When Audrey Nakad, the co-founder of Synkers was still enrolled in university in Montreal, she worked as a private tutor and teaching assistant. However, she soon realized that learners were facing difficulties in finding qualified private tutors. As she delved deeper, she realized that the issue extended far beyond Canada, and was a true struggle for students and tutors around the world.
Armed with the goal of providing access to all parents and learners to qualified tutors and mentors on the spot, Audrey quit her job and came back to the Middle East. Her entrepreneurial flair led her to create a seamless solution – Synkers.
Today, Synkers has over thirty thousand learners on its platform and has created thousands of job opportunities for university students all across Lebanon and the UAE.
The BDD team sat with Audrey to understand how she seized the opportunity and grew a successful business in less than 2 years, despite the mounting challenges.
BDD: What were the main challenges you faced when setting up the business?
AN: The biggest challenge is testing the product in “such a small fragmented market that is not fully ready for advanced technologies.” Most Lebanese consumers prefer to stick to the old way of doing things. Moreover, it is very tough to find talent in the new domains such as AI, VR, Machine learning etc. Technology is evolving so fast that universities are not being able to produce talent for the new domains. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs do not have the luxury to wait hence they end up hiring someone from abroad or try to hire fresh grads willing to learn by their own.
BDD: Do challenges still exist?
AN: Our current and potential customers are skeptical when it comes to online tutoring solutions, and, more importantly, they are reluctant to pay online. The credit card penetration rate in the region is still very low compared to cash transactions. In addition, parents are not used to finding tutors online, as they still don’t fully trust e-services and have doubts about the quality of these services.
BDD: Which main institutions are supporting your growth? What do they offer?
AN: The main institutions supporting us are Phoenician Fund (VC) and Speed (accelerator) who believed in us since day 1. They have not only invested in our business but also have advised us on making the right decisions during tough periods.
The top universities in our region, such as the American University of Beirut, the American University of Sharjah, the American University in Dubai, University of Sharjah and the American University in Cairo, are supporting the growth of Synkers by endorsing our platform and working closely with us. They believe in our mission and together we are working on building a better education system that is more personalized and more accessible.
We are also grateful to have the support of the Ministry of Education in Dubai through KHDA who invited us to implement our solution and expand in the UAE.
BDD: You decided to set up Synkers in BDD. Any reason why?
AN: BDD is known for its healthy work environment. Companies and employees benefit from the exposure around them in the district and get to meet top tech companies from around the world. The main benefits are the facilities, workshops, networks, and events that are taking place at BDD. We can easily access the network of mentors and VCs through their platform, as well as events and workshops.
The highlight for us was when BDD hosted the biggest tech competition: Startup battlefield competition by Techcrunch. This event gave Synkers a huge international exposure.
It is important to be surrounded by a modern/tech work environment and people who are determined to do whatever it takes to learn and evolve in their careers.
BDD: The Lebanese are known for their innate entrepreneurial spirit. Why do you think that is?
AN: Indeed, it is much easier for a Lebanese person to start a business since our economy is based on SME businesses and the Lebanese people have the right skills to start their own venture. However, in my opinion this is no longer enough nowadays. To attract funds and to create a scalable business that would add value, you need technology. Our part of the world is years behind Silicon Valley in technology and most importantly infrastructure. Hence, an entrepreneur today needs to have the right tools, resources and infrastructure to be able to succeed.
BDD: Congratulations on being part of the Forbes list for successful entrepreneurs under 30. What differentiates you from other companies on the market?
AN: Synkers has grown rapidly in less than two years, and that makes us stand out in the startup ecosystem. In less than 2 years, we were able to on-board more than thirty thousand learners and create thousands of job opportunities for university students all across Lebanon and the UAE. We are completing our mission and to date, we have enhanced the academic performance of students by approximately 20%.
To me this is a great achievement that no other educational company has done. The awards that we won and the strategic partners that we have collaborated with such as AUB, AUC, AUD, AUS, UoS and our strong affiliation with KHDA & the MOE are great successes. I am determined to keep moving forward and to build the most effective educational platform that will allow everyone to benefit from it. I am sure that other entrepreneurs on Forbes have attained great things and together we can make a difference in our region.