Education has come a long way since the days of chalkboards, bulky textbooks and meticulously-kept, handwritten gradebooks. In today’s educational environment, schools at every level are embracing powerful digital resources to transform their classrooms, from digital whiteboards to e-books, online gradebooks and more. Abre in Cincinnati, Ohio, was developed by educators to unify all these new digital resources to enable teachers to spend less time managing their services and more time teaching students.
“Teachers are using online gradebooks, keeping attendance records, managing calendars, and everything else online these days. Students have email accounts, online textbooks, and countless other tools,” said Damon Ragusa, CEO of Abre. “There was really a need for one platform, one headache-free interface for all these separate resources to live. Our team built it, and Abre is now a one-stop-shop for access to textbooks, assessments, forms, calendars, email and more.”
Abre began as the pet project of two former teachers-turned-IT-pros at Hamilton City Schools outside Cincinnati. They realized they had the talent and the time to build a solution to a common hassle in their classrooms: too many logins. Zach VanderVeen and Chris Rose got to work consolidating all the disparate apps into one interface and, once complete, quickly realized there was tremendous convenience in developing a fully-unified platform. From there, they got to work on what is now Abre.
A unique aspect of Abre is that it’s developed as open-source software, meaning that the original source code is made freely available online and may be redistributed and modified. It’s a characteristic the Abre team really values.
“Our code is out there for anyone to use. Educational tools should be accessible to everyone. But we’re also a business, so we sell hosting services for the Abre platform. It’s like If I gave you a ‘free’ puppy,” said Ragusa. “It’s free, but it costs you money to maintain and keep healthy. Most schools don’t have the technical capabilities to effectively manage server-based technology, so they buy our software services to manage it for them, or to purchase school-specific apps not part of the original offering.”
The Abre team is developing new applications with the help of CincyTech, a southwest Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. CincyTech recognized the impact Abre was having on several school districts around the Cincinnati area and invested in the company. This set them up to hire new developers and build out their technology with new features like a gradebook app to help teachers manage student plans, parent communication features, and personalized learning tools for teachers and students.
“The investment from CincyTech was huge for us, both in allowing us to grow our technology and validating and reaffirming our mission,” said Ragusa. “Their support, and the support of so many schools in the area, is giving us the boost of confidence that we’re definitely onto something. We’re able to now add some really dynamic services to our product suite while keeping our initial mission at the heart of all we do: eliminate the hoops in education and allow teachers and students to focus on what really matters—education.”