Attention entrepreneurs at work on campus

From Hummingbird Drones to state-of-the-art language learning platforms

Spelld founders Yalei Zhou and Alex Yeusiukou outside of The Generator lab. (Jared MacArthur/The Omega)

Spelld founders Yalei Zhou and Alex Yeusiukou outside of The Generator lab. (Jared MacArthur/The Omega)

In the basement of the House of Learning students are quietly working away at developing innovative business ventures, with the help of the TRU Generator. Since 2014, the venture accelerating project has helped individuals bring their ideas to life and prepared them for the tough realities of the marketplace.

Robert Atwood and Richard Sullivan made headlines last year for their Hummingbird Drones project and are now working with Kamloops Innovation, furthering their business venture. In 2014 they worked with BC Wildfire Service to test the application of the drones in wildfire fighting operations.

This year, Yalei Zhou, an international student from China, and her business partner Aliaksei (Alex) Yeusiukou, a computer engineer from Poland, are working on an interactive language learning platform called Spelld that was created to make teaching Mandarin more accessible, interactive and efficient.

“Essentially what we are doing is building the biggest language school in the world,” Yeusiukou said.

“Right now we are targeting Mandarin as a start. Later we can target Japanese and Korean because the Mandarin, Japanese and Korean language [systems are] based on characters,” Zhou said.

“The problem we’re solving is [that] we have millions of people in China who are able to teach, but they cannot target foreign students because they’re not in China,” Yesiuku said. However by using Spelld teachers can create virtual classrooms with students from around the world and teach interactively in an online classroom.

Zhou said it differs from other language platforms in the way that it allows instructors to share information and deliver lessons in personalized ways.

Built into the platform is an enormous database of learning materials that teachers have access to and can use in the classroom.

“Think of it as an app store for learning materials,” Yeusiukou said, which is meant to help teachers to personalize courses for individuals depending on learning outcomes.

As a Chinese language teacher, Zhou was having difficulty preparing for the lessons because she could not personalize them in a classroom setting to reflect individual learning outcomes for students. With Spelld that is made easy and she believes it will make teaching the language more effective.

Complex Chinese language has more than 20,000 characters, and Spelld breaks each one down into individual strokes for writing and also displays the tone changes that change the meaning of a word in Mandarin.

Yeusiukou said it has taken a lot of work to get Spelld to where it is today – roughly six months of work so far.

The platform will be free for teachers to download and use, but students will have to pay a tuition fee to join the classroom. A certain percentage of the tuition fees from each class will be paid to Spelld for use of the platform.

“I would say that it’s still in the early stages and we have a long way to go, but we are pretty confident and we feel that with the Generator, we are able to do it,” Yeusiukou said.

Lincoln Smith, director of research partnerships and enterprise creation at TRU, has been involved with the Generator since it launched.

The partnership with the two organizations allows students the opportunity to continue developing their projects even after they have left TRU, Smith said.

“There is no requirement of program, no requirement of stage-of-company and we will work with alumni with our mentors there,” Smith said.

“In the last year, only four of the roughly 10 individuals who filed their ideas online through the Generator have gone on to work with mentors and develop their ideas through the program,” Smith said. One of the reasons this number is low is simply because a lot of the business ideas that are brought to the table at the Generator don’t survive after being evaluated for their viability in the market.