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NXTLVL: Future-critical skills for the AI era — an Interview with Michalis Gkontas

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Bianca Iulia Simion

· 4 min read
NXTLVL: Future-critical skills for the AI era — an Interview with Michalis Gkontas
Get a glimpse into Gkontas's entrepreneurial journey and how NXTLVL is revolutionising learning to prepare students for an ever-changing world.

Michalis Gkontas, CEO, and Co-Founder of NXTLVL, brings a wealth of entrepreneurial experience to the forefront of K-12 education. With a track record of successful ventures including Lateralus, Manual, Forky, and Cookisto, Michalis has honed his expertise in building tech-driven solutions across diverse industries. His global perspective, cultivated through studies and experiences in Austria, France, the UK, the USA, and China, fuels his passion for leveraging technology to drive meaningful change.

NXTLVL empowers forward-thinking schools to supercharge their students' Power Skills development through an immersive, team-based problem-solving program. Guided by expert coaches and AI-powered feedback, students engage in a series of learning games to sharpen Power Skills like critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and leadership.

1. What 'aha' moment led to the founding of NXTLVL?

My inspiration didn't come from a single "aha" moment, but rather a combination of personal needs and market/technology timing. As a father of two young daughters, I want to equip my children with the skills and mindset to not only prepare for but also thrive in, an unpredictable future. I believe that attributes such as critical thinking, a growth mindset, and effective communication are crucial in the era of AI. As AI automates routine tasks, humans will focus more on innovation. This shift will require us to leverage critical soft skills, like emotional intelligence, to bridge the gap between AI capabilities and human abilities.

2. Who are the co-founders of NXTLVL?

I co-founded NXTLVL with Konstantinos Papazafeiropoulos (CPO) and Alex Xydas (COO). Konstantinos and I met at university. After completing his master's degree at LSE, he became an entrepreneur and is now leading Product and Learning at NXTLVL. Alex Xydas, also an entrepreneur, founded BlueFlite, a drone startup based in Dubai and Austin, and has previously worked with McKinsey and IBM.

3. What was your drive back then, and what change do you aspire to bring?

My main motivation and reason for starting this is the immense fulfillment I get from building something that impacts younger generations, including my children :) By building NXTLVL, we aim to underscore the importance of competency-based education and enhance the problem-solving skills of future generations.

4. How does NXTLVL enhance children's soft skills development?

Our program's uniqueness lies in being the first synchronous team-based learning experience for power skills and that it combines the following three pillars.

  • Team-based problem-solving, as it is the most effective method for developing real-life soft skills.
  • Live coaching, where students are guided by expert teachers towards learning objectives through open questioning, fostering a self-learning mindset.
  • Powerful AI progress tracking. The AI understands the learning objectives of the session, game analytics, participants, and transcripts, and generates highlights and progress updates to further enhance each student's learning path.

5. How do you scale your business, driving financial success?

The first phase and most capital-efficient first step involves working with progressive schools, mainly in the US. This includes charter schools, public schools, and some private schools. These institutions have budgets and frequently purchase products and services from e-learning providers like Brainpop, IXL Learning, Nearpod, etc. In phase 2, after obtaining our initial case studies, we plan to scale up through district sales, a blueprint adopted by successful ed-tech companies in the space. Simultaneously, with phase 2, we can initiate phase 3. Here, we can activate the B2B2C side of the business and leverage the network of parents to cross-sell products and services that further enhance their children's soft skills.

6. How does NXTLVL guide and empower schools to make informed decisions when adopting your e-learning solutions?

We've recently launched the initial version of our progress dashboard for schools. This tool allows them to monitor each student's progress, observe session highlights, track attendance, and review student feedback among other features. We aim to improve this further by integrating game analytics and survey results from ad hoc surveys distributed to students.

7. How do you envision NXTLVL's future growth within the education technology sector?

We aspire to be the world's best Power Skills learning company and offer a wide variety of products and services, from game-based learning to AI-first products, aimed at both schools and parents.

8. Do you have a mentor or figure within the tech or education industries whom you admire and draw inspiration from?

There are many entrepreneurs we admire and learn from but Andrew Grove from Intel and Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb, are the ones I've personally studied the most.

9. What are potential exit scenarios for investors supporting NXTLVL?

The Ed-tech sector has vibrant M&A activity. Big e-learning providers, as well as private equity companies, have been very active. Recent examples include the acquisition of Brainpop by Kirbki, Lego's parent company, for $875 million, Nearpod's $650 million acquisition by Renaissance, and Edmentum acquiring smaller players like Apex Learning.

10. Why should investors consider being part of NXTLVL's journey?

In short, potential investors must believe in the thesis, the product, the team, and the market.

If I elaborate a bit - as AI adoption increases rapidly, the importance of soft skills in school, work, and life becomes more evident. This timing is great for us.

We've developed the only synchronous collaborative learning platform for acquiring these crucial future skills, and we've built a very well-rounded team across all functions. Feedback from schools, parents, and students is excellent. By initially partnering with schools, we will establish a very efficient distribution channel to sell directly to parents, thereby expanding the already sizeable market we target.

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