How to outrun a bully: Build a startup for math learning

Travis Ratnam (BASc '06) co-founded Knowledgehook, which raised $20 million during the pandemic, to improve math learning

math softwareTravis Ratnam (BASc ’06) remembers the first time he felt self-conscious about his grades. In elementary school the classroom bully went through everyone’s report cards, “trying to figure out who the dumbest kid was and concluded it was me.”

Ratnam’s father stepped up to tutor his son in math, helping Ratnam gradually build his confidence until he was at the top of his class. It was a turning point: “Could this mean that I could maybe do well in other subjects as well?”

When Ratnam graduated from high school he was awarded a Governor General’s Academic Medal, one Canada’s most prestigious academic honours.

Today, as the co-founder and CEO of Knowledgehook, Ratnam is using lessons learned from that early setback to help other children. Knowledgehook is a software platform that uses artificial intelligence to help teachers uncover each student’s unique learning needs.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools online in 2020, the company partnered with the Government of Ontario to make the Knowledgehook Open Access platform available to every student and teacher in the province.

Later that year, Knowledgehook raised $20 million in funding as educators, parents and leaders searched for new ways to meet students’ needs for online math learning. The company has won a Google Game Changer Award and has been named a BNN Bloomberg Top Disruptor.

team winning award

While Ratnam maximized his own learning by asking questions and getting feedback after every class, he stresses that Knowledgehook empowers teachers by identifying where each student is struggling and offers supports to help.

Ratnam built the company with fellow engineering alumnus Lambo Jayapalan (BSE ’07), Knowledgehook’s chief technology officer. They connected on campus in 2004 after a devastating tsunami hit Southeast Asia – they’re both of Sri Lankan descent and wanted to find ways to help the recovery efforts.

The pair have been collaborating ever since. “I was the talkative ideas guy. So, it’s ‘Lambo, can you build this?’ and his reply was always, ‘I can build whatever you want.’”

Ratnam said Knowledgehook wasn’t designed to replicate what worked for him. Instead, the goal is to harness the spirit behind his own education for the benefit of each individual learner.

“It’s about empowering people and helping them find their purpose in life, and helping them be a part of our story of advancing humanity.”