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How Peekapak is Inventing the Future of Social and Emotional Learning Standards: Part 1

The world is evolving at its fastest pace in history as we embrace the digital and urban revolutions. The work environment is adapting to this change as social and emotional learning is becoming more paramount for effective interaction.  However, education systems historically lag behind in teaching these social and emotional learning standards and instead focus on rules, concepts, and metrics. So, why wouldn’t our classrooms emphasize social and emotional learning and its vital role in shaping future generations? Canadian start-up Peekapak may very well have the answer.

But what do I mean by social and emotional learning exactly? Why and how should educators support it and its importance with their students?

Ami Shah CEO Peekapak core focus is social and emotional learning standards
Ami Shah CEO Peekapak core focus is social-emotional learning

What is Social and Emotional Learning?

According to the Illinois State Board of Education, “Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to:

  • identify and manage their emotions;
  • demonstrate empathy for others;
  • establish strong positive relationships;
  • make responsible decisions; and
  • constructively handle challenging situations”

The Bold Impact of Social and Emotional Learning Standards

From the earliest days of humanity, our brains have been designed to focus on our survival as a species. To do this, learning how to communicate with others has been essential. This has been crucial for humans to adapt and interact with others. Fast forward from when humans were communicating to find food or safety to today’s digital age where communication is a necessity not only for these things but human interaction and socialization as well.

Personal competencies such as self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation are learned skills. Similar to our social competence (how we handle these things), our empathy and social skills play vital roles not only in the workplace but in the classroom as well.

“ The fact that [Peekapak] is aligned already [with standards], eases the teacher’s worries.” -Maria Labrador, Principal Albert Einstein Elementary

I had the opportunity to interview Ami Shah, CEO, and Co-Founder of Peekapak. She discussed not only what her company is doing to evolve social and emotional learning in classrooms. Ami also describes how they also provide listening, collaborating and cooperating skills through their game-based learning, hands-on curriculum, and interactive stories. In part 2 of this story, I will introduce the perspective of educators and parents on the platform’s value. Also, we will discuss how it is positively impacting the lives of students. 

John R. Miles: Where did the idea for Peekapak Originally Come From?

Ami Shah: I started the company with my best friend from childhood, Angie Chan. Our relationship is a close one. We lived together, traveled together, vacationed together. Angie was living in Hong Kong at the time and writing her first children’s book. Through this experience, we thought there was a way we could do something for childhood learning through storytelling. We started as a kick-starter campaign. After getting some early traction, we were accepted into Imagine K12, which is the Y Combinator’s EdTech Vertical and we ended up pivoting into education technology to scale our impact.

JM: What was the Experience Like at Imagine K12?

AS: It was an amazing learning experience. We were able to receive investment and receive guidance from experienced Silicon Valley tech leaders. We learned how to not only present to investors but how to develop products in collaboration with educators. Overall, it was great coaching and support from the mentors and being a part of the cohort, we learned a lot from the other companies.

JM: What is the Premise Behind Peekapak?

ASOur core focus is on building social-emotional learning. Key tenants include topics like how to show empathy, working with others, being a good example for society. Angie (our Co-Founder) and I wanted to help children not only get their first job but also learn how to be model citizens.

It is important to understand that social-emotional learning often does not get taught in schools. Our platform is designed to build these skill sets through game-based personalized learning, classroom lessons, and original stories. Our goal is to help educators teach their students through easy-to-use, standards-aligned tools that make social-emotional skills fun, engaging and effective.

Students get to practice the skills and be imaginative and creative. Immersive. Most of our students are 4 to 10 in age. For context, our books have 4 different levels of reading, so we can personalize the reading to the appropriate level of the child.

Ami Shah CEO and Co-founder Peekapak describes impact on social and emotional learning standards
Ami Shah Discussing Social-Emotional Learning

JM: How do Schools Utilize your Social and Emotional Learning in their programs?

ASPeekapak incorporates literacy, read-aloud sessions, group discussions and visual recognition of others’ emotional states. These activities and the stories relating to them were designed using evidence-based practices and have been researched in districts, schools and after-school programs.  Activities also support educators and families in developing approaches to support a young child’s social-emotional skills and further their own understanding of these principles.

