Amazon Web Services (AWS) EdStart Members and founders—Jennifer Larson of SchoolBzz and Reva McPollom of Lessonbee—are changing the way that parents, teachers, and students interact with schools and in the classroom.
With SchoolBzz, the focus is on easing the parent-teacher load and changing the standard school communication model. With Reva, the focus is on modernizing how we approach “health” class and what it means to be healthy in the twenty-first century. For the first installment of the AWS EdStart Global Founders Series, read on to learn about how two EdTech founders are developing the next generation of education solutions in the AWS Cloud.
SchoolBzz’s cloud-based platform simplifies the school-home communication process
Jennifer Larson, founder of SchoolBzz, focuses on solving the school-to-home communication process to make it easier for parents to access the tools and resources to support their children at home. When her oldest child was in eighth grade and her youngest child was in kindergarten, Jennifer found she could not manage the many communications sent to her by teachers, principals, coaches, school nurses, after school programs, and district administrators. At one point, over 32 people contacted her on a weekly—sometimes daily—basis with communications related to her children’s care.
During this time, Jennifer began studying how parents wanted to receive information from educators. She learned that parents needed clear, concise, consistent, and synchronized information to effectively manage their children’s requirements. To respond in 2016, she launched SchoolBzz, a cloud-based company, to flip the traditional school communications model requiring parents to visit teacher websites, monitor emails, and reference messaging apps. She wanted to create a consolidated tool to enable parents to gain control over how and when they receive updates.
Without a technical cofounder or chief technology officer, it was critical for her to work with reliable technical teams along the way. So, Jennifer engaged with AWS EdStart.
“The AWS EdStart team has been extremely helpful in providing insights on our technology strategy and software architecture. We’ve worked directly with their technical program leader and solutions architects. We’ve been introduced to technical advisors and we’ve also used AWS IQ to find contractors,” she said.
ScchoolBzz currently uses AWS Lambda, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), and Amazon Translate. With the help of contractors and AWS solutions architects, Jennifer integrated Amazon Translate into the build of the SchoolBzz learning management system (LMS) to enable multi-language support. This allowed parents to choose which language they want to receive classroom updates and assignment summaries. Jennifer is looking at expanding her use of machine learning-based language services with Amazon Polly, Amazon Comprehend, and Amazon Transcribe to support the accessibility needs of SchoolBzz customers. For additional information on how the SchoolBzz team is utilizing AWS technology, you can read their case study.
The SchoolBzz team is entirely remote and can find it challenging to connect with other entrepreneurs in the EdTech space. “The AWS EdStart team hosted numerous networking and educational events over the years. It’s given us an opportunity to share startup stories, challenges, and even opportunities. With COVID-19, we have some pretty big challenges to overcome to make learning accessible to everyone, everywhere, and we believe the AWS EdStart program is well positioned to serve as a catalyst for this collaboration. We feel fortunate to be part of the AWS EdStart community,” according to Jennifer.
Prior to joining AWS EdStart, two schools piloted SchoolBzz with 600 users, and the platform only offered English. Since migrating from another cloud provider to AWS, SchoolBzz provides support for 25 languages and expanded into 10 schools with over 5,000 users. Learn more about SchoolBzz.
Lessonbee is an online learning platform enabling members to access online health courses
Reva McPollom is a mom, digital learning consultant, and the founder and chief executive officer of Lessonbee, a transformative online health education platform. Reva created Lessonbee to support health education and give children the ability to manage their own health. Students learn to make responsible choices through an interactive and self-paced learning experience rooted in brain science and culturally responsive practices.
Reva founded Lessonbee based on her own experience after seeing how challenging health class can be for students. She witnessed antiquated lessons that did not reflect her identity as an LGBTQ, black teen and realized that she needed to create a new solution to help students worldwide.
Shortly after launching Lessonbee in 2018, Reva prevailed through multiple stumbling blocks, both as a first-time founder, and as soon-to-be mother experiencing a challenging first-time pregnancy. Without the help of a technical lead, Reva dove directly into Lessonbee’s curriculum research, learning design, and technical requirements to develop a working prototype. However, Reva struggled to schedule face-to-face meetings with educators, a common barrier of early-stage EdTech startups. When, she did finally connect with her end user- health teachers, it became clear that the product was not ready to go-to-market.
Reva decided to participate in two startup accelerators to improve her product and strategy. During this time, Reva began to measure her user base and soon discovered that her existing business model would not scale. In the spring of 2020, Reva joined a third accelerator where she learned about the role of data and analytics in creating an investment-worthy product. This led to a breakthrough for Lessonbee, enabling Reva to raise additional funding, and soon thereafter, hire a director of engineering, Ankur Kumar. After starting, Ankur immediately began leveraging AWS tools, quickly improving Lessonbee’s privacy, security, scalability, and engineering processes. For additional information on how the SchoolBzz team is utilizing AWS technology, you can read their case study.
“AWS scaled according to our customers. We’re using a full suite of AWS offerings for our cloud services, which provides holistic tools at competitive prices, including developer tools for continuous delivery of our releases and tools for scaling our servers as per need. We wanted a one-stop solution, and AWS is perfect for that,” said Reva.
In addition to being all-in on AWS, Lessonbee is an AWS EdStart Member, which helped their team make new connections with fellow founders in the community. “AWS EdStart has become an extension of our team,” she said. “Marketing, education, fundraising, infrastructure, and innovation—they have supported us on all fronts. We’re excited about the future with AWS.”
In the fall of 2020, Lessonbee curriculum was approved for district use by the Chicago Public Schools Office of Student Health and Wellness and the New York City Office of School Wellness Programs. In addition to joining AWS EdStart, Lessonbee also recently joined forces with PowerSchool, a leading K12 EdTech provider, as a Schoology Learning Applications Partner. As Lessonbee matures, the Lessonbee team plans to implement a complete suite of AWS continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) tools along with AWS artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions. Learn more about Lessonbee.
AWS EdStart, the AWS educational technology (EdTech) startup accelerator, is designed to help entrepreneurs build the next generation of online learning, analytics, and campus management solutions in the AWS Cloud. Learn more about AWS EdStart and keep an eye out in the months to come for more compelling stories about founders in AWS EdStart.