It seems like it was just yesterday this reporter covered Lauren Miller’s graduation party at Georgia Tech. Now a Harvard Business School-educated entrepreneur and former second grade teacher, Miller is the CEO of Excelegrade. It is a company that strives to improve classrooms by providing a state-of-the-art platform for standardized testing in K-12 classrooms.
Miller and Jason Brein created a technology to be used on tablets, smartphones and laptops to streamline the grading process so teachers could focus more in the art of teaching and less on administrative tasks. MillerCoors awarded the Atlanta-based small business owners a business grant of $50,000 after winning first place at the MillerCoors Urban Entrepreneurs Series (MUES) business plan competition.
Excelegrade plans to use the business grant to grow the business and offer the valuable service to more schools. –yvette caslin
Tell us a little bit about why you decided to enter into the MUES (MillerCoors Urban Entrepreneur Series) competition.
For a few reasons, we needed additional capital to be able to expand our business and in particular for 2013-2014 school year. We have our products in school now. We needed to make product enhancements in order to be ready for the next school year. The wonderful things we heard in general from other entrepreneurs that not only did MillerCoors have a history of empowering small business owners, but during the competition you have an opportunity to get some great feedback and advice from some really successful people.
What is Excelegrade’s background and how old is the company?
We began building the business when we were students at Harvard Business School. I was a teacher prior to going to business school so I had the idea brewing as a teacher. Many of the things I experienced as a classroom teacher. We did a pilot of the product in 2012 to really see if the product would work. We then launched the product publically in December of 2012.
What schools have you partnered with?
Our model is a premium business model. Right now teaches can go online and they can use the basic models of our product for free. We sell a premium version that comes with data analytics for the district and we charge them per student. So we have teachers in over 150 schools using the basic version of our product. We have three school districts that have currently made a purchase and are using the products.
So there are no limitations on the school districts that you can service?
No. The really important thing to note about our product is it’s made for K through 12 teachers and students in schools across the U.S.; and we are particularly interested in teachers that are teaching common core. I’m not sure if you know this but this year is the first year of the use of common core standards and it’s the first time in our history that 26 of the 50 states are all teaching the same learning standards. It’s like teaching teachers all over again because the concept is completely new. What we do is provide teachers the assessment to align with common core standards to help facilitate the transition of new learning standards.
With the Core, teachers, parents, and students can browse thousands of Common Core resources by subject, domain, or standard. Teachers work extremely hard every day to be the best educators possible. We wanted to develop a platform that would make the transition to Common Core a little easier.
What are some steps people need to take in order to be successful ?
Think through your business plan and ask the tough questions, talk to others that you would consider being trusted advisors about your plan and essentially tell you why they think the business would not be successful. I think that when you get that type of feedback that you are able to improve your business plan. Be yourself and be passionate about your business. Make it come across to the judges by sharing your ultimate vision.
It’s important to note the importance of MillerCoors having a business plan competition like this. I think that it has such significance; awarding a $50,000 reward and several $25,000 rewards are not small feats at all. It is appreciated and much needed. The support of urban entrepreneurs is to really be commended.
MillerCoors awarded a total of $160,000 to five outstanding small businesses across the United States as part of its entrepreneurship program that has granted more than $1.9 million dollars to small businesses since 1999. This marks the last year for the MUES Business Plan Competition. It will now turn the page and evolve into “Tap the Future,” a Miller Lite-branded program that will bring great friends and business partners together to compete for a prize pool of $400,000. Tap the Future is slated to launch in the summer of 2013. People can like Miller Lite on Facebook or follow @MillerLite on Twitter for the latest updates.