Photo credit: neo Lernhilfen

published 25 Jun 2015 by Bernhard Katzinger in Austria 5 minutes 3 seconds to read

Perfect Practice makes perfect

Austrian startup neo Lernhilfen offers a solution to pupils of secondary schools to practice their mathematics in a way that helps them not just memorize, but also understand their work. Founders Edgar and Andreas Neuherz got their solution online just in time for this years mathematics-"Matura".

AplusB SPG

If you are a parent of a secondary school student in Austria struggling with their math skills or even preparing for their newly introduced "Zentralmatura", a centralised A level exam needed for graduating high school, then you are currently walking a mile in Andreas Neuherz' shoes. Neuherz, back then a network specialist with an international corporation, looked online for practicing examples for his kids who had a hard time with some arithmetics. 

Without much success. "There were actually plenty of exercises to be found. But none of them showed the details of the solution. That made it useless for me as a parent," says the former tech student who, after all, felt he had neither need nor time to practice his own math skills.

A bit frustrated, he talked to his cousin Edgar who was then a teacher, adult education trainer and an expert in the field of auto generated documents. He had already used auto generated practice examples to help his pupils. They decided to do something about the lack of intelligent practicing materials for mathematics students at secondary schools. After a couple of years of preparation, neo Lernhilfen was launched and established as a company in the summer of 2014.

Understanding vs. memorizing

There were plenty of exercises to be found. But non of them showed the details of solution. That made it useles for me as a parent.

Andreas Neuherz

neo Lernhilfen auto generates mathematical exercise examples for secondary school students. The effect is that every practice session presents a new problem to the learner, thereby the pupil will not succeed by simply memorizing the solution. "As a service to the tutor or parent, neo Lernhilfen also shows the whole solution path," says Andreas Neuherz, thereby providing exactly what he was looking for a couple of years past. Can neo Lernhilfen take the place of a private tutor? The Neuherz cousins say it is not designed to do that, but to be a tool for supporting teachers and tutors, parents and of course pupils.

neo Lernhilfen works on a variety of platforms and devices, your laptop or PC as well as tablets and smartphones. Even e-readers like Amazon's kindle are supported. Is it a tool for the school of tomorrow? "In schools today, some teachers adopt modern technology very willingly, and encourage students to use that technology. Others are less flexible," says Edgar Neuherz.

Investment in the future

Whereas most of their project was financed out of their own pockets, the Neuherz cousins went to look for incubator help in 2014. They needed not look far and landed at Science Park Graz, the technical universities founders' center for startups in the field of academia. It is part of the Austrian incubator network AplusB, which stands for "academia plus business".

"We presented our product to the experts at Science Park Graz last year and got admitted at the beginning of 2015," remembers Edgar. "They helped not only financially, but also with with cooperations, getting in touch with potential partners and by giving business advice."

Delayed start

"Due to problems with the setting up of our website, we started one year late, actually," says Edgar when asked about the initial phase. "We had to change our tech partner who did the programming. Now we have just reached the most important milestone. We have finished the prototype, we have put it out there, and it is working very well. From now on, we are looking for partners and cooperations to market the product. But it is safe to say it will take us up to two years to reach the point of break-even."

Huge potential

It is safe to say it will take us up to two years to reach the point of break-even.

Edgar Neuherz

Both founders agree there is a valid potential for their service. They are certain that the neo Lernhilfen method can not only be expanded to other fields of learning, e.g. technical mathematics, or mechanics, but also to other languages. It could also be a valuable asset in adult education or professional training.

Even focussing on the new math-Zentralmatura alone looks promising. This year, 20.000 students took the Zentralmatura and in Austria, 30% of secondary school pupils get private tutoring in addition to school education. Mathematics is the single one subject with the most need for private tutoring. The efficiency of these learning hours can be greatly enhanced by neo Lernhilfen. 

Feedback by early adopters is very encouraging, and generating a solid customer base in Austria is the target for the next two years. "Looking at the numbers for the first two months since we have gone online, it all looks good," says Andreas. Depending on the development of these numbers, neo Lernhilfen will grow during the next few years.

Feels good to be self-employed

Whereas the development of their service has taken a lot of effort and financial risk, both cousins agree that the step towards founding a company of their own was exactly the right decision for them. "I like the independence. And I certainly don't miss the flying," says Andreas who spent so much time in the air as a manager, he was even admitted to Lufthansa's HON-circle (a frequent flyer programme that requires 600.000 miles in two years).

Not surprisingly, they both highly recommend self employment - but would warn anyone to keep a couple of important points in mind. "As entrepreneur, you have to react quickly to changing circumstances," says Edgar. "Don't be afraid to make the wrong decision, but avoid waiting too long before you decide."

Andreas agrees, and adds: "My personal advice to other startup founders is: Think back to how you learned to walk. You fell down a lot in the beginning, but you always got back up. Everyone makes mistakes – but as an entrepreneur, you have to learn to get back on your feet."

This story is brought to you in partnership with AplusB, a programme funded by FFG.

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