Peekapak offers a personalized, game-based learning environment, where students can learn independently in class, or at home.  Also, students are able to create an avatar that best represents themselves. Students interact with Peekapak’s characters through a series of literacy-based games and activities.  Check-in’s on their emotional state provide data to educators in order to support students.

Peekapak stories and learning come alive
Credit Peekapak

JM: Who are Peekapak’s Customers?

AS: We reach over 200,000 educators and students mostly in the United States. This includes districts such as Denver Public Schools, Elizabeth Public Schools, and Tulare County Board of Education’s library system.

JM: How do you expand the business?

AS: To date, we have met prospective clients through educational conferences, word of mouth and referrals.  In 2019, we will scale our reach with two new partnerships with publishers that will help us reach every school and district across North America.

JM: What is the Bold Idea Behind Peekapak and its Impact on Social-Emotional Learning?

ASWe want to impact as many children as possible and teach them these important social and emotional learning standards. Jobs are changing and these invaluable skills are important to prepare the next generation for the jobs which require much more interpersonal interaction.

Kids with technology and information are becoming more isolated. Additionally, anxiety and stress levels are on the rise. It is extremely important to teach them self-regulation. They need this skill so that they can view their own self-awareness.  In other words, when students have low self-awareness, they are at risk of not realizing how they come across to others. This can let an over-inflated self-image skew their behavior and social interactions

The numbers on mental health issues are alarming. Over 460 million people globally are experiencing issues and it is on the rise. We are trying to prepare students so they are resilient, able to cope and able to overcome adversity.

Impact on social-emotional learning through the eyes of Maria Labrador Albert Einstein Elementary
Principal Maria Labrador Discusses Peekapak

JM: How Does a Student or Educator Access Peekapak?

AS: Teachers can access our program by visiting and start with a free account that gives them access to all of Peekapak’s stories on topics such as Self-Regulation and Empathy. Additionally, for teachers who want to bring the full curriculum to their classroom, school or district, we have different subscription levels they can purchase. These include Teacher Pro, where they can access our curriculum, stories and parent updates and, Classroom Pro, where they get everything with Teacher Pro plus student access to myPeekaville, Peekapak’s interactive, digital learning activities and stories.  

JM: What are the Results so Far?

ASEarly research shows we are improving outcomes on a number of social-emotional learning skills such as self-regulation (+46%), empathy (+35%), respect (+39%), teamwork (+27%)  and perseverance (+55%).

But, beyond the learning outcomes, students are falling in love with the characters and stories and look forward to learning with Peekapak.  In fact, 92% of our teachers agree that their students find a lot of enjoyment from the characters in the series. They are very relatable and reflect the real-world diversity they are seeing in the classrooms.

Peekapak Books, stories, and website
Credit Peekapak

JM: Where do you see your Future?

Peekapak strives to build a more equitable and inclusive world that embraces the diversity and uniqueness of each citizen. Our vision for the world is represented by Peekaville, a fictional world Peekapak has created, where different ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, skills and interests, and temperaments are reflected, valued and appreciated.

Furthermore, as leaders in the community, we embody these values in our workplace and in our collaborations with our stakeholders. We do this by seeking out staff, partners, advisors, and customers with a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. We are working together to create a more just and inclusive society, starting with the values we instill in young people.

The Growing Fight to Stop Osteosarcomas

Imagine a disease that affects over 900 individuals each year in the U.S. with most being teenagers. This same disease likewise has a five-year survival rate of roughly two-thirds. But despite all the medical advances, the last major treatment for this disorder was over thirty years ago. Osteosarcoma treatment typically involves surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. These notably have many unwanted side effects, and osteosarcoma survival rates have been less than ideal with these approaches. But thanks to some bold businesses, that looks to be changing. The osteosarcoma treatment of tomorrow will likely look much different.

osteosarcoma treatment
Is precision medicine the answer to osteosarcoma? Experts think so.

Traditional Approaches to Osteosarcoma Treatments

Multiple subtypes exist for osteosarcoma — the most common malignant bone tumor. With osteosarcoma, it is mostly the long bones in the body like the femur, tibia, and humerus that suffer from the disease. And because high bone growth rates are a risk factor, many individuals who develop osteosarcoma are teenagers.

