Building a startup dream team with the Skoltech community.
Maria Zhilyaeva (Goncharova), 2016 | Geeklama, Co-Founder | PhD at Skoltech
Meet Maria Zhilyaeva, co-founder of Geeklama, a PhD student at Skoltech and mom. Maria graduated from Skoltech in 2016. Since then, she has launched her own project while on maternity leave, and returned to Skoltech to earn a PhD degree. Maria believes that project success depends on the (Skoltech) team. Enjoy her story!
my Skoltech journey
I am a physicist, and I graduated from the Department of Physics of Moscow State University. Then I realized I wanted to gain some applied knowledge. The newly announced Skoltech program Advanced Manufacturing Technologies (then known as Advanced Production Technologies) sounded like the perfect fit, so I applied and that's how I ended up at Skoltech.

My experience at Skoltech was cool, I gained the hands-on skills I was looking for and more. I even had a chance to go to MIT and was amazed that even those "brightest and most progressive minds" are not much different from us, ordinary students, it seemed then. Although after my master's studies I realized that I wanted to get more fundamental science and I entered the graduate studies program at Skoltech Centre for Photonics and Quantum Physics.

Advanced Manufacturing Technologies
This program is a synergy of digital technologies, engineering science, and applied mechanics. It is aimed at the development of simulation-driven design of advanced materials, structures, and engineering systems with enhanced lifecycle and improved mechanical and physical characteristics demanded in high-tech industries. It prepares the next generation of researchers, engineers, and practitioners to assume the role of technical leadership in research and innovation. Learn more.
why is Skoltech special for you?
There are many things about Skoltech that you won't find in other Russian universities. For example, everyone in the master's program has an advisor or a "mentor". They don't teach you any subjects, but you can always ask them for advice. It's so cool!!! I was very lucky to have Clemont Fortin as an advisor. He became like family during this time :) When there are a lot of opportunities (as there are at Skoltech, naturally), it is not clear what you want, what you need, what is more in demand; so talking to an advisor is a great opportunity to put everything in its place in your head.

Another amazing thing at Skoltech is that the students are in charge. And Skoltech has repeatedly proved that it is always on the students' side.

We had a lot of project activities at Skoltech. It was exciting: we discussed things and argued with fiery eyes. I remember staying up late and even overnight at Skoltech. Many people underestimate the importance of teamwork. In the beginning, I also thought that I already knew how to do everything, and teamwork and soft skills are far from rocket science. Now I laugh at my then-self :) you can be a genius a hundred times over, but if you can't share it and communicate with people, you're irrelevant.
how we started Geeklama
Last autumn, I decided to meet with a friend, Adeni (also a Skoltech graduate). He said that he had an interesting idea and wanted to share it! It turned out that he mentioned that programming in Ghana was not well developed, although the population's average income allows for greater computer literacy. And we decided to launch programming courses in Ghana.

It is worth saying that I was on maternity leave. My daughter was a few months old at that time and I replied to Adeni "How cool! I've got the time!" (although in fact, I just had the time to go to the shower...). I started working on the product: I wrote the curricula, teaching materials, found suitable teachers, and trained them, while Adeni worked on business and strategy. And in our team there was Daniel, a guy who actually lives in Ghana. He solved all the issues on the spot (found a place for classes, communicated with the students' parents, solved legal issues, and so on).

geeklama's journey to international success
This is how Geeklama.com, our programming school for schoolchildren, appeared. We worked hard, prepared everything: programmes, teachers, found the first students and some room for studying. The launch was scheduled for 7 March, 2020. And what do you think happened? The Covid-19 quarantine began :) We thought for a week and launched everything online. And then we thought a little more: everything we have is in English... And we decided to launch the school in the USA!

We already didn't have enough time, so we were joined by Max Glagolev, Aizhan Ibraimova, Dinara Ermakova and Nastya Chumik (they all are from Skoltech). It was difficult, but everything went pretty well. Our retention rate (the percentage of returns, meaning the students who decided to continue studying with us and buy another course) is more than 90%, and in the first month of work in the United States, we already made our way to becoming Facebook's perks and benefits partner — it's a list of partner companies that Facebook recommends to its employees.

Now we are expanding even more. Recently we translated the program into Russian and launched it in Russia, and a week ago we entered Qatar's market. Saudi Arabia is also among our short-term plans. We have fine teachers from the world's leading IT companies and universities. It sounds like it's out of this world and so it is! But in fact, this is a lot of work.
the secret to success: geeklama team
Most of all, I am delighted with our team. We really have a Dream Team. It turned out that great and talented people attracted each other somehow. But of course, we were first searching among our friends. Every person is a real miracle! This story is about lively interest, curiosity, adventure and professionalism, which is close to heroism and love.

Yes, the main heroes have not received a penny so far :) This is the price of rapid growth. All the money earned is spent on development. Although the initial investment was super minimal, it rose sharply when it was necessary to formalize the company in the United States and resolve all the legal issues there. Everything is clear: there are specific plans, goals, KPI, quality control of lessons and, most important, satisfied graduates.

value of Skoltech
I became more confident and professionally bold at Skoltech. All projects and teamwork give you the belief that you can implement cool ideas and take responsibility in your own hands. In teamwork, you have to communicate closely with different people and find an approach to them because the result depends on everyone. It's a real gem that's hard to come upon, and I am glad I was lucky enough to find it.
and now about Skoltech
We are Skoltech – a new international English-speaking STEM university that was founded by the group of world-renowned scientists in 2011 in Moscow, Russia. In just 8 years, we united dozens of researchers and globally renowned professors, built a stunning campus, set up world-class labs and made it to the top 100 young universities in the Nature Index. Read more >>
Discover Skoltech in less than 3 minutes
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