback on our growth aspirations and plans, sharing his own experiences and best judgment on how to move forward. He has also cultivated a great community of entrepreneurs at WashU, one that I draw insights from quite regularly.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? The St. Louis ecosystem has been quite valuable. Spaces like Cortex have allowed me to meet other entrepreneurs, while the WashU ecosystem has regularly hosted events and seminars on starting a business, raising investment and scaling, all of which have been very helpful. The Skandalaris Center has provided some excellent resources to help with web design and ideation while being an important sounding board in the fundraising process.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? I want to make Benchmark Learning the go-to company for affordable educational services beyond just tutoring. We have grown to a point where we are in constant contact with parents, schools and educators, allowing us to remain apprised of the most pressing issues in the education space. My goal is to understand the scale of these problems and solve them to deliver the most impact.


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