The education technology firm founded in 2011 by three graduate students Dana Pagar, Kara Carpenter and Rachael Labrecque, is receiving accolades for a new iPad application to help young children learn addition. The app, called “Addimal Adventure”, uses different games to teach learning strategies for solving addition problems. With the success of their first app, Teachley recently launched its newest math app called “Mt. Multiplis” designed to help struggling students master multiplication skills.
“Kara, Dana and I were graduate students at Teachers College at Columbia University. We were working on a research grant to develop math software, which was still a relatively new concept. As we worked, we saw a disconnect with commercial products and apps not coinciding with what research shows about young learners,” said Teachley co-founder Rachael Labrecque. “We decided to develop our own math apps for kids based upon cognitive research.”
Teachley credits their small business success to their ability to access start-up and development financing through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Coordinated by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the SBIR program provides cash awards to qualified small businesses from more than a dozen federal agencies to stimulate research and development in the technology arena. The program was created in the 1980s and exists to encourage entrepreneurs to explore technological innovation; meet research and development needs of the federal government; bring private-sector technological innovations to the commercial market; and assist socially and economically disadvantaged persons enter this competitive arena.
“We were already working on research grants when a faculty advisor told us about the SBIR program. It was a lot different than university grants we worked with because of the focus on commercialization,” said Labrecque.
Financing for Addimal Adventure did not come in one lump sum. Under the SBIR program, financing occurred in two phases. Teachley received their Phase I cash award of $150,000 from the U.S. Department of Education in 2012 where they had to prove the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of their math app as well as show their company could perform the tasks to develop it further.
“With the award, we started working on Addimal Adventure with an app concept we had already started developing earlier. Our app was in more advanced designing stages than most Phase I products,” said Labrecque.
Having proven their math app met the scientific and technical merit and commercial potential of Phase I grants, Teachley applied and received $900,000 more in funding under Phase II of the SBIR program in 2013.
“Our Phase II funding request was very strong. We had joined Socratic Labs, a New York City community accelerator focused on education technology, and that helped with the commercialization aspect. Working with a variety of business mentors helped us develop a strong commercialization plan,” said Labrecque.
Teachley’s Addimal Adventure app won a 2014 Apple Design Award at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, where iOS apps are recognized for outstanding design and innovation. Last October, Teachley finished second, just narrowly missing top honors, at NBC’s Education Nation Innovation Challenge. More importantly, Teachley has created four technology-sector jobs.
“We are working on bringing “Addimal Adventure” and our new app “Mt. Multiplis” to the commercial market. From January to May, we offered a pilot learning analytics program for free to elementary teachers using Addimal Adventure in their classrooms. Over 80 teachers in 36 schools in 12 states participated and we’re implementing some of their recommendations for the launch of our Learning Analytics Platform for schools this fall,” said Labrecque.
Teachley has another year on the current Phase II SBIR grant and expects to see the return of their commercialization efforts with the launch of their Learning Analytics Platform this fall.
Since passage the Small Business Innovation Development Act which led to the creation of the SBIR program, thousands of small businesses have seized the opportunity to compete for federal research and development awards. In New York alone, more than 6584 awards totaling more than $1.7 billion have inspired technology-focused small businesses like Teachley. These small businesses are making lasting contributions to the nation's education system, national defense, environmental stewardship, health care advances, and more. More information on the SBIR program can be found online at: http://www.sbir.gov.