Towson-based Lessoncast, one of several companies in Baltimore's ed tech hub, is setting out to improve teacher professional development. Lessoncast offers an online platform that simplifies and enhances teacher-to-teacher professional development. The platform provides teachers with multimedia tools that make it easy to create and share lessons, or Lessoncasts, with other educators.
CEO Nicole Tucker-Smith, a former Baltimore City teacher and Baltimore County administrator, founded the company with Khalid Smith in 2011. The husband-and-wife duo has developed the company's philosophy and vision around supporting teachers to improve student success.
"I think the best way to help students achieve higher is by supporting teachers," Tucker-Smith said. "As teachers learn more, the students' outcomes increase."
Due to recurring turnover in education, training new staff is often the primary focus of professional development efforts, Smith said. The Lessoncast model is meant to help schools provide on-going professional development to seasoned teachers.
"We saw this significant gap with the processes of professional development, and saw that we can really help add something to this," Smith said.
The company currently has 10,000 users across 700 school districts. A variety of programs, initiated through Lessoncast's membership in Towson University's Incubator, have supported Lessoncast as it has grown over the years.
"The biggest part of being in the incubator is that it opens doors," Tucker-Smith said.
Membership in the TU Incubator provides Lessoncast office space, as well as space to host local teacher workshops. Through its membership, the team has also been connected to powerful TEDCO programs, and has been the recipient of TEDCO's Tech Commercialization loan. The Lessoncast team also has direct access to a seasoned expert in ed tech startups, Frank Bonsal III, director of entrepreneurship at TU's division of innovation and applied research. Bonsal oversees the TU Incubator, which supports 25 member companies.
After realizing the important role that technology could play in education, Bonsal, a former teacher turned investor, dedicated his career to investing in educational technology companies nationwide. Eventually, his attention turned to Baltimore.
In Baltimore, entrepreneurs have access to large metro areas, but can still navigate the area fairly easily, Bonsal said. This access, along with the support from an ed tech "ecosystem," is what's putting Baltimore on the map for ed tech nationally.
"It's really a two-degree network here," Bonsal said. "If you don't know somebody, somebody else knows somebody. That makes it very accessible, particularly in an industry like education technology—people are more willing to help than not."
The economic impact of the TU Incubator since inception is $50 million, according to the Regional Economic Studies Institute in 2015. Other local educational technology companies that are part of the incubator include Communication APPtitute, CiteLighter, and SpiralMath.
The TU Incubator recently plotted Maryland's ed tech ecosystem on an interactive map. Check it out here.