Wednesday, June 28, 2017
OK – you’re trying to teach a dance student some new moves. Or you’re a physical therapist who needs to share a new technique with colleagues. What about a fire chief who wants to show his unit the latest safety information?
Just show them – rather than tell them – how it’s done.
Three recent Siena graduates have been getting a lot of notice – and funding – for creating an app that can do exactly this.
TeachMe is a secure mobile platform for sequential learning created by Jennifer Hogan of Schodack, Kevin Danaher of Guilderland, and Firmin Alexander of Brooklyn, all Class of 2017. What that sound bite description means is that you can learn something new (or practice it) by watching it on your device at your convenience. All the necessary details of any physical, visual demonstration can be shared without resorting to lengthy explanations or complicated diagrams.
Hogan, Danaher and Alexander are the “parents” of this new application that they hope to market worldwide. Their brainchild was hatched at Siena’s David ’73 and Christine Spicer ’75 Stack Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and is now getting ready to fly. Each is handling a key role in the development of this product: Hogan is in charge of operations and finance, Danaher is doing the tech work, and Alexander is heading up sales and marketing.
The trio is spending this summer in Syracuse as residents at the StartFast Venture Accelerator, part of the Global Accelerator Network designed to help entrepreneurs get their start-ups off the ground. The accelerator received more than 1,000 applications for the eight-week intensive workshop; TeachMe was one of only five chosen to participate. Hogan, Danaher and Alexander will meet with mentors from around the country to explore the legal, financial, technological and marketing aspects of making their dream a business reality.
As if the mentoring from experts in the field was not enough, StartFast will provide at least $25,000 in funding for TeachMe. The amount could increase later on depending on the success of their summer efforts and demo day pitch.
How does TeachMe work?
Hogan used a dance class setting as an example: the teacher takes out her device at the end of a lesson and opens the app. She can record a new section of choreography and then dismiss the class on time. Any student in that class can now go and log in to their protected TeachMe account and view the videos of their new choreography to rehearse, or revisit a section they are unsure about.
Danaher explained that there are many benefits for teachers and students to using the TeachMe app:
“When the students come in the next week, they are better prepared, as they had the tools necessary to practice their new choreography or review it if they missed class. Parents are happy because class time is not wasted, and teachers are happy because they can make progress with their dances instead of revisiting old choreography each week,” he said. “The studio owner is happy because their studio's classes are productive and routines look well rehearsed at competition.”
How did the TeachMe team get the idea for their product - and the encouragement to make it a reality?
Both Hogan and Danaher were part of Chuck Rancourt’s entrepreneurship class in the fall of their junior year, and they initially had no idea what to do for their class assignment to create a business plan for a new product.
Hogan has studied “just about every kind of dance” since she was two; Danaher started hip-hop and breakdancing as a young teen at his mother’s dance studio. They had also both taught dance before and were looking for a more effective way to teach something that was, for the most part, physical and visual.
Strong interest in dance + need for a teaching tool + had to submit a business plan = TeachMe.
The last piece of the puzzle was Alexander. Hogan and Danaher conversed with him at Casey’s on campus toward the end of the semester and realized that with his avid interest in club dancing and his passion for sales and marketing, he would make the perfect addition to their entrepreneurial team. He eagerly hopped on board.
Since TeachMe had its genesis as an app for dance teachers and their students, the team is focused for now on creating a strong presence in the dance market. It will be expanded for other uses in the near future – anywhere there is a need to show someone how to do something sequentially.
StartFast isn’t the only entrepreneurial arena where TeachMe has attracted notice and awards. The app came in second at the fall 2015 Spark Tank, one of several idea contests sponsored by Siena’s Stack Center. They grabbed the attention there of Michael Tanski ’12, co-founder and CTO of Dumbstruck, who encouraged them to follow their dreams, as did Stack Center Director Matthew Cusack ’89.
“TeachMe is a great example of the innovation happening with startups at Siena, and in the Capital Region,” said Cusack. “The TeachMe team has grown and learned through the programs and courses in the Stack Center in the last two years, and we are all looking forward to their continued success.”
Kudos also came from a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.
The team went on to compete at the New York Business Plan Competition in 2016, where they won the People’s Choice Award. They were the first Siena team to make it to that particular competition. They won a spot there again in April 2017 – paving the way for four other Siena teams to compete as well.
“We started to realize that our product could be the real thing,” said Hogan. “All of these people believed in our idea, and in us.”
As Siena seniors, they knew they had a winner on their hands. Developing TeachMe became a full-time job, and classes became secondary. Danaher sometimes went a full week or more on two hours of sleep a night, staying up late to write code for the app. Hogan and Alexander went “very much full force” exploring various financing and marketing options.
“I was almost always interested in being an entrepreneur,” said Alexander. “Siena was always really accepting of whatever I wanted to do. The connections I have made through the College and the number of people I have met have been just amazing.”
The team is heading to Long Beach, Calif. this August to DancerPalooza, a national convention for dancers and dance teachers, to market their product, which is tailor made to address a great need in the dance world.
TeachMe is currently undergoing beta testing. For more information or to sign up to be a beta tester, visit www.teachme.dance. You can download the necessary testing simulator, which will enable you to use TeachMe and send valuable feedback to the team.