London’s calling for U of T startup that’s changing the way students write essays

EssayJack - LedohowskiThe ominous black line blinks steadily against a white backdrop. The words aren’t flowing and the clock keeps ticking towards the due date.

We’ve all been there. Writer’s block affects everyone at some point in their lives. Now thanks to EssayJack, a start up founded by University of Toronto alumni, there’s a web-based platform that pre-structures essays, allowing the writing to be done quickly and painlessly.

“Using split-screen composing and text boxes with interactive tips and prompts, students can develop their essay drafts in real time,” said Lindy Ledohowski, co-founder and CEO of EssayJack. “This reduces the student’s writing stress and anxiety and helps to boost their confidence while achieving their writing goals.”

Since its launch in September 2015, EssayJack has secured pilots with tutoring services and a number of secondary and post-secondary institutions – including U of T’s International Foundation Program – a partnership made possible by the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship’s Buy Blue program (Read more about Buy Blue).

Now, only months after launching their education software platform, EssayJack has gone through two separate rounds of judging by experts and is a finalist for an ELTon Award by the British Council.

Sponsored by Cambridge English, the ELTon is the only international award which recognizes and celebrates innovation in English language teaching (ELT). EssayJack is one of six products who are shortlisted in the Digital Innovation category, and the only one representing Canada. The Awards ceremony is set for June 2 in London, UK.

“Education – especially in English – isn’t something that’s immediately associated with innovation, but there are so many ways that technology can empower students,” said Ledohowski. “10 years ago, I helped create a writing course at UTSC , and now we have poured decades of experience into creating EssayJack, and we are so honoured to be representing not only U of T but also Canada with this nomination.”

Ledohowski and co-founder Rueban Balasubramaniam built EssayJack from their combined experience as students and professors. The EssayJack platform is customizable by educators who want to tailor it for their own students.

“Because of our backgrounds, we have been able to make EssayJack directly applicable for students writing argumentative essays,” said Balasubramaniam. “It’s built on the idea that form influences content.”

Between the two of them, Ledohowski and Balasubramaniam hold a total of seven degrees and two post doctorates—more than half of which were completed at U of T—and have won multiple teaching awards as well as academic grants and scholarships.

The results from these close ties to the academic community are clear as EssayJack’s software continues to be adopted by students, parents, and educators alike.

EssayJack has also attracted the interest of media and has been named one of three game-changing apps for students in University Affairs, and featured in an interview on CBC radio.

In the summer of 2014 Ledohowski and Balasubramaniam first showed their rough prototype to writing instructors at the St. George and Scarborough campuses, receiving feedback and input from educators and students before building the current product.

“We’ve come a long way since then,” said Ledohowski as they plan to head to England to celebrate their success and the successes of other ELT innovations.

“Our U of T community and support has been an amazing part of this journey. We are very proud of what we’ve created, and are really looking forward to continuing to grow EssayJack this year.”