This Cleveland Startup is Revolutionizing Remote Special Needs Education

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How the pandemic introduced Vizzle to educators nationwide

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many startups across the country have had to pivot and innovate just to stay afloat. For the educators at Cleveland’s Vizzle, however, the surge in demand for high-quality remote educational software has been a chance to shine. The company’s platform, which specializes in maximizing the potential of special education students, was already in place in districts across the country. But as districts look for the best ways to teach students during the pandemic, Vizzle is rising to the top.

“We were averaging about seven to 10 free trials a week before March 13,” said CEO Bob Gephart. “From March 13 to May 9 alone, we had more than 3,500 trial signups. We were getting 150 a day as opposed to one or two, and we’re still hitting those numbers. School districts are really looking for resources they can use while kids are at home.”

Gephart said Vizzle’s sales grew a modest 20 percent last year, and he expected similar growth this year. But just 45 days into the company’s new fiscal year, interest has exploded. In all of last school year, the company achieved $1.8 million in sales. This year, they’re already at $1.2 million, with more districts extending their deals than ever before. So what makes Vizzle so special? Gephart said it’s their focus on students.

“What makes our platform special is that we’re student-facing and web-based,” he said. “Right now, with students remote and focusing on distanced learning due to COVID, we’re getting a lot of attention from districts that are trying to find resources they can use with their special education kids to make sure students are still getting that academic piece from home while they aren’t in front of a teacher or sitting with an intervention specialist. In special education, independence is important — how can we get kids to be independent and work independently? Our platform does that.”

Vizzle’s platform can be found in schools around Ohio, including Alliance City Schools outside of Youngstown, Dublin City Schools outside of Columbus and Lakewood City Schools outside of Cleveland, where VernaAnn Kotansky serves as the district’s Assistive Technology Specialist. Kotansky said she’s “thrilled” to sing Vizzle’s praises, and said the platform is more than just about making education easier.

“As a district, we utilize Vizzle as one of the main components of the curriculum for the self-contained classrooms,” she said. “The content can easily be individualized to meet the varied needs of our students. It not only provides curricular content, but builds students’ self-esteem. You can see the pride on the faces of our students when they independently complete an activity in Vizzle. This boost of self-esteem carries over to other activities of a student’s day. I can’t say enough about how compassionate and responsive the Vizzle crew is to providing support to teachers. Vizzle provides curricular content in a format that assists teachers in supporting and preparing students for their future successes in life.”

For Vizzle, remote learning during the pandemic isn’t just a quick sales boon, it’s a chance to introduce their platform to educators and students. Gephart is confident that Vizzle’s tools will be needed long after education settles into the new normal of a post-pandemic school setting.

“I don’t believe that when things get back to normal, whatever that looks like, education will just go back to its old ways,” he said. “I think a lot of what we’re doing with technology can and will continue. COVID is telling us what we always knew, that our solution works. We don’t believe that COVID-19 is the reason we have this business opportunity. We think COVID simply validated what our solution does.”

Vizzle was originally rolled out of the Monarch Center for Autism in Cleveland. The company has twice received investment from Cleveland’s JumpStart and has a strong network of local school districts. Between their deep ties to northeast Ohio and the opportunities across the state, Gephart said Vizzle is fortunate to be headquartered in Cleveland.

“In Ohio, we have the resources and room to grow,” he said. “We’re the seventh largest state in population and have a strong education system. We’re in over 60 districts in Ohio, so we have some great partners. It’s been a great environment for us to test our platform for students with special needs.”

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