Google acquires Black women-owned educational tool Edlyft AI Tutor

BY Preta Peace Namasaba January 31, 2024 8:46 AM EDT
Erika Hairston and Arnelle Ansong. Photo credit: Y Combinator

Google has acquired Edlyft AI Tutor, an innovative artificial intelligence education platform founded by Erika Hairston and Arnelle Ansong. The duo created the technology as a means of making computer science education more accessible to aspiring engineers coming from underserved backgrounds. The acquisition denotes the steps Google is taking towards diversifying the tech industry and making it more inclusive.

“My co-founder and I started this company because we want to make the tech industry more accessible. Since founding it almost four years ago, we’ve built a successful tech startup that has closed some of the biggest companies as customers, surpassed seven figures in revenue, and raised millions of venture capital. Arnelle and I represent only the beginning of what’s possible because of work like this,” Hairston said.

Edlyft’s AI Tutor was launched after a successful partnership with Google Tech Exchange in 2020. The academic program teaches applied data structures to students at some HBCUs and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). The startup accumulated valuable video data from tutoring sessions from over two years of collaboration and incorporated it into the AI Tutor platform.

The AI program provides answers and video snippets when students type their questions into a chat box. The tool enables students to simultaneously obtain on-demand knowledge with the relatability of human guidance. Hairston adds that the tool will also provide mentorship through an AI interface that emulates empathetic peer interaction. Users can learn the necessary skills to prepare them for high growth careers alongside supportive peers and mentors.

In addition to helping students academically, the founders of Edlyft envision it increasing the number of Black people pursuing AI-focused roles. The tool is an example of how AI makes learning easier and is expected to ignite Black students’ interest in technology. It can be integrated into the daily learning routines of students, enhancing their understanding and use of AI and inspiring them to innovate and create AI solutions.

For Hairston and Ansong, Google purchasing their platform is a dream come true. The duo hopes that The Edlyft AI Tutor will support a large number of up-and-coming engineers as the tech giant scales its programs. They want students to feel represented when they watch videos of peer tutors who look like them and share their lived experience explaining complex concepts.

“From our perspective, in Google’s hands, the Edlyft AI Tutor will support a growing number of talented future engineers as Google scales its programs. Our hope is that every student feels seen when they watch videos of peer tutors who look like them and who’ve been in their shoes explaining complex concepts and answering their questions,” Hairston explains why they sold Edlyft to Google.

Hairston and Ansong graduated from Yale and Stanford, respectively. Hairston went on to become an engineer at Facebook and a product manager at LinkedIn while Ansong worked as a consultant in the Bay Area

The high school classmates joined forces in 2018 and designed Zimela to help underrepresented groups discover role models and mentors. Feedback from users spurred the duo to create their second startup Edlyft to guide college students through computer science classes.