If knowledge is power, then Chicago-based startup Packback is rocket fuel for college students blasting off into the future (excuse the cheesy analogy, but it’s apropos in this case.)

In the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast, hosted by Jim Brisimitzis from the Microsoft for Startups team, we profile the dynamic startup changing the way college students and their professors share information and knowledge to help empower fearless, relentless curiosity.

“Instead of just focusing on memorizing facts, Packback Questions is the place where you can ask the big, sometimes unanswerable, questions that you’re truly curious about,” says Jessica Tenuta, co-founder and chief product officer, in a wide-ranging conversation with technical evangelist Martin Schray and producer/correspondent Josh Kerns.

Tenuta offers keen insights into the company developed by a group of college students, now reaching tens of thousands of students nationwide.  Packback builds artificial intelligence to quantify and improve difficult-to-measure student success metrics at scale — such as student critical thinking, soft skills and curiosity — by analyzing a student’s written questions and essay answers. Their product Packback Questions is a “smart” online discussion platform powered by their AI, where students engage in rigorous academic discourse as a core part of their instructor’s curriculum and coursework.

Tenuta details how the company’s commitment to its core values drive all of their decisions, from product development to hiring – often passing on top tech talent if they don’t seem like a good fit for the culture.  She also provides key lessons for other founders on recognizing when to pivot, how to work best with multiple co-founders (in their case, four), and she reveals the company’s true secret to success: Pepper the Packback pup.

Despite barely being old enough to rent a car, Tenuta and her team are bringing a major change to ed tech, and their experience and enthusiasm or extremely valuable to anyone looking to learn from truly pioneering founders.

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