Covid-19 sparks growth for Edmonton education tech firm
More than 3 million teachers in 136 countries are finding the Showbie products invaluable in their shift to online learning
In 2012 Edmontonian Colin Bramm was working on providing pragmatic solutions to problems that existed around implementing technology in the classroom when he appeared on the radar of an Apple executive.
At that time, schools were just starting to introduce the use of iPads into their classrooms and Colin saw some of the unique opportunities and challenges that existed around these new technologies.
Allan Gauld was an account executive with Apple at the time and was actively promoting Apple products to schools in Alberta.
“One of the goals that I had in respect to my role with Apple, was to bring a global perspective to the Alberta education system to drive interst and adoption for new Apple products in the region,” says Allan. “As we became more deeply engaged with the Alberta education system, we learned about the incredibly innovative things they were already doing. There was a real sense of forward-thinking, centred around the idea of, ‘What does an educated Albertan look like in 2030?’ It was inspiring. And I kept hearing from thought leaders about this group who were working out of the Alberta Research Park in Edmonton. I wanted to understand what they were doing.”
That group was Colin and his team, who were developing an app called Showbie.
The introduction of iPads into the classroom meant that students were able to produce all sorts of creative materials but there was no integrated process for sharing that content with their teachers at that time. Colin and his team developed an education workflow app that allowed students to share their materials and allowed educators the ability to provide rich feedback on that work.
“People forget what those first generation iPads were like,” says Allan. “The technology has come such a long way. In those early days, some people had a hard time understanding where the iPad would fit and were even unsure if the product would be successful. The ability of Colin to be forward thinking enough to recognize the potential that these technologies had for learners, to see where the gaps existed, and to create solutions to address these gaps really demonstrates how the Showbie team has always been forward-thinking.”
Bringing a made-in-Alberta vision to the world
Allan was impressed with the work that Colin and his team were doing and recognized a shared vision with what Apple was working towards when it came to integrating technology into the classroom.
“He [Allan] told me that this was an app that all educators introducing the use of iPads into their classroom would need,” explains Colin. “He invited me to visit Apple headquarters in Cupertino.”
This was instrumental in