Published March 9, 2017
The online education company called interactiveX seems like something created in the computer labs of Silicon Valley, but it’s launching from UB’s Technology Incubator on Sweet Home Road in Amherst.
The firm, started by two UB alumni, has designed a technology platform for higher education called “Classavo” 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 recently was 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,” says 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 explains. “If teachers have problems, they can directly reach our help desk.”
The program, available at classavo.com, recently was used by participants at a hackathon at New Era Cap Company.
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 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,” says 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 says 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, associate professor of geography, 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 loves the ability to place video clips and computer links in her class notes so that students can use the links when studying.
“I tend to use a lot of videos and news articles,” Hamilton says. “It enables me to have my lecture slides and allows the video to 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 to the Y Combinator in California, an event labeled “the world’s most powerful” startup incubator by Fast Company magazine. The incubator helped launch Reddit, Airbnb, Dropbox and hundreds of other tech companies. interactiveX was not accepted after the allotted 10-minute interview, but has been invited back to pitch again, Shah says.