En­gag­ing stu­dent

Richmond Hill’s Michael Si­la­gadze has re­vamped the class­room

Richmond Hill Post - - Graduates - By Christina Gon­za­les

Trust your own judg­ment — do the things you be­lieve are right.”

about how to cap­i­tal­ize on the tech-filled en­vi­ron­ment. To­gether with his Water­loo room­mate, Mohsen Shahini, Si­la­gadze built soft­ware that al­lows stu­dents with lap­tops to view in­ter­ac­tive demon­stra­tions of the lessons in class.

“The class­room ex­pe­ri­ence [changed] from some­thing pas­sive and not su­per en­gag­ing to be­ing ac­tive and dy­namic,” says Si­la­gadze, who, along with Shahini, trans­formed the idea into a thriv­ing com­pany of about 90 people.

Top Hat is now in over 400 uni­ver­si­ties across the world, in­clud­ing ones in Canada and the U.S. as well as Africa and Aus­tralia. With a Se­ries B round of fi­nanc­ing put in place only a cou­ple of months ago, Top Hat now has $10.5 mil­lion to grow. Michael Si­la­gadze came up with the idea of Top Hat Mon­o­cle (now known as Top Hat – an ed­u­ca­tion soft­ware com­pany that just re­ceived over $10 mil­lion in fund­ing) dur­ing his un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies in en­gi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of Water­loo. The ro­bot­ics fa­natic, busi­ness­man and Richmond Hill Sec­ondary School grad felt that, as a univer­sity stu­dent, there was some­thing miss­ing from his class lec­tures. The learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment wasn’t as pro­duc­tive as it could be.

The in­creas­ing num­ber of lap­tops and smart­phones pop­ping up in lec­ture halls got Si­la­gadze think­ing

“We hope to build a re­ally large com­pany that goes on the stock ex­change and IPO,” he says. “I guess that’s al­ways the dream.”

Dur­ing his high school days at Richmond Hill Sec­ondary School, Si­la­gadze was an in­de­pen­dent and fo­cused stu­dent who grad­u­ated two years early — right af­ter Grade 11 — due to his mo­ti­va­tion to take on more than the re­quired num­ber of cour­ses.

Si­la­gadze learned how to chan­nel his goals with no con­cern for what was pop­u­lar with his peers.

“Trust your own judg­ment,” he says when asked about the key to suc­cess.

“Do the things that you be­lieve are right, rather than the things that other people are fo­cus­ing on.”

He even­tu­ally ad­mits that he en­joyed univer­sity the most be­cause of the free­dom and the ma­te­rial taught in classes: “You could re­ally chal­lenge yourself,” he says.

And a chal­lenge is clearly what Si­la­gadze is look­ing for.

He re­flects back on his child­hood, a time when he en­gaged in a plethora of part-time jobs — sell­ing and work­ing on web­sites — to make ex­tra money.

“I pretty much knew [dur­ing high school] I was gonna start a com­pany … and even be­fore that,” notes Si­la­gadze.

Be­ing in charge is well-suited to his char­ac­ter, he says. “I al­ways had a hard time with author­ity and hav­ing people tell me what to do, so I de­cided that I wanted to be do­ing some­thing on my own.”

With me­dia at­ten­tion from the likes of Times, Forbes and Tech-Crunch, one can pre­sume that this is only the be­gin­ning for Si­la­gadze.

And as the tech in­dus­try ex­pands at a rapid pace, it’s the per­fect place for him to be.

Michael Si­la­gadze’s com­pany has put a class­room into a smart­phone

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