Interview with Mehdi Cherif Zahar and Steve Hinske, Founders of Machine Learning Startup Smartest

Startest is an EdTech startup, founded in 2019 in Zurich. We developed an App that automatically generates interactive exercises using advanced machine learning. You can take a picture of a school document such as a text book and instantly get a quiz, which you can then share with a class or other students. We make it possible to prepare yourself from existing learning material, so you can focus precisely on what you need to know.


How did you come up with the idea for the company?

We had just finished our MBA at the IE Business school, and wanted to create our own company in the Education sector. After brainstorming and talking to teachers, students and parents, we found out that preparing for exams was a big topic, and often a source of anxiety. Many students were struggling with test preparation. A lot of them were still using paper cards, or hiding the contents of a book page to try memorizing it.

We thought it would be great if they could use their smartphones to turn their school books into interactive exercises. We tested the high level concept with a couple of hundred potential users who loved the idea, so we decided to go ahead and make it happen.

What advice would you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

First, choose a topic you’re truly passionate about. There will be many ups and downs and you need this strong motivation and goal to get through tougher times.

Second, be clear about the customer problem you’re solving. It is okay to discover or finetune the problem over time but you must precisely know what value your product or service is adding, and for who.

Third, be bold and ready to make decisions. Life and especially entrepreneurial life is uncertain by definition and requires making decisions every day. In most cases there are no rights or wrongs; it’s just important to choose and then align all resources behind the decision.

What can we hope to see from Smartest Learning in the future?

We just launched the first version of Smartest which allows you to scan diagrams, vocabulary lists and text documents, and automatically receiving multiple-choice quizzes. We will soon add more types of documents (e.g., math formulas), a voice mode (e.g., to learn vocabulary through hearing and speaking), and more quiz options.

Our long-term vision is to build an AI-powered digital learning assistant that helps learn any content, tailored to your personal style and needs.