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College Dropout & EdTech Founder: Prah and Mimir

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by Jake Gutwein, Columbia

In his final days at Purdue University, Prahasith Veluvolu, who usually goes by ‘Prah,’ was far from entirely focused on his computer science exams. What little free time he had available was spent building Mimir, an EdTech startup with the goal of modernizing computer science education and that has become best known for its automated code grading abilities. The SaaS company is focused on replacing TAs’ monotonous work in computer science courses, and attracting additional enterprise sales through the application of its technology to recruiting. The startup’s team has participated in Y Combinator and received venture funding, but one more notable characteristic of the business is that the founder never received a college degree.

The Spark

As one student out of hundreds in the classes at Purdue University, Prah directly felt the pain of poorly-run computer science courses. After turning in assignments, Prah and his classmates would wait weeks before receiving feedback and corrections, which often led them to make the same mistakes on exams as they would on the homework — a pain felt by students nationwide.

“When we received the assignment back a few weeks later, it was just a number, nothing else,” Prah said, and further noted that, “Mimir really started because of personal problems.”

Mimir is not Prah’s first business — he previously started In0v8, a “web and app design and development company” with Jacobi Petrucciani and Colton Voege, both of whom are co-founders with Prah at Mimir. Running this company helped the two develop skills applicable outside of the classroom and prepared the team for what was yet to come at Mimir.

Big Decision

How does Prah describe the decision to drop out of Purdue?

“It was tough,” Prah began. “What kept me in college longer was the social aspect.”

With the set of classes that he was taking, Prah found that he wasn’t learning that much in comparison to the boundless development enabled by Mimir. Despite the exponential success of his startup thus far, Prah still questions whether he made the right decision. He noted, “Bill Gates’ regret is not finishing college, and he’s super successful in light terms.” If Mimir fails, Prah could be unable to find a job and rejected based on his lack of a degree.

Yet Prah sees the situation differently.

“Being in the startup world — there’s just another network there,” Prah explains. “If Mimir closed down tomorrow we could probably get everybody a job within two or three weeks.”

The continued investment of Prah’s effort into Mimir made him more comfortable with the decision, and he noted that the risk dissipated as he spent more and more time at Mimir. Part of this was the network of the startup ecosystem, but what was more profound was the growth of Mimir itself.

“I was cold-calling professors between classes.” 

In the Spring of 2015 Mimir completed Y Combinator’s accelerator program, later receiving $750K in funding from investors such as Chicago Ventures, M25 Group, and Meridian Street Capital. Prah emphasized that raising money was more difficult given his decision to leave a degree behind and noted that “[my lack of a degree] was a hurdle to most people we approached.” Through the backing of some of the strongest Midwest investors, Mimir was provided both with capital that enabled growth and a valuable network of advisors and mentors.

 

What’s Next?

Mimir looks to be focusing on scale in the coming months, which requires a heavy emphasis on sales.

“The biggest thing for us is just being human,” Prah noted, as selling to college professors is a different challenge than the average consumer or business targeted by a SaaS startup.

What differentiates Mimir is their commitment to personal sales and approaching each potential client with thoughtful, researched sales material.

Prah and his team have gone through Y-Combinator. They’ve navigated the Midwestern VC market and raised a seed round. Their software is in use at some of the top schools in the nation. Despite this, Prah has managed to stay humble and trust his team’s unending hard work, noting, in conclusion, that “I don’t consider myself that smart, and if I took an IQ test I’d be directly average.”