Glimpse K12 co-founders Adam Pearson and Nicole Pezent started working together in the ed tech industry more than a decade ago, when Alabama-based Chalkable (then STI), a company offering web-based education data management solutions to K-12 schools, acquired Learning Earnings, a startup that Pearson co-founded in 2006. As the two worked on integrating Learning Earnings into Chalkable and partnering with school districts throughout Alabama, they repeatedly saw the challenge districts faced tailoring their budgets to ensure that money spent on curriculum and professional development was being put to its best use.
“There were problems we couldn’t unsee,” says Pezent, referring to the lack of information shared between accounting departments, curriculum and the student demographic.
When Chalkable was sold to Power School in 2016, Pearson and Pezent decided to found their own company. “We really wanted to help [school districts] by providing tools that allow them to look at student outcomes in the context of what they did to generate those outcomes,” Pearson explains. With that information, a district could then assess its classroom investments and take corrective measures as needed to ensure that future expenditures would have maximum impact on student achievement.
“No school system has as much money as they need to solve all the problems that they face,” says Pearson. “So, we figured, since we can’t print more money, we can help them understand which expenditures may not be as effective as others, so they can divert those resources to more effective activities.”
Pearson and Pezent started Glimpse K12 in 2017. The company’s AIM platform creates a curriculum map that lays out resources, products and tools that are being used throughout a district. Those components are then organized into impact areas and aligned with objectives, goals and costs, providing a foundation for analyzing and managing an education Return on Investment (eROI).
“Basically, the platform allows us to pull out data from different systems that are sort of siloed in the district,” Pearson explains. Those silos include financial accounting, student demographic information and student achievement data. “Traditionally, the problem has been that the accounting systems don’t have the concept of a student, right? And vice versa, you know, student achievement and student demographics platforms don’t have a concept of cost for activities.” Over the course of a year, AIM connects those dots and provides a student outcome analysis and eROI insights that pinpoint where spending is effective.
Pearson says it takes about 30 days to set up the software and provide user training. During this phase, districts can identify the issues they want to focus on, such as the correlation of a specific activity and a certain student demographic. For example, working with the Morgan County school district, Glimpse K12 was able to identify that when a curriculum platform was used with fidelity — in this case, 45 minutes a week — they saw double the growth in student achievement, compared to students who weren’t exposed to the resource as much.
“And that established a good best practice for them,” Pearson says. “They could put that information back out into the district and say, ‘Look at the data. When we use this activity, it’s helping students succeed.’ That was a big success story.”
“In training, we talk about the annual process districts go through identifying what spending was ineffective, so that they can re-allocate those resources,” he continues. “Most of the time we’re redirecting those funds to something that may bear more fruit for the students.”
“We really want to get to the redirecting of spending,” Pezent adds. “Because of the way their budgets work, they’re not in the business of banking a lot of their funds; they have to spend them in certain increments or by a certain deadline.” If a district is looking to spend less, Glimpse K12 can certainly identify areas where less-effective resources can be eliminated. Otherwise, “we want to make sure that we can tell them when they’re dispersing funds to other areas that they can rest assured it will directly impact their students in a positive way.”
Glimpse K12 currently has over 50 clients across Alabama and the Southeast. Its software developers, data analysts and sales team members are split about evenly between Madison County and the rest of the state and region, with Pearson and Pezent working out of its Huntsville headquarters. Pearson, who is from Huntsville, and Pezent, who relocated from Mobile, were both drawn to the area’s talent pool.
“We could have been based out of San Francisco,” Pearson says. When Glimpse K12 was in development, they applied for funding from Y Combinator, a venture capital accelerator based in Silicon Valley that has helped launch more than 2,000 companies, including Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit.
“Ten thousand companies worldwide apply every year, and we applied and were accepted for the winter session in 2018.” Startups attend a three-month training cycle in Silicon Valley that works with them to expand their business goals and connect them with investors. It also strongly encourages participants to stay in Silicon Valley and continue to tap into its many resources. Y Combinator “is a great experience, and it would have been a really great opportunity,” says Pearson, “but we wanted to see if we could build a successful business in our home state.”
“We talk to superintendents all the time who want to make sure their students graduate and go to college and come back and build industry where they’re from,” Pezent adds. “And that’s something that was close to us. When you see that progress, that’s what you want to do, too.”
Pearson and Pezent encourage other area entrepreneurs to take advantage of programs like Y Combinator to expand their access to West Coast capital and business connections that may be useful to them. “We try to do that as much as possible: broaden the outlook. You feel like that’s a different world, and you get there and you realize it’s the same world, just a different location.”
Remaining in Alabama hasn’t hurt the company at all, and it’s beginning to get inquiries from school districts across the country. “We’re in a big growth phase at the moment,” says Pearson. The company already has its sights set on expanding beyond the Southeast in 2020, viewing population centers on the East and West Coasts as areas of big opportunity. They’ve also had a lot of interest from the Midwest, where Pearson sees a lot of similarities in the challenges faced as those in the Southeast. And, he points out, when the Glimpse K12 platform is nationwide, Alabama will be known for its genesis.
Katherine MacGilvray and David Higginbotham are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. She is based in Huntsville and he in Decatur.