Release Date: March 6, 2017
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The online education company called interactiveX seems like something created in the computer labs of Silicon Valley, but it’s launching from the University at Buffalo’s Technology Incubator on Sweet Home Road in Amherst.
The firm, started by two UB alumni, has designed a technology platform called “Classavo” for higher education that gives professors a simple way to convert their “books and paper” courses into online experiences. Class materials like books, 3-D models, schedules, grades, attendance and more can be managed on a cloud-based platform that students can access from their smartphones or computers.
It is also an in-class tool that can display material on classroom computer screens.
The system has click-and-drag tools that teachers use to import and create textbooks, as well as manage documents, images and videos. Professors also can sell their teaching materials on the site. Analytical tools help manage grades and attendance, and produce complex tables and charts. The system is expandable, and Classavo designers add more features as professors suggest them.
The company, which was recently admitted to the START-UP NY economic development program, partners with open-source, e-book publishers, and hopes to contract with larger publishers such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill.
It allows for a quick transformation of a traditional classroom into a modern, screen-based learning experience that today’s students may expect.
“The biggest problem today is teachers have too many tools to build,” said Rohan Shah, CEO and co-founder. “There are systems to record grades, a site for homework, and attendance clickers in classes. There was a need to pull this all together.”
“Classavo is hosted on the cloud, so you don’t have to download anything,” Shah said. “If a teachers have problems, they can directly reach our help desk.”
The program, available at classavo.com, was recently used by participants at a hackathon at New Era Cap Company.
Grants help fund progress
The company, which Shah launched as a student, has received $8,000 in seed funding, mentorship and office space from UB’s Entrepreneurship Lab (eLab), $12,600 in support from the Buffalo Student Sandbox program and $17,476 from two grants from UB’s UB Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE).
The TCIE grants, from the organization’s Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence (SPIR) program, pay for UB engineering students to work at the company.
“SPIR is the perfect tool to enable their growth, as it gives them access to talented individuals from UB engineering,” said Timothy Leyh, executive director of TCIE. “The partnership with interactiveX also fulfills our goal of providing UB students with an experiential learning platform.”
Shah and Josh Krouse, the company’s vice president of research and development, who received a bachelor’s degree in international trade from UB’s Department of Geography, now have 4,000 student customers at five schools. To date, 16 professors at UB, Canisius College, SUNY Buffalo State, Penn State and UB’s satellite university in Singapore are using the service.
The company’s developer, Vivian Luo, has been modifying and expanding Classavo based on feedback from professors and students.
Shah said Classavo is marketed directly to individual professors, as they might buy a textbook, rather than going through the bureaucracy of selling to the whole university. When a professor agrees to use Classavo, students are billed $39 a semester for the service, which is typically less than the cost of most textbooks.
Trina Hamilton, PhD, associate professor of geography in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences, was an early user of Classavo in her economic geography class. Krouse was a former student and asked Hamilton to try the app with her class.
She loved the ability to place video clips and computer links in her class notes so that students could use the links when studying.
“I tend to use a lot of videos and news articles,” Hamilton said. “It enables me to have my lecture slides and allows the video play on the same page of my lecture content. That makes it easier when they go back to study.”
The startup has gained notice in the tech startup world. It was invited for an interview to a previous Y Combinator in California, an event labeled “the world’s most powerful start-up incubator” by Fast Company, and they are looking forward to another interview. The incubator helped launch Reddit, Airbnb, Dropbox and hundreds of other tech companies.