When Dieumerci Christel’s family moved to the U.S. from a refugee camp in Tanzania, he had high hopes for his schooling experience.
Craving knowledge and an experience that aligned with his creative passions, he was disappointed with what he found in the American education system. So he’s aiming to change it with his company Enlight.
The story behind Enlight
As a kid, Christel described himself as passionate about knowledge. “I loved learning about things, taking apart stuff I wasn’t supposed to,” he said of this crazy curious mindset.
Business was one of the things he was really passionate about — so much so that he and his friends would build scooters out of trees and sell them for money to go to the movies.
“I had this hustle where I loved building and solving problems, [but] didn’t have the opportunity to do more of it,” Christel said.
So when his family moved to the U.S. in 2010, he was excited for all of the opportunities and passion in school that he had heard about, but that’s not what he found. “The picture I had in my head and the picture I found in America were two totally different things,” he said.
He started talking with other students about how he felt he was “more than his grades” and wanted to learn about things he actually cared about — and found others felt the same. “I wasn’t the only one feeling bored,” Christel said.
So he started Enlight — a platform that helps teachers leverage their students’ interests, aspirations, and natural curiosities to create engaging learning experiences.
How it works
Students told Christel about their hidden talents that no one knew about, sometimes not even the parents. “I feel like a lot of kids have these hidden talents that go unseen in schools,” he said.
Imagine if teachers knew their students were artists, or knew how to code websites, while still in highschool — now, think about how a community could help you use that talent, instead of squashing it with traditional curriculum. That’s what Enlight helps with.
Officially launched in 2018, Christel first did alpha testing with a group of teachers that spread the word in a Facebook group. Quickly, teachers were paying out of pocket for the tool. “[They were saying], this is something that’s actually valuable to people,” he said.
Now, after going through three accelerator programs simultaneously, graduating from North Dakota State University, and raising $300K in the first round, Christel is moving Enlight to Austin, Texas.
Learning that charter schools are their target market and wanting to be closer to where educational standards are set are just a few reasons for the move.
“A lot of our schools that we’re working with are in Texas,” he said. “We want to be close to our partners and schools, get that feedback in person and get the ball rolling.”
The BETA Experience & What’s Next
Christel is a Fall 2020 BETA Cohort alum, which means his time with BETA was completely virtual.
“It was a very interesting environment, but it made this space of bonding with people who you’ve never met in your life,” he said. “COVID actually made the bonding even stronger during the program.”
Helping each other beyond the Cohort is highly encouraged, and Christel mentioned being in touch with lots of fellow founders from BETA.
Another takeaway he mentioned was the connections he made during the program. “I got to meet these amazing people and get intros to people I didn’t think I’d be meeting for another 10 years,” he said.
During development, the discounts and perks Enlight was able to take advantage of during the BETA Cohort was also super helpful, Christel said.
“Allowing us to learn, being compassionate and empathetic enough to allow us to be ourselves… with BETA, I could just be me,” he said.
Along with the move to Texas, Christel is looking to make his single-man team a five-person company by the end of the year.
“BETA helped us get to that next level,” he said.
Enlight helps teachers leverage their students’ interests, aspirations, and natural curiosities to create engaging learning experiences. Learn more here!
BETA is a 501(c)(3) organization that develops Minnesota’s next generation of business leaders by inspiring and educating first-time founders. The BETA Group nurtures startups and small businesses with great scalability potential, so that they can grow to become our next Fortune 100s. Learn more here.