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Cognate: Finding your Ikigai
Entrepreneurship / 7 July 2022
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Full-Time MBA Class of 2022
Alejandro is currently a full-time MBA student at Frankfurt School and the CEO and Founder of Cognate Language Learning, Inc. He moved to Germany in 2021 from the United States, where he was a Senior Director at Comcast, a Fortune 50 company in the media & technology space. He received his undergraduate degree from the Wharton School of Business.

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There is a Japanese concept, “Ikigai”, meaning “a reason for being”, which is at the heart of any successful startup. In essence, it means that you should focus around finding a career that combines what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and of course, what you can be paid for.

Ikigai concept

Our Origin Story

I started learning German at the very beginning of the Corona crisis and fell in love with the language so much that I decided to leave the US and move to Germany to pursue Frankfurt School’s Full-Time MBA, allowing for a smooth transition. It was while preparing for a financial services interview in German that the idea came to me. Why was I still looking up financial jargon when I was already at C1 level and had fully completed all of the popular app-based courses? Surely there must be a way to better personalise learning? The prospect of solving a real-life problem in a subject area that you are competent in and love was too tantalising to pass up. Upon hearing the idea, Tamim and Shirley were fully on-board, given their shared experience with language learning and important additional skillsets they bring to the company.

Our Product Overview

Cognate provides an optimal language learning experience focused on the goals of the learner. By providing information related to their profession, industry, hobbies, and other interests, users can access vocabulary and custom lessons related to these specific subject areas. So if you are a business executive in the car industry, you can learn sentences like “Motor vehicle production is increasing.” and if you are a doctor, you can learn “The patient’s blood pressure is stable.”, and so on. The same applies to fun things like hobbies, too. By making language learning customised, the material becomes much more relevant and interesting, and this drives increased user engagement, which is the number one predictor of language learning success.

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Our Product within its Industry

According to one well-known study, timing is the most important determiner of success for a startup, and we believe it is the right time for a product such as ours. The language learning space is crowded, yes, but it is only with the most recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) that hyper-personalization is possible. We are a first mover in this regard, and thanks to our access to one of the most sophisticated AI tools in the world, we already have over twice as many vocabulary words as the largest competitors.

There are also additional product improvements that we have in mind, and are keeping secret for now, but we can say that they are in the gaming realm. Not surprisingly, gaming is very much in line with the Ikigai of Tamim and Shirley, both of whom are gaming enthusiasts who have also studied game design. Our adorable purple cat mascot will be a key part of all these future plans.

Support from the University

The new Frankfurt School Entrepreneurship Centre has been instrumental in helping us get traction for our startup. Mentor meetings have been very helpful in getting feedback on our idea and fine-tuning both the product and investor pitch. The EC is also assisting us with finding legal counsel in Germany, to expand upon our already existing counsel in the US. There are plans for us to potentially collaborate with another startup affiliated with the EC, and we are also having discussions regarding potentially offering our product to the international students of the university so they may learn German in a more efficient way. With this incredible level of support, we can’t think of a better place to start your startup, and feel truly blessed to have them on our side.

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