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Self-Described School False Starter Aims to Pay It Forward in EdTech

Global Student Entrepreneur Awards

UC San Diego engineering graduate student Monal Parmar presents his startup, Educational Vision Technologies, at the Entrepreneur Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards competition in San Diego, Nov. 14. Photo by Danica M. Sirmans/UC San Diego Research Affairs

According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 50 percent of undergraduate students who first declare a major in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or STEM-related program, change their major or dropout before graduation.

Monal Parmar is a first-generation graduate currently enrolled in UC San Diego’s graduate engineering program. Parmar has a vision for decreasing STEM attrition using artificial intelligence. He created a device to make his vision a reality and his efforts were rewarded when he was invited recently to compete in the Entrepreneurs' Organization's (EO) Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) competition, held on Nov. 14.

Student-led startups across the San Diego region were invited to participate in the local competition for consideration in the regional competition, a $2,000 cash prize, and access to San Diego’s EO network resources. Parmar was selected out of more than 30 applicants to compete and, though he did not win this year’s competition, the opportunity was not lost on him.

“We were required to submit our executive summaries, a five-minute pitch video, a slide deck and other supplemental materials for a panel of judges and successful entrepreneurs to review,” said Parmar. “Their critiques are priceless and the feedback is invaluable in helping us optimize our business and how to best present our technology.”

Similar to many engineering graduates, Parmar is no stranger to the tenacity required to succeed, but his admiration for education was not always so apparent, as he would detail in his GSEA opening pitch.

“When it came to school, I was a false starter growing up,” said Parmar. “I didn’t do well starting out. I had issues at school and I didn’t always see the value in education. It wasn’t until I went to community college that I started to change my outlook thanks to some mentors along the way who set me on the right path.”

Parmar attended community college with no intent on pursuing an engineering degree. It was not until he enrolled in an Algebra class at the age of 19 that he set his eyes on transferring to UC San Diego to begin his entrepreneurial journey.

Monal Parmar

Monal Parmar explains how his EdTech company, Educational Vision Technologies, boosts performance for students in STEM, veterans returning to the classroom and students with disabilities. Photo by Danica M. Sirmans/UC San Diego Research Affairs

“I chose to go to UC San Diego because of the support they have for student entrepreneurial endeavors,” he said. “I wasn’t let down. There’s amazing support through incubator and accelerator programs, business courses, seminar series and the Office of Innovation and Commercialization. It took a lot of support for me to get here and once I enrolled, that support continued.”

Parmar was able to enroll in an accelerated and rigorous science-heavy track to transfer from community college to UC San Diego to pursue his bachelor’s of science degree in electrical and computer engineering. He graduated, including the time he took to complete his community college coursework, in just under five years. His accomplishment inspired the technology he would find himself pitching to a room full of San Diegan entrepreneurial leaders, whose companies net more than $1 million in revenue annually, for their support and investment in his company.

He launched Educational Vision Technologies in his final year of undergraduate studies and gained acceptance to an incubator for startups. Called The Basement, the Alumni-founded incubator provides innovation space, mentorship and resources to undergraduate students in support of UC San Diego's innovation and entrepreneurial focus. Through his acceptance, Parmar was able to tap into the network that would lead him to the EO competition.

Educational Vision Technologies uses computer vision and deep learning algorithms to automatically generate interactive lecture notes from traditional lectures. The technology was created to assist STEM students in learning optimally while in the class, and reviewing their notes catalogued, tagged, and transcribed for accessibility and enhanced recall. Parmar’s technology has garnered improvement in performance for veterans returning to the classroom and for students with disabilities.

Universities are seeing the value of Parmar’s technology. UC San Diego approved his pilot program proposal, with San Diego State University following suit not long after.

“We were featured in a conference a couple of days ago where we pitched to three more universities,” said Parmar. “We’re hopeful they’ll take us on. We’ve been invited to present to one of the university’s administration before the holiday season ends.”

Phase one of piloting at UC San Diego has begun, but the pilot program will fully rollout in the spring quarter.  

“There’s not much innovation going on in education and we want to turn that around,” said Parmar. “We’re creating solutions to help students at every level so we hope to help students across all disciplines.”

Parmar says his educational technology is the solution to first-generational graduate challenges, STEM attrition rates, reintegration of professionals into the classroom, and learning challenges related to students with disabilities. He credits his motivation to his peers, mentors, and having experienced some of the challenges that his technology was created to alleviate.

“UC San Diego played and continues to plan an integral role in assisting me in developing my company,” said Parmar. “Programs like the Institute for the Global Entrepreneur and the Entrepreneur Challenge have all played a key role. If you’re a student entrepreneur, UC San Diego has an amazing support system. My company continues to evolve and grow because of the resources made available to me here.”

Mentors and advisors in UC San Diego entrepreneur-support programs and in regional organizations like the Entrepreneurs Organization pay it forward to upcoming innovators in technology and business. Parmar has made it his business and mission to do the same in education.