Because the tumors are so aggressive, traditional osteosarcoma treatments have involved intense cancer therapies. Chemotherapy and radiation are done in addition to the removal of the osteosarcoma bone lesion. Osteosarcoma metastasis, however, is already present 80 percent at diagnosis, which reduces the osteosarcoma survival rate significantly. This is why there is a need for new osteosarcoma treatments.

Using Precision Medicine for New Osteosarcoma Treatments

Recently, late-stage biotechnology firm Advaxis announced a licensing agreement with OS Therapies for one of its new osteosarcoma treatments. OS Therapies, a scientific foundation, dedicates itself to finding new osteosarcoma treatments. Notable challenges exist, however. In osteosarcoma, the location is often problematic for surgical removal. Likewise, many are resistant to chemotherapy and have a high rate of recurrence. However, OS Therapies has identified several new potential targets that utilize precision medicine techniques.

The newly licensed osteosarcoma treatment for clinical trials is ADXS-HER2. This treatment is a neoantigen treatment that targets the most common genetic mutation in osteosarcoma. In fact, roughly half of all osteosarcoma patients have this genetic biomarker. If ADXS-HER2 is effective as a new osteosarcoma treatment, the impact could be substantial. But this is not the only genetic target OS Therapies has identified to improve osteosarcoma survival rates. Their bold efforts have identified three other genetic markers for which osteosarcoma treatments may be effective.

osteosarcoma treatment from OS Therapies, CEO Paul Romness quoted
The treatment paradigm for osteosarcoma is changing with OS Therapies.

Incentives Behind OS Therapies’ Mission Against Osteosarcoma

Knowledge and passion fuel OS Therapies. It was founded in 2011 by parents and friends of individuals with osteosarcoma concerned about the lack of progress. Its unique funding model has since used public, non-profit and private strategies to pursue its mission to find more effective osteosarcoma treatments. Its advisory and executive board reflect a who’s who in the field. Paul Romness was formerly with Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, and Boehringer Ingelheim. Other notable professionals on the panel include internationally renowned veterans in the biopharmaceutical and osteosarcoma treatment areas. It is the commitment of these individuals that have led to these new genetic marker discoveries in osteosarcoma treatments.

ADXS-HER2, which is already approved in the U.S. for the adjuvant treatment of osteosarcoma in canines, has the potential to provide a new treatment option for human osteosarcoma patients.”- Kenneth A. Berlin, CEO of Advaxis

Other Innovations on the Horizon for Osteosarcoma Treatment

While OS Therapies is exploring precision medicine for osteosarcoma treatments, they are not alone. Antlanthera, based in France, is also seeking to improve osteosarcoma survival rates through new creative techniques. Antlanthera is developing bisphosphonates linked to chemotherapy-type agents as novel osteosarcoma treatments. Bisphosphonates are often in use for osteoporosis, and thus, they migrate to bone areas. Bone tumor environments, however, have a different pH, which breaks the links between the bisphosphonates and the drugs. As a result, the toxic drug is only active once it reaches this osteosarcoma region. Not only may this reduce side effects, but it may also markedly improve osteosarcoma survival rates.

When to Expect Changes in Osteosarcoma Treatments

Osteosarcoma treatment, Paul Romness CEO OS Therapies is quoted
OS Therapies leads the way in searching for osteosarcoma treatment.

Both OS Therapies and Advaxis, as well as Antlanthera, will be conducting clinical trials of their new osteosarcoma treatments in 2019. Therefore, depending on the outcomes of these trials, advancements into later stage trials could be pursued as quickly. In the past, conditions like osteosarcoma offer traditional biopharmaceutical companies little financial incentives for new developments. The high cost of development and a small number of patients contribute to the lack of osteosarcoma treatment development in decades. However, newer approaches have broader treatment potential beyond osteosarcoma treatment. Bold businesses recognizing this are embracing the challenge while addressing some of the most underserved health disorders in the world.

Who are the Top 10 Women in Private Equity?

Since the early 1980s, there has been a rise in women in private equity. However, this hasn’t always been the case as it has always been an exclusive club for men. In fact, Bloomberg recently relayed a report that shows women, so far this year, account for only 18 percent of the private equity workforce. Plus, an even smaller 9.4 percent of female business leaders hold senior or chief level positions. Most women are found in junior-level positions in marketing or investor relations—more client-facing posts than decision-making roles. As a result, they are among the lower-paid individuals in these firms.

However, women are now becoming more visible in these male-dominated sectors. There are women in private equity who now occupy critical roles within their companies. These women are creating significant impacts on the companies they are part of.

They are influential decision-makers setting new trends, creating new innovations, and making differences in various fields. In honor of these women making a bold impact around the world, we list down today’s Top 10 Women in Private Equity.

Virginie Morgon
CEO, Eurazeo
Virginie Morgon is a growth investor who searches for mid-sized businesses in consumer goods, healthcare and financial services, and then primes them for public markets. It was Morgon through Paris-based Private Equity firm, Eurazeo, who transformed Italian brand Moncler into a global sensation. The same goes for the highly popular board game, “Settlers of Catan”. She believes in outperforming the industry, and true enough, with her stewardship, Eurazeo has increased stock market returns of about 20 percent annually in the last five years. In fact, Eurazeo has surpassed other significant players like Blackstone, KKR and Apollo.
A bold move Morgon made early on with Eurazeo was taking a risk on Accor, a French global hospitality company, which ultimately highlighted the ability and impact of Eurazeo as a holding company. Markedly, Eurazeo also invested in WorldStrides, a leader in educational travel for students in the United States. With Morgon’s leadership and decades of private equity expertise, Eurazeo is expected to expand globally and become a new blue chip company.
Melissa Dickerson
CFO and Managing Director of Operations, Genstar Capital
Melissa Dickerson is instrumental in building Genstar Capital’s operational infrastructure, which grew from $200 million to $9 billion in assets. Through Dickerson, Genstar has acquired more than 50 companies while doubling its staff. Genstar is also slated to become the next private equity powerhouse. In the first quarter of 2018 alone, Genstar has made 24 investments—more than any other private equity company in the country, according to PitchBook.
Dickerson has helped in the buyout of Tekni-Plex, a healthcare and packaging products manufacturer. This buyout is the biggest deal on the company’s recent ledger. Other notable purchases under Dickerson were Institutional Shareholder Services, Power Products, and Bracket. Most recently in August, Genstar took over BBB Industries and Drillinginfo.
Kristina Heinze
Co-Founder and Partner, ParkerGale Capital
Sourcing and monitoring investments are Kristina Heinze’s strength at Chicago-based private equity firm. She has more than 15 years of experience in the industry, and now invests in remunerative tech companies. With Heinze’s leadership, ParkerGale has acquired companies like Aircraft Technical Publishers, 2Checkout, CultureIQ, and OnePlus Systems.
Heinze is an energetic member of the Private Equity Women Investor Network (PEWIN), which brings private equity senior women leaders together for opportunities to share ideas, empower each other, and develop deep connections with each other. She believes in differentiating yourself in your own field. She succinctly points out, “You have to find a way to stand out. Just having the check anymore? That doesn’t mean anything.”
Julia Karol
President and COO, Watermill Group
Julia Karol—as a previous Principal at Watermill Group—managed the firm’s fundraising initiatives and acquisitions, as well as directing investor relations. Now, as President and CEO, she has been entrusted to oversee the Watermill’s general operations as well as to help the firm’s portfolio companies to cultivate and carry out their strategies. She is currently also a Partner at Social Venture Partners Boston, which is a venture philanthropy organization that unites promising nonprofits in Boston with potential mentors and investors that could help ignite their success.
Watermill Group’s current portfolio companies include Cooper & Turner, Tenere Inc., Quality Metalcraft Inc. and Experi-Metal Inc. As one of the influential women in private equity, Karol believes in diversity and inclusion as an important tool in growing your business. Karol notes, “You have to look around and make sure you have a diverse and balanced group of people working with you.” She adds, “[This type of] awareness is essential for growth.”
Elizabeth Burgess
Partner, Bridges Fund Management
Elizabeth Burgess is Partner and Head of the Bridges U.S. Sustainable Growth Fund—under Bridges Fund Management—, where she leads investment, portfolio management, and fund strategy. She has about three decades of experience in private equity, where she sees motivation in adding value to a variety of small businesses. She also believes in bringing in women to the table to create a more competitive edge with their insights, experiences and skills.
At Bridges Fund Management, Burgess makes investments in four broad categories: growth business, property, social businesses and outcome contracts. Some of the firm’s investments include The Hub Pharmacy, Impact Food Group, CONNEQT, Taberner House, Fusion Housing, and Manchester Treatment Foster Care.
Kathleen Bacon
Managing Director, HarbourVest
Managing emerging markets and investments in Europe is Kathleen Bacon’s concentration. She joined the company in 1994 in London, and since then has sat on advisory boards of several different private equity partnerships. She believes in the transformative power of private equities like HarbourVest. She leads the way in improving management and changing long-term strategies, so their investments can grow and be profitable once they’re back in the public market.
Notably, Bacon in 2017 has overseen about $600 million in investments. HarbourVest has investments in sectors like communications, finance, healthcare, and information technology. Some of these include Klarna, Flash Networks, Appriss, Partners Surgical, Towne Park and Wave Accounting. Bacon is also a founding member of Level20—an organization that gathers and retains women in private equity.
Hollie Moore Haynes
Founder and Managing Partner, Luminate Capital Partners
Private equity veteran Hollie Haynes founded Luminate Capital Partners, a San Francisco-based firm with a concentration on mid-market software and software-enabled services business. Even before establishing Luminate Capital in 2014, Haynes was already a known figure in the private equity world, particularly working on mid-sized tech companies-investments. With Luminate, she focuses on investments in software companies.
Female-led private equity firms are a rarity in San Francisco, and in the rest of the country, but Luminate stands out because of Haynes. With her leadership, Luminate has invested in companies like Conexiom, Oversight Systems Inc., StarCompliance, AMTdirect, Fintech, and Comply365. Overall, the firm invests with somewhere between $20 million to $50 million in companies that earn between $10 million and $50 million in revenue each year.
Dörte Höppner
Chief Operating Officer, The Riverside Company
As the former CEO and secretary general of Invest Europe, Dörte Höppner has made significant contributions to Europe’s private equity sector. She is now the COO of Riverside, focusing on the firm’s Europe Fund, investing in flourishing businesses. With Riverside, Höppner has invested in numerous companies in consumer brands, software and IT, healthcare, education and training, and business services. Consequently, some of Riverside’s notable investments are in companies like Alter Pharma, Destiny Solutions, Fisher/Unitech, Omnigo Software and Winxnet. Furthermore, Höppner has been recognized by various publications for her work in private equity. She is also a passionate member of Level20.
Runa Alam
Co-Founding Partner and CEO, Development Partners International (DPI)
Runa Alam concentrates on fundraising, deal processes, management, and creating even more value for DPI’s investments in African companies. Through Alam’s decades of expertise in the industry, she currently manages DPI with a strong track record in investments in the continent or Africa. As a result, DPI focuses on investing in already well-established companies with positive cash flow and with strong management in growth industries. Alam is leading the visibility of pan-African organizations by investing in strong companies that operate across 27 countries. These include Biopharm, Touax Africa, Mansard Insurance and OSEAD. Notably, Alam was bestowed the “Woman Investor Award” in the 2018 Private Equity Africa Awards, which was held last June.
Dominique Senequier
President, Ardian
Dominique Senequier started as an insurance commissioner who was responsible for private equity investments. She has been with Ardian—which she founded originally as AXA Private Equity—since 1996. Today, with the firm, she is a top executive who helps manage and advise about $72 billion worth of assets and oversees over 500 employees spread out in 14 offices all over the world.
Ardian is now known as Europe’s largest and leading private equity firm. Ardian invests in companies like virtual reality software company IWD, industrial engineering group Fives, and architecture firm Abvent—among many others.
Remarkably, Senequier was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2012. Now she also serves as vice president of the supervisory board of Hermès.
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A Bold Revolution for the Top 10 Women in Private Equity

Women in private equity still have a long way to go to achieve equality. They are still burdened by problems like lack of opportunities for recruitment, promotion, and decision-making. Nevertheless, these female business leaders from around the world are helping businesses—and other women—navigate the challenging world ahead. They are helping change the private equity landscape by assuming roles that were previously dominated by men. Notably, more women—even women of all colors—are now making more impactful decisions, changing perceptions, and creating significant changes in countless lives.

These women in private equity are also providing great mentorship opportunities for younger women to take on their chosen industries. Most importantly, they are female role models helping boldly and positively change the way the world sees women in business.


Women in private equity are still underrepresented – but the sector is starting to change

Private Equity’s Most Influential Women 2018