Published on November 16, 2023, 5:00 pm

Artificial intelligence company Tech Spark AI has secured a $1.4 million pre-seed round of funding to develop a new generative AI platform called Spark Plug. The investment was led by TD Bank, with participation from Salesforce, the Canadian government, and NBA Canada.

Based in Toronto, Tech Spark AI was established by Tamar Huggins eight years ago to create school curricula for Black and brown students across North America. This eventually led to the concept of providing a more personalized learning experience for students. Huggins collaborated with her 13-year-old daughter, Talia Grant, in the creation of Spark Plug. The aim is to offer a Black-owned alternative to existing AI search platforms, particularly ChatGPT.

Spark Plug has formed partnerships with educational institutions in the United States and Canada, focusing on schools within underserved Black and brown communities. Initially, the platform allows users to translate classic literature into modern language targeting Gen Z as its audience. Specifically, text translation will be available from standard text to African American Vernacular English (AAVE), a dialect widely used by Gen Zers online that originated in the Black American community.

Huggins emphasized that technology is often developed without considering “Blackness”, leading to negative impacts on Black communities, especially when it comes to AI. She aims to use technology to identify and address problems within these communities by creating meaningful and tailored solutions through Spark Plug.

The language model for Spark Plug was trained by members of Gen Z, including Huggins’ daughter, as well as authors from the Harlem Renaissance and Civil Rights Movement activists. Despite its focus on students, the product is available for anyone as a web application similar to ChatGPT. The goal is for Spark Plug to become a leader in inclusive generative AI.

Securing funding proved challenging for Huggins; she conceived the idea in 2019 and began developing the product during her pregnancy in 2020. Following the murder of George Floyd, many investors expressed interest in supporting Black founders in the edtech space. However, like many other Black founders, Huggins found most of these promises to be empty. The situation changed after TD Bank invested in Spark Plug late last year. This investment opened doors for other investors who wanted to be part of the funding round.

Huggins also received funding from the Foundation for Black Communities’ Investment Readiness Program. Omar Omar, the director of community investments at the foundation, commended Spark Plug for acknowledging and leveraging the knowledge and ideas that have allowed Black communities to flourish despite adversity. By placing the perspectives of racialized communities at the center of their work, Spark Plug has unlocked the true potential of technology’s future.

In addition to language translation capabilities, Spark Plug has developed an assessment tool called LearningDNA to assist educators in understanding how students learn best. For example, if a student learns best through auditory methods, Spark Plug will present concepts with a hip-hop melody. The platform also aims to expand its dialect translation capabilities, recognizing that Black voices vary significantly across different regions worldwide.

Huggins emphasized that each Black child’s learning experience differs based on their location—whether it be Canada, the United States, Haiti, or Jamaica. Therefore, redesigning and personalizing the learning experience is essential for creating positive changes within these communities.

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