Back-to-School Innovators: How Ohio Companies are Helping Make Pandemic Learning Safe and Effective

These Buckeye State startups are using a variety of solutions to help teachers and students

It’s a unique time to be going back to school. Classes are looking a lot different this year, as districts grapple with safety and sanitation, remote learning and an ever-changing classroom environment.

But don’t worry, Ohio companies are on the case.

From safety procedures and cleaning products to remote lesson planning and live streams, innovation from all around the state is helping teachers do their jobs and students learn and interact.

Here are just a few of the innovative ideas coming from Ohio companies that are helping keep the school year going:


Abre logoCincinnati startup Abre is the perfect solution for pandemic learning. The company has developed software that offers everything from communication and school management to data visualization and community engagement. Abre was so confident in their product that they’ve been offering the Abre Hub for free.

In many cases, educators are realizing that Abre’s tech will be useful far beyond the pandemic, which is the ultimate goal of the company, who wants to permanently improve schooling through their platform.

“Abre’s impact on schools can be measured in time saved,” CEO Damon Ragusa said. “Instead of spending time looking for the software tools and remembering login information, it’s all presented in one easy-to-access location. Providing district and school leaders a new channel to communicate directly with educators is a big benefit today, when chaos seems to be the norm.”


Boxcast LogoFall sports are officially a go in Ohio, but it will be challenging for family, friends and fans to watch players on the field or the court. That’s where BoxCast comes in.

The Cleveland startup had already been growing before COVID-19 hit, but the pandemic has made their services that much more essential. BoxCast has simplified the process of streaming a live event, allowing easy sharing for schools, teams, businesses, churches and anyone else who wants to stream. So, if you can’t get to that high school football game this fall, but are able to watch it anyway, you may have BoxCast to thank.

“What’s really interesting is that our society is changing before our eyes, and the need for people who are remote to be there is now a first class need,” said CEO and co-founder Gordon Daily. “It’s not an afterthought. And that’s where we’re just happy to be able to connect people.”

Healthy Roster

Healthy Roster LogoAmid the pandemic, Dublin’s Healthy Roster was one of many companies to pivot their existing model and create a new solution. That solution is SAFER Workplace, an application that tracks symptoms and infection and helps organizations get back to work.

SAFER Workplace has been used to help the PGA Tour get back to play and is geared towards businesses as well, but co-founder and CEO Nathan Heerdt said it’s now mainly being used in schools to help students stay safe. The variety of uses is just fine for Heerdt, who developed the application to help fight the pandemic.

“Any time you have an opportunity to do good for your community and your users and develop something that will help push your business forward at the same time, I think that’s the best-case scenario,” said Heerdt. “So, while we weren’t focused on COVID screening before this happened, our customers need this tool and it was easy for us to add it. We’re hoping it shows our customers the lengths we’ll go to in order to make their lives better and easier. We want to be a solution that they can count on when things are tough.”

Nature’s Magic

Nature's Magic LogoThere’s going to be a lot of cleaning and wiping down surfaces this year, and there’s no better option than Athens-based Nature’s Magic. The company has developed a whole line of plant-based cleaning products that are non-toxic, using essential oils instead of ingredients created in a lab, meaning they’re safer for the environment and your kids.

Nature’s Magic was already geared towards providing safe cleaning supplies to classrooms before the pandemic hit, and now founder Danielle Young says it’s an even better time to help provide an alternative to store-bought cleaners.

“I really love providing products so folks can safely clean without harming themselves, their human and furry families and the environment,” said Young. “Every little thing we can do right now to help protect the planet is going to make a difference. I especially love that kids can clean with them. There are over 100 classrooms in southeast Ohio that were cleaning with our products while they were in school, and we love that kids feel empowered to help keep their classroom environment clean and aren’t breathing in any toxins while doing it.”

Silco Fire and Security

Silco Fire and Security LogoWhen kids return to school, how can you ensure that hundreds of people walking in and out of a building aren’t showing signs of infection? Cincinnati-based Silco Fire and Security has a solution.

Typically in the business of preventing fire and protecting property, Silco branched out amid the pandemic to install special cameras with thermal imaging technology that can read the temperature of up to 32 people at once, even when they’re wearing masks. The tech is already in place at schools like Columbus’s Patriot Preparatory Academy, where it’s helping get students back in the building.

“When we surveyed our parents, one of the things they were most in favor of was thermal imaging technology,” said Patriot Prep Superintendent Sean Smith. “Something like 90 percent thought it was very important for us to check students’ temperatures on arrival. Logistically, it’s very tough to test every student without having to check them all individually. We didn’t want students to have to individually have their temperature taken in public. With this technology, we can protect everyone without being invasive, so it’s great.”


Vizzle LogoWith so much attention being paid to the average student, who’s worrying about special education learners during the pandemic? Vizzle, of course.

The Cleveland startup has developed a platform that specializes in maximizing the potential of special needs learners. And in the midst of the pandemic, their services are more needed than ever. CEO Bob Gephart said that the company’s business has ballooned over recent months, and hopes that their platform can help give special education teachers an important tool in this challenging time.

“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.”

As 2020 continues to be a year like no other, Ohio’s innovators continue to lead the way during this great time of need. Innovation has always been in our DNA and even a pandemic can’t stop the progress happening across the state.

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