Startup Spotlight: Education ModifiedMay 1, 2016
Today – we chat with Melissa Corto, co-founder of Education Modified, which has created a tool for everyone who influences the education of a student with diverse needs. It provides research based teaching strategies and best practices for all IDEA disability categories, tracks effectiveness, and provides access to the collected wisdom of current and past teachers. Created by teachers, this resource provides educators with job-embedded, research-based professional development that increases collaboration and ultimately improves the outcomes for students with diverse needs.
Melissa Corto, Founder & CEO of Education Modified: Education Modified is an innovative education technology startup that delivers cutting-edge, research-based teaching strategies for all disabilities in today’s classrooms. Combined with analytics, Education Modified improves outcomes for diverse learners, all within a teacher’s daily workflow.
GH: What was your Eureka Moment and how did you get started?
MC: After my co-founder and I had been teaching in NYC public schools for many years, we were asked to mentor new special education teachers coming into the Urban Teacher Residency program. During training, we discussed the struggles they faced in an era of rigorous standards including the lack of consolidated resources and inefficiency of communicating with all stakeholders. The number of apps for students with disabilities was growing, but few tools for teachers existed. We said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was an application that did (this)?” and concluded, “We should make that.”
GH: How did you build your team?
MC: We leveraged the amazing edtech network here in Boston and surrounded ourselves with experts from this industry. Education technology is a niche market, and we wanted passionate people who had experience in building amazing products and businesses on our team.
GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?
MC: We have a set of core values that drive our mission and culture at Education Modified, including “Seek to understand before being understood,” “Teachers are experts”, and “Keep your eyes on shared goals, despite differing approaches.”
GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
MC: Bouncing back has definitely become a thing we are very familiar with at Education Modified. It is the only way to success. In particular, one failure that stands out was when we had outsourced our very first prototype without a tech person on our side. We built out way too much, did not have the vocabulary or experience to articulate what we needed or wanted, and then we were stuck with little more than proof of concept. We had a really hard time moving on from that, but we did. We had to prove to people that if we build it, they will come, but it took a lot of persistence. That was the key we could have given up on more than a couple occasions at that stage, but we didn’t.
GH: What did you learn from your first customers?
MC: We quickly learned that teachers are a very specific type of user. They gave us great insight into our tool, that even as teachers for many years, my cofounder and I hadn’t thought of. Also, we learned that teachers wanted to use our tool for ALL their students, not just ones with special needs. So, that’s pretty awesome.
MC: The most unique and valuable part of the Boston ecosystem is the collaboration with the large university life here. We have been connected to an amazing network of graduate students and have partnered with various universities to leverage this emerging talent. Through organizations like The Capital Network, Greenhorn Connect and Learn Launch, we have had the opportunity work with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Babson, Boston University, Northeastern, and MIT.
GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
MC: I don’t think that Boston is ‘lacking’ anything, per se, but it does have a very distinct investment culture here, versus New York City or the west coast. I have noticed much more rigid investment criteria, especially at the seed stage, with regards in particular to education technology sector. Boston investment community is not as keen on the freemium model, for example. That being said, there is an investment gap in the industry as a whole at this stage, so Boston may just be par for the course.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
MC: Best piece of advice was “Remember, in the game of edtech, you have to be morphine, not advil.” and the worst piece of advice we got was, “You should just become a nonprofit. Then you might be successful.” I’m really glad we didn’t do that.
MC: It was a busy year last year with a lot of great things and positive traction, but the best was participating in the LearnLaunch accelerator program. Hands down. We learned so much and met a supportive network that pushed us to sign our first integration partnership and launch our product. I firmly believe we could not have done so otherwise.
GH: What does the future hold for Education Modified?
MC: In the short term, Education Modified is growing and we are looking forward to expanding our user base and making the product even better. For the long term, we have grand visions: We are going to change the way we do special education in this country.