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edlyft founders ai tutor google
edlyft founders ai tutor google
Photo courtesy of Erika Hairston
Career > Her20s

2 WOC Founders Who Sold Their AI Tutor To Google On What It Means For Black Women In Tech

We’re less than a month into the new year, but there have already been so many milestones that Black Americans have achieved in 2024. Erika Hairston and Arnelle Ansong’s is the newest to add to the list: On Jan. 29, Google purchased their AI platform for college engineering students, Edlyft AI Tutor. “Google purchasing Edlyft’s IP and software is a huge milestone that we are incredibly proud of. What makes us so thrilled is that our tech is not only founded and built by Black women, but it will also be put to use to empower the next generation of underrepresented engineers,” Hairston says in an exclusive interview with Her Campus.

According to Hairston, Edlyft’s AI Tutor is a “web platform that students can use whenever they have a question or are confused on a concept in their applied data structures computer science (CS) class,” she says. “The way it works is: Imagine you’re Melissa, a computer science major at Howard in Google’s Tech Exchange Program. You’re studying at 3 a.m. for an upcoming exam and you still don’t understand a complex topic called recursion.” With the Edlyft AI Tutor, the bot not only responds with an answer, but it also shares a timestamp from a relevant video that covers her question, so she has a visual aid. “Melissa can log in and type into the chatbot: ‘How does recursion work? Give me real world examples,’” Hairston says.

The Edlyft AI tutor is also trained on several dozen hours of video data covering past tutoring sessions for that class. Hairston says AI Tutor “enables students to get help anytime they need it, while still maintaining that relatable human touch.”

Edlyft was created by Hairston and Ansong after they graduated from Yale and Stanford, respectively, in 2018. “Edlyft was created as a result of Erika and I paying attention to what our own needs were as students, and really letting ourselves dream and envision what impact we could have on students similar to us,” Ansong says. “My co-founder and I started this company because we want to make the tech industry more accessible,” Hairston says. “Since founding it almost four years ago, we’ve built a successful tech startup that has closed some of the biggest companies as customers, surpassed seven figures in revenue, and raised millions of venture capital … Arnelle and I represent only the beginning of what’s possible because of work like this.” 

The creation of Edlyft Tutor AI, Ansong says, was inspired by Edlyft’s partnership with Google’s Tech Exchange program, which is a virtual academic program that teaches students applied computer science. The two companies first paired up in 2022, and students part of the program benefit from mentor-led support from Edyft. Specifically, the Google Tech Exchange program focuses on students who attend HBCU and HSI institutions. Ansong says their “peer support program was highly beneficial for Tech Exchange students, but we noticed that mentor availability was a limiting factor to our helpful resource.” It was then that Hairston and Ansong recognized they had numerous hours of recorded student and mentor interactions. “Building out the AI bot seemed like the best way to make use of the data we gathered over the two years of partnership” Hairston says.

With Black women only making up 3% of the tech industry, Google buying Edlyft AI Tutor is “a huge career milestone,” Hairston says. “Not every startup founder can say that one of the largest companies in the world purchased technology from them.” The purchase was also a full-circle moment for Ansong, who used to work on the backend Maps team at Google. “To go from working as an engineer there to selling a product to Google has felt deeply inspiring,” she says. Ansong also expresses “how proud they are in their hard work, and the many students they supported throughout the years.”

Additionally, both Edlyft co-founders are excited to be supporting the increased use of AI tools for younger college students. AI tools will “help build a great intuition for prompt engineering, and other AI tools that will be invaluable and necessary for individuals entering the technology field,” Ansong says.

Hairston and Ansong also emphasize the impact this purchase can have on women of color — specifically Black women — becoming interested in entering the technology field. “When you think of startups and billion dollar exits, it’s rare that Black women or women of color come to mind. We’re thrilled to get this story out because we want to disrupt that narrative, and show that women of color are creating valuable technology,” Hairston says. “Google purchasing the Edlyft AI Tutor will hopefully inspire more women and students of color to become innovators, and build their own AI-driven solutions.” 

That’s important — especially because only 20% of computer science graduates are women, and the number of women of color is even lower. “Those numbers are abysmal, and why Edlyft is super intentional about making sure women, non-binary, and trans students of color feel seen and supported,” Hairston says. “I’m really excited for more women to enter STEM-related fields and bring what is unique to them, and put it into the work they do,” Ansong says.

For Hairston, Google purchasing their platform means showing the world what Black women can really do. “Being able to say we built a company that serves Google as a customer, who then purchased our software, is incredibly valuable,” she says. “As Black women co-founders, we are often underestimated, and these facts are indisputable in showing what we’re capable of.”

Eliana Jacobs is a National Contributing Writer for Her Campus. Born and raised in Southwest Florida, Eliana writes articles about lifestyle, Her 20s, and career-related goals/activities. Before becoming a national writer, Eliana wrote under the UCF Her Campus Chapter,where she wrote about health and wellness. Additionally, she has a passion for social justice, advocacy, and race-related news. Beyond Her Campus, Eliana also writes flash fiction and poetry for the nation’s largest student-run organization, Strike Magazine. Some of her most recent publications include Life In Plastic: It’s “Fantastic”. Eliana also was awarded multiple honorable mentions for her writing during her undergraduate career in her school’s Tutors’ Choice Flash Fiction Contest. Lastly, she recently graduated from the University of Central Florida, earning a dual degree in Sociology and Interdisciplinary Studies on a Pre-Medical Track. Ultimately, Eliana aspires to pursue an MD/MPH to specialize in Pediatric Endocrinology while intersecting her passion for public health through medical research, poetry, and journalism. In her free time, Eliana enjoys shopping, working out, and traveling. Lastly, Eliana loves exploring local cuisines and documenting restaurants she tried (Orlando and beyond) on her food Instagram.