I had the opportunity to check-in with Marco Morales '11 to find out more about BrightLoop his new start-up which helps teachers capture and share student insights. And, of course we also had to inquire about his life since leaving Olin. Below are his responses to my questions.
Marco and Molly - BrightLoop Founders
Tell us a bit more about BrightLoop: How did you come up with the idea for the company? How has it grown over time? How is it doing today?
BrightLoop's start goes back to the beginning of 2012 when Molly Levitt (co-founder of BrightLoop) was thinking of how she could deliver truly individualized instruction to her 1st grade classroom. I met Molly a few months later at an event called Startup Weekend EDU, where people spent 72 hours to work in teams on a startup idea. Molly, at this point had been using an initial prototype of her concept in the classroom for a month or so, and she walked me through the iPad application she was using to help organize her student observations, creating individual lesson and goal plans along the way. When I heard Molly describe her idea for enabling teachers to take action on the observations they already make about their students day to day, I was struck by how incredible it would be to give all teachers a way to track these observations to paint a more complete picture of a student's learning.
In April 2012 both Molly and I had full time jobs. So, we worked nights, weekends, and holidays, to make this concept a reality. Between then and now we: built an initial product and released it to a small group of about 50 teachers, raised around $100,000 in funding including $30,000 through a Kickstarter Campaign, confirmed pilot programs at two school districts we hope to launch in the coming months and received various forms of positive recognition through local and national startup and educational technology competitions.
Over the course of the past two years we have had 9 different Olin students work for BrightLoop as design and software development interns, both through summer internships and a two week January wintersession program. Just recently, another Olin alumnus (Boris Taratutin '12) signed on with BrightLoop full time as a product manager and software developer. Boris joined Molly (who is no longer teaching full time) as the second full time member of the company. The team also has two other part-time contributors that we hope to make full time team members as soon as we raise another round of funding. While securing this funding, we are also continuing to improve the product for our current early adopter teachers.
How do you manage both your own business while also working full time at edX?
This is an excellent question, partly because I really don't have a great answer for it, other than through lots of caffeine. In the past year, especially once we started to have full time members of the team, the need to make progress forced a near round the clock effort to make sure my commitments for both edX and BrightLoop were met. With Brightloop's larger team I've been able to step back and be more cautious about the number of hours I work each week, which has helped make sure my involvement can be sustained for the long run. It has been so exciting to work on BrightLoop and edX that most weeks the hours really do just fly by, much like they did while I was at Olin!
Do you have advice for other Oliners that might be interested in starting their own business?
I would encourage students to take full advantage of the resources and space available to experiment with small venture while they are at Olin. I accidentally stumbled into a pattern of working on a number of Foundry and other startup-like projects at Olin, and the lessons learned from these projects have proven to be unbelievably useful. You could: start a tutoring business connecting local students to interested Oliners, skunk works a physical product and get it on Kickstarter, design a landing page for a fake product or service and "launch" a signup page for it, or just try and work on course projects you could see turning into real world projects. Also, especially if you know what industry you would like to work in, attend (silly) networking events in Boston and Cambridge. I started doing this halfway through Olin and not only did it directly lead to several internships for me but I learned a ton hearing from industry experts on panels and presentations talk about what they were excited about.
Do you have time for fun? What do you like to do?
If work is play you can work all day! :) I love working and thinking about education, though I still try and run or play soccer when the weather permits. I also love curriculum design and teaching so last Fall I started teaching at Startup Institute Boston in their product/design track, which has been a ton of fun!