Q&A With Melissa Corto, Founder of Education Modified
EdTech Times spoke with Melissa Corto, founder of Education Modified, a comprehensive, research-based, special education tool to improve the education of students with diverse needs. Education Modified allows teachers to access specific teaching strategies, at their fingertips, for every need in their classroom.
Company at a Glance:
Company Website: educationmodified.com
Founder: Melissa Corto
Company category: Special Education
Product stage: Early
EdTech Times: What market segment is your company in?
We are excited to be a part of the K-12 special education market. This is a niche market that has been particularly left behind regarding innovation and collaboration in the classroom. We are looking forward to leading this part of the market so that teachers are better equipped to address their diverse learners.
ETT: Who are your core customers and how did you come across the problem you’re addressing? How did you define it, and what was your process in identifying it?
As special education teachers in a Title 1 high school in New York City, my co-founder and I stood in front of the most diverse classrooms in the world. With class sizes of 34 children, there could be up to 12 different special needs, and those were just the ones that were diagnosed. Even though we both faced this problem every day in the classroom, training new teachers as they entered the profession is what really defined it for us; we realized there weren’t any consolidated resources or sufficient tech tools to give to our residents—so we had to make them ourselves.
ETT: How did you develop a solution to this particular problem, and what was your process of arriving at it?
Our development process is always focused solely on what teachers need to help students. We developed Education Modified because we needed it for ourselves as teachers and for our residents who were learning to lead inclusion classrooms. We listened directly to our end-users, tested it with hundreds of teachers and made sure our development reflected this.
ETT: What it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors? And do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
Traditional technology systems that are being used in classrooms today either do not address special needs students at all, or they only address one need or one problem. We are focusing on a comprehensive solution that addresses all needs and is being delivered to teachers in a unique way- in the form of job-embedded professional development. As educators, we will continue to make tools that will solve real problems for teachers without interrupting their daily workflow.
ETT: Please describe your product development strategy and product stage. What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months? Describe your potential next milestones.
We are currently in start-up mode. In the spring we won the Milken-Penn GSE Business Plan Competition Audience Choice Award and Highest Impact Award for the ideation-phase and have moved quickly. We just graduated from the LearnLaunch Accelerator program, finished the iZone Short Cycle Evaluation Challenge in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University and have hired a research-partner from Teachers College at Columbia University. Over the next year I anticipate we will remain lean as we expand our pilots all over the Northeast.
ETT: Are you a disruptor, and why so? Do you believe you will remain as a disruptor in the near foreseeable future? Why is that so?
Traditional systems of special education are outdated and grossly inefficient. Our focus right now is to be a facilitator. Students with special needs, especially those in at-risk schools, and their teachers desperately need research-based strategies and an innovative system to effectively implement them. Our current focus is to provide that.
ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of, and what your role was?
Right before I left the classroom in 2014, I co-founded a pilot program called Whole Leadership Breakfast, an alternative-suspension program for high school boys with special needs. These boys were repeatedly suspended over and over again, with no real remediation or help, and ultimately the same outcome. So I decided to rethink the approach. Instead of taking them out of the school day one more time, we brought them in before school started, fed them breakfast, organized their backpacks and homework for the day so they were prepared, meditated and then talked about leadership. It was amazing. I will definitely follow up with that program and pick up where we left off at some point in the near future. I also experienced building out a prototype in a hackathon for our stand-alone product when EdMod first started out—I went to a hackathon sponsored by Salesforce with the hope of networking to meet developers, and ended up pitching an app version of our product. It was voted the top proposal and then we ended up winning first place.
ETT: Did you or do you currently have a mentor who is/has been helping you throughout the startup stages of the company? Who is that mentor?
We are very grateful to have worked with LearnLaunch and it’s wide range of mentors, particularly Jean Hammond and Don McLagan. In New York City, before we landed in Boston, we worked closely with Peter Bencivenga, a fellow teacher-turned-entrepreneur who is now the President of Datacation/CaseNEX. He helped us tremendously as we turned our vision into a product and eventually a company.
ETT: Where is education technology market going in the next five years, especially in your market segment?
I believe education technology is moving towards a more balanced dance between all stakeholders influencing a student’s education and the technology they use everyday. The market is indicating that new tools must fit within everyday pedagogy, so that they never replace an educator, but instead make their job easier and more efficient, allowing them to be more prolific.
ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
For K-12 you have to be solving a valid problem. It is imperative to talk to teachers and physically go into classrooms. Unless you were a teacher, it is difficult to understand the daily grind. In addition to teacher-focused product development, you also have to understand districts—talk to superintendents and school boards because they are your buyers—think about what problem you are really solving and if districts need your solution. I had a mentor tell me once, “If you are going to try to sell to districts, you better be sure you are morphine, not just Advil.” That resonated.