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Partnering with STEM educators to foster innovative teaching.

Innovators: Expert TA

OKLAHOMA CITY – Educational teaching assistant software company Expert TA recently closed an equity investment with the Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund and co-investment from the Seed Step Angels group, company founder Jeremy Morton confirmed.

The Tulsa-based company has proven the effectiveness of its educational grading system in beta tests in engineering, math and physics departments of several universities and is now ready to roll out the product to the larger market, he said.

“It’s really going to help us do what we need to do over the next year and a half,” Morton said. “At one point you could have pictured me as a struggling entrepreneur. And we raised some money and then we were a small company. And, sure, there have been challenges.
“At this point we’re definitely into the realm of being described as a well-launched company that’s growing. We've had a couple of hurdles, but in the process of getting over them it’s positioned us well to tackle the markets more effectively in the next 18 months,” he said.

Expert TA provides an Internet-based system that helps professors and their teaching assistants, or TAs, grade complex assignments. The software is more human-like in its assessment of a student’s work and is capable of granting partial credit for answers instead of a simple all-or-nothing result.

In support of the system, Morton has accumulated a large volume of appropriate practice and testing content in several courses. Many of the big publishers have long-standing relationships with other third-party content providers backed by many schools, Morton said, and in recent years they have been developing their own software so they don’t have to outsource testing materials. Morton had to address that entrenched market attitude.

“We don’t have that, at least not yet,” he said. “We don’t have that line of universities lined up outside the publishers’ offices saying they need Expert TA content. Ultimately, we had to be mobile and address that problem. So I basically developed our own content.”

He drew that material from the teachers themselves, paying them to create appropriate problems for the Expert TA template. Many of them jumped at the chance to make some extra money during the summer months. Expert TA now has a large library of physics problems.

The company had to turn away several schools for the beta phase because there was so much interest in an alternative to what’s currently in the market, he said. Morton said he wanted to minimize exposure to program glitches until they were worked out. The first schools included Oklahoma State University, which tested the system on about 340 physics students.

To get the company off the ground in January 2010, he initially raised about $250,000 and secured matching funds with help from i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. The latest funding totals about $615,000.
The company is ready to formally start generating revenue this fall, Morton said. The development staff has made small adjustments to the product based on beta feedback and salespeople are now making national customer contacts in preparation for a big market push.

The Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund is a state-appropriated fund through the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and it is managed by i2E. The capital fund invests in high-growth startup and early-stage companies located exclusively in Oklahoma.

The Seed Step Angels is an Oklahoma-based group of private investors founded in 2009 with chapters in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Originally Posted on July 5, 2011 by Brian Brus
Courtesy of The Journal Record



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