We speak with IB diploma graduates Nikolas Hammermann and Tobias Hübner, the creators of SMARTPREP, a company that offers flash cards for IB diploma courses. Tobias and Nikolas both completed the IB Diploma Programme at Munich International School.
Why did you originally decide to pursue an IB Diploma?
Tobias: Establishing a sensibility for other cultures has always been a priority in my family, especially because of our frequent travels, often times to the United States. The international-mindedness of the IB seemed very attractive in this context, which is why I ran through all three curriculums – PYP, MYP and DP.
Nikolas: There were several reasons. The prospect of receiving an internationally oriented education in English and the prestige of the Diploma and the schools that offer it were certainly the most significant arguments for the decision.
What subject or project was most memorable?
Tobias: Being part of a non-profit organization called “The Nuclear-Free Future Award” for CAS was one of my most memorable experiences. It was very inspirational to get involved with individuals who believe in something they find worth fighting for.
Nikolas: I was quite the fan of TOK, simply because I believe that it is very important to critically assess the nature and sources of our ‘knowledge’. Specifically the debates about elementary components of our society, like religion, free-will, morality, etc. have had a big impact on me.
What skills did you develop as DP students that helped you succeed at university?
Tobias: When compared with experiences I’ve heard of from many students that earned national diplomas, it seems that the IB has a more university-like approach in general. The numerous essays, specifically the Extended Essay of course, just as much as the plentiful presentations and, most of all, the intense exam period at the end of the Diploma Programme, certainly helped me a lot when it came to tackling these tasks at university-level.
Nikolas: I think Tobi summarized it quite nicely. Perhaps one could add that being an IB alumni often works well as door-opener when meeting other former IB students.
When did you first come up with the idea for SMARTPREP?
Nikolas: It was during the Diploma Programme that we started using flash cards for revision and I continued to do so throughout university, where professionally designed flash cards helped me immensely. When Tobi and I discussed how useful such a revision tool would’ve been for our IB exam preparation, we decided to shape our own. Our aim was to create a product that impresses people – content and design-wise.
Tobias: The simplicity of the idea, the added value high quality flash cards can create for students and teachers, and the social and interactive component motivated me. I am in love with simple, yet effective products that people really enjoy using – I think this is what makes “the difference”, also in education. The idea of realizing this with Nick caught me immediately.
Did the flash cards you used when you studied for the DP look anything like the SMARTPREP deck?
Nikolas: The cards we used in our revision were rather plain. We enhanced this design by adding numerous helpful features like tab cards, progress cards etc. that are tailored to the nature of the IB syllabi. Generally, the flexibility offered by flash cards is quite remarkable.
Tobias: I think it was important to not only develop a product based on our experience as IB alumni, but to fuse our ideas with the wants and needs of students and teachers. All features – Nick mentioned a few – were carefully developed together with these two stakeholder groups. We believe that if you want to create a user-oriented product, you need to understand that specific user. We decided to go even further and made them an elementary part of the development process.
Which subject has been the most challenging to create flash cards for?
Tobias: We didn’t approach the development of each product the same way. Instead, each product is tailored exactly to the respective syllabus – we strongly believe that every subject needs its own approach. During the development phase they all presented their own challenges.
Nikolas: That is for instance why some subjects contain cards that can be unfolded. If a certain answer requires more space, lets say because of a complex diagram that is necessary to aid the explanation, then we feel responsible to make this possible.
Which IB schools did you partner with to create the cards?
Tobias: Our biggest supporter right from the start was Munich International School (MIS), which is where we graduated. They opened the doors to their faculty and students and without their support, we wouldn’t be where we are now. In fact, two of our authors teach at MIS.
Nikolas: It didn’t take long until authors from other renowned IB schools joined our team, such as Sevenoaks School (UK) or the International School of Florence (Italy), to give two examples. The feedback we have received since then has been very encouraging and we are looking forward to the next steps.
What advice do you have for future IB students that are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?
Nikolas: I think that if you’re convinced of what you’re doing it is crucial to simply keep going no matter what. You will encounter problems or specific challenges, but there is always a solution.
Tobias: Agreed, although I would say that the premise for this is passion. It requires a lot of dedication if you want to run your own company and it helps immensely to persist if you’re passionate about it. And, always work according to one guiding principle: “nothing is impossible”.