Women in Leadership and IP: Ms. Stuti Agarwal of Ontum Education

In our latest interview with a prominent female entrepreneur, Ontum Education co-founder Stuti Agarwal discusses the role of technology in education, the impact of AI and how to encourage more women engineers.

What is your role at Ontum? 

I am a co-founder and COO at Ontum Education. I’m involved in every aspect of the company since we’re a small team, but I’m primarily responsible for day-to-day ops, data and overall product strategy. My co-founders, Arjun Agarwal and Jyothi Thyagarjan, and I started this company three years ago with the aim to provide quality education to the bottom of the pyramid private schools and government schools, in India and abroad.

We achieve it by working with great partners who are equally interested in creating impact as well as going directly into schools ourselves.

What role does technology play in your work? How is it developed and rolled out?

Technology plays a critical role in our work. We have an excellent tech team, led by our CTO, Nissim D’Silva, that focuses on developing appropriate tech that is easy for users to dive into, instead of over engineering.

For us, technology is definitely going to continue to play a pivotal role, not only because the industry needs it, but also because we love working on innovative solutions to best serve our users.

Who owns the intellectual property in the technology – Ontum or third parties, and what agreements do you have regarding use and implementation?

Ontum owns all its technology, though we do use open-sourced components and software wherever applicable. Again, our aim is to serve users in the most efficient way possible, and sometimes that means not reinventing a perfectly good wheel. 

We try to keep our technology as safe as possible from piracy by not allowing people to look under the hood and maintaining everything ourselves. But at the end of the day, everything is evolving rapidly, and we believe that the best way to keep at the cutting edge is to keep innovating. No technology can be completely isolated. 

For example, we’re seeing a massive disruption in terms of educational content creation and the versatility of offerings due to AI technology and the models built on it. 

The way forward for us now is to learn how to leverage the platform AI provides and build tools on top instead of going about things the way we always have.

Ontum is a very distinctive name and brand – where did it come from?

Ontum was a brand name we came up with, derived from the word Ontology, which means the study of existence, which we interpret as a love of learning. And Ontum, coined by us, is a data unit of that. We have applied for a trademark for the same and we also copyright all our documentation with our brand.

Women have an important role to play in education but how can more women be encouraged to take on leadership roles?

I’m not sure women have more of an important role to play in education today than any other field. Women have always been here and will continue to play greater roles across all industries. 

There are definitely a large percentage of women in education, versus other fields though. Our own team is 80% women. From a personal viewpoint at Ontum, all of our content and design teams are women, and they bring an invaluable depth of experience when talking about what kind of content to deliver to kids as well as the everyday problems users face, that we can help fix. 

On the other side, most of our tech team is male. I myself have a background in data science and a keen interest in technology. But the actual nuts and bolts coding is all male. We need to acknowledge that there are inherent divisions at all levels before we can go about fixing them.

We would love to encourage and mentor more women engineers. Working directly with schools to remove some of the inherent biases right at that level is something we are deeply interested in. 

To really succeed and lead in EdTech, I feel women have to embrace technology and leverage it to bring in their own unique perspectives and experiences to any role. Instead of trying to fit a traditional CTO or CEO mold, really sit back and think about how you can do it better.