For most Syracuse University students, an honors thesis is a means of testing what they learned throughout their undergraduate experience through research on a pressing topic, effectively a culmination of their academic experience in their home college and the Renée Crown University Honors Program. Yet for David Williams ’22, a Policy Studies major in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and an Information Management and Technology minor in the School of Information Studies, the honors thesis has been far more than merely an academic exercise. It has been a driving source of entrepreneurial spirit and inspiration, and ultimately the spark he needed to launch e-Kits, his startup venture.
Williams has always had a passion for technology in the education space. While finishing his freshman year at Syracuse University, he came across a question to which he couldn’t find a satisfying answer: why weren’t student opinions being considered in the development of technologies that were being built to serve their wants and needs?
“There are two approaches to developing education technologies,” said Williams. “One is where vendors go to principals to get information on student issues and needs. Another is going to teachers and asking them the same thing to understand the problems in the classroom. But there aren’t really any approaches that go directly to students to receive feedback. So, we don’t really know if we’re solving true student needs.”
Williams immediately began to consider ways he could leverage his interest in education and inclination for technology to develop a solution to this pervasive issue. However, with his busy class schedule and commitments to numerous campus organizations, he lacked the time required to build out a viable solution. So, when it came time to start building out a plan for his honors thesis in the spring of 2021, Williams knew the precise direction he wanted to take it.
Williams commenced his thesis preparation by researching the ins and outs of the education technology space, conducting literature reviews and perusing academic journals for viable ways to improve the development and implementation of these technologies. As he continued his research, he also began to build out his own education technology applications, working with students from his former high school in Bucks County, PA to guide product vision and functionality.
“I started to realize I could go beyond my thesis and broaden this to something more creative,” Williams explained. “That’s when I decided that I really wanted to try to actually initiate this idea and actually put pen to paper.”
Soon after, e-Kits was born, producing codeless education technologies centered around finding the most effective online learning methods for high school students by gathering their inputs.
“My goal with e-Kits is really to build this approach of going to students directly to get ideas and get feedback on different things that e-Kits is building,” said Williams. “We want all of our products and technologies to solve student needs.”
At the urging of his academic advisor, Williams became involved with the Blackstone LaunchPad at Bird Library in the fall of 2021 with hopes of scaling his applications and involving a higher number of students from a variety of high schools in his development process. He competed in the fall’s Impact Prize and is presently enrolled in the iLaunchPad class, a course dedicated to business incubation and pairing student founders with experienced mentors and coaches.
“In (the iLaunchPad course), I’ve had the opportunity to actually figure out what a full long-term plan for e-Kits could look like,” said Williams.
Though being a first-time founder has had its fair share of challenges and steep learning curves, Williams has found his experience as an entrepreneur to be enriching and rewarding. He relishes the chance to focus much of his energy into something that interests and excites him and feels as though being a founder offers a form of education that is impossible to capture in a classroom setting.
Williams continues to find daily motivation by the lasting influence he feels like e-Kits can make on the education technology space.
“My main motivation is the impact,” Williams explained. “Working with the different technologies that we already have available to us, it’s not always the best experience. The long-term impact of creating an industry that is more student-centric is really what I’m going for.”
After graduating from Syracuse University in May, Williams plans to accept a full-time offer from IBM to work as a tech consultant. However, Williams doesn’t plan on letting this newfound role interfere with his long-term vision for e-Kits.
“I really want to take time to dedicate towards e-Kits,” said Williams. “I have plans to continue working on it and dedicating my free time.”
Story by Blackstone LaunchPad Global Fellow Matt Keenan ’22; photo supplied