Written by Andrew Seale
Phil Cutler’s not too concerned with who would win a startup talent-off between Montreal and Toronto, instead, he’d rather just pluck the best of both worlds.
“The cost of talent is going to be much less in Montreal than in Toronto because of the cost of living but the opportunity and the deals and stuff like that you’ve got to go to Toronto for because there’s just more of that happening there,” says the teacher by training and co-founder of GradeSlam a Montreal-based platform offering tutoring via chat. “(We’re trying) to capitalize on the advantages of each city.”
Since Cutler launched GradeSlam in in September 2015 as a means to democratize tutoring and make it accessible for a fraction of the cost of more traditional tutoring services, he’s put in a lot of mileage travelling between Montreal and Toronto building the company.
“It’s become such a part of my routine now, it’s almost like driving to work: head to the airport, fly into Toronto city centre… every couple of weeks I’ll think, today is going to be a Toronto day,” he says, pointing out that one of GradeSlam’s biggest partners, a major textbook company, is located in Toronto. “The two cities have so much in common in the sense that they work together very well, it’s not a hostile relationship between the two, it really is collaborative.”
GradeSlam’s approach to tutoring is fairly straightforward. Students can tap into on-demand, unlimited coaching available 24/7. But since inception, GradeSlam has developed a broad suite of tools for educators and administrators within the education system which collects and analyzes data, highlighting holes in the curriculum, learning trends and individual students’ strengths and weaknesses. The platform has facilitated more than 350,000 tutoring sessions with students in over 80 countries.
Cutler says he’s confident that bringing data analysis to education has the ability to change the way we learn and teach.
“As a teacher you do your best to try and service all your students but it’s difficult,” says the education entrepreneur, speaking from experience. “You’ve got a class of 30 kids, everybody has different learning styles, it’s quite challenging.”
In August, the startup closed a $1.6 million round of funding led by Pittsburg and San Francisco-based Birchmere Ventures.The round also included BDC Capital, Anges Quebec, Real Ventures, angels Brian Karol and Robert Luxenberg, and Cutler as well.
What stands out about the funds is the geographic diversity. He says its not surprising to see funds with a footprint in both Toronto and Montreal. It’s what makes the ecosystems so strong, feeding off one another.
“There’s so much flow between the two (and if you’re a fund) in order to get a big enough piece of the pie, to make it worthwhile, you need to be exposed to both,” he says. “There’s just this cohesion between the two.”