This husband and wife team knew there was a problem to solve around literacy in public schools. Kathy Schmitt had spent years improving ways to train teachers in best practices for literacy instruction. Dale Trudell, with 30 years of business experience, knew his wife’s patterned, systematic response to address these key issues could become a software solution. How do you turn a customized consulting practice into a scalable product?
Hoping to address a gap in the market, the Oshkosh couple founded High 5 Academics with product TTL (Teaching Teachers Literacy), a project management software tool that helps principals and teachers customize literacy instruction.
Trudell and Schmitt asked, “Can technology take over the process to save time and make decisions for the individuals?” They thought “yes” and began exploring ways to build out the software. Through a happen-stance conversation on a flight, Schmitt was referred to the Center for Technology Commercialization and the Ideadvance Seed Fund program. The team was selected for the June 2016 cohort.
“When teams first approach me about Ideadvance, they are understandably interested in the funding. However, they don’t appreciate all the unknowns in their business model,” Idella Yamben, Ideadvance Program Manager, explained. “That’s where a program and mentorship become key resources.”
Trudell had overseen rolling out new products from other companies and brands, but wasn’t sure how to start from scratch with their own idea. They quickly realized that Ideadvance was much more than a source of funding. Ideadvance provided information and structure to bring a product to market.
“Ideadvance was a pleasant surprise, it helped us walk through the product launch process,” Schmitt said. “Idella and the teaching team were integral in the Ideadvance program. Their objective guidance helped to fill in the gaps and without them we would not be where we are.”
With an initial focus on defining the problem and then exploring if TTL was a viable solution, Schmitt and Trudell developed software to support the 87 percent of principals who rated teaching literacy for their teachers as their top problem. This buoyed their hopes of a feasible product idea.
Through multiple minimal viable products, the couple developed a national network to conduct one-on-one interviews exploring the need for a software solution to literacy training. ”Ideadvance forced us to get out of the office to prove our assumption,” Trudell said. “Each time we went to segments and asked for what THEY wanted, developed a minimal viable product, implemented changes and asked again until we got the commitment, ‘If this is developed, we will buy it!’”
Today, High 5 Academics boasts a waiting list of customers as they continue full rollout of their software. By spring 2019, Schmitt and Trudell plan to have 100 percent of their tools online and a fully commercialized product with active, purchasing customers.
“Ideadvance is an ingenious program that succeeds because of Idella and the teaching team,” Schmitt explained. “I have two master’s degrees, and I feel like I have a third one because of Ideadvance!
Hear more about High 5 Academics’ journey through Ideadvance and commercialization in their own words here.
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About High 5 Academics:
High 5 Academics is a software development company which created Teachers Teaching Literacy, TTL. TTL is helping principals and teachers customize literacy instruction through automating the complex processes of teachers and principals collaboratively designing ongoing professional learning. After years of literature review and action research, we’ve identified the top professional learning activities teachers find highly engaging and effective in advancing teacher literacy practices. Learn more at www.teachingteachersliteracy.com
About Ideadvance Seed Fund:
Ideadvance grants support specific commercialization steps or milestones intended to reduce the business risk for entrepreneurial ideas. Up to $75,000 is available in two competitive stages to assess business model assumptions. Stage 1 provides seed funds up to $25,000 (U.S.) per company and focuses on helping to reduce the risk by determining which product or service features will solve a real customer need. Stage 2 provides seed funds up to $50,000 (U.S.) per company and focuses on developing a business model that effectively delivers solutions to customers and prepares the idea(s) for investment.
About The Center for Technology Commercialization:
The Center for Technology Commercialization is a unit in the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Division for Business & Entrepreneurship. CTC provides one-on-one expert consulting to early-stage emerging technology businesses throughout Wisconsin. CTC has collaborated in acquiring more than $100 million in federal and other funding for clients. Learn more at www.wwwtest.wisconsinctc.org; follow @WisconsinCTC on Twitter.
About The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
WEDC leads economic development efforts for the state by providing resources, operational support and financial assistance to companies, partners and communities in Wisconsin. Working with more than 600 partners across the state, including regional economic development organizations, academic institutions and industry clusters, WEDC develops and delivers solutions that help businesses, communities and people maximize their potential In Wisconsin. Learn more at http://inwisconsin.com; follow @InWisconsin on Twitter.