Leon Young has a long history of building complex EdTech solutions for government and corporate. He founded Cogniss three years ago based on a concept – an accessible platform to ‘build-your-own’ EdTech products, learning based games and apps at a very low cost.
Leon says there was tension initially between working on this new concept and his existing, well established work; creating EdTech products for other people. While the custom digital learning solutions built by his company 2and2 won numerous awards for their groundbreaking nature, they were often costly to develop and maintain, as is still typical in the industry. He knew there was an opportunity to systemise and productise what they we were doing, that allowed people to create better learning solutions themselves at a lower cost.
At the same time Leon was working with academics at Tong Ji University in China and discovered a particular consumer niche in that market. He found himself conflicted between his vision for Cogniss and the potentially lucrative opportunity to develop a consumer level EdTech product for the early childhood market in China.
Presenting both cases to the external board, Leon recalls ‘it was unanimously agreed that it would be more adventurous to do the high-risk, high-return strategy and try to crack the Chinese market’.
‘After two years and spending lots of money, we realised the market was too alien to us and moving too quickly’ says Leon. ‘But at that point, we had tested our technology enough to know we had a really great nascent platform, and so we very quickly pivoted into being the platform business that we originally envisaged.’
Fortunately, Leon’s team came across a couple of opportunities in Australia that would help them to fund their direction change; importantly, they were able to use the IP they had already invested in the finished Chinese product ─ an early childhood education social network that incorporated games and AI─ to deliver a STEM learning product for an Australian customer that surprisingly required only minor adaptation for the Australian and American markets.
The Cogniss platform started life as something dedicated to early childhood learning; for learning language, numeracy and science etc. Within the first year, Leon recognised that all of the same components and principles that resulted in effective early learning could also be applied to slowing down cognitive ageing, for treating gambling addiction, and for a really wide range of purposes.
It became clear that there was a common thread running through what Leon calls Human Transformation Technology (HTT) – technology that lets us live healthier, happier and more productive lives.
Leon says the long heritage working in these areas, and understanding the underlying neuroscience and psychology made it easier to jump on opportunities, as he could see how the platform could be applied in different ways for different outcomes. ‘We apply an overarching lens of neuropsychology to everything that we do. We think about how the brain works, about neuroplasticity, how learning occurs, what drives motivation, what drives long term understanding and what drives sustained behaviour change,’ Leon says. ‘In contrast to other digital learning products, we are thinking scientifically about how you actually get someone to apply a skill or change a behaviour. Building effective human transformation technology apps and interventions is about integrating what we know about brain-behaviour relationships into the design process.’
Cogniss benefits from the expertise and intellectual weight of an advisory board made up of seven leading professors specialising in neuropharmacology, human behaviour, neuroscience and game design. This expertise is invaluable for testing and validating ideas and concepts that then make their way into the platform.
It’s evident that Cogniss is more than an education technology as its application extends to medicine and behavioural change. Leon says this is an advantage: ‘We’ve found a niche that other players aren’t aware of yet’. However, he also recognises they will need to educate the market in order to grow and scale. ‘We struggle with the messaging. How do we explain that the techniques and technology we use for treating addiction are, at their core, the same techniques and technology for teaching early childhood learning? It seems very bizarre to other people, but a perfectly natural and effective approach from a technological perspective.’
The vision is a product that for 80 to 90% of end users would require no engagement with a developer ─ a platform with simple ‘point & click’ functionality to make great apps. Although originally designed for K12 and more traditional education, the platform tools allow Cogniss to reach health and behaviour change markets with wider ranging solutions.
Cogniss are currently raising awareness of their brand and the tools they offer by speaking at international conferences on health technology and education technology. They continue to build on their academic and scientific networks, the main channels through which they have gained initial market traction. Cogniss are also exploring small niches to grow the market; in particular, verticals where they can encourage lots of people to create apps really quickly. Potential app creators include personal trainers or physios who might want to make a quick app with best practices to better serve their customers.
‘We believe we have to seed the market. We’re looking to tight vertical niches and then hopefully growing out in-between those,’ says Leon.
Cogniss approaches the market via three verticals: health, behaviour change and education.
Leon Young is the founder and CEO of Cogniss. He has a deep interest in the intersection of psychology and neuroscience and has dedicated himself to the practical application of these fields to inform the design of technology-based solutions that aim to improve quality of life. Learn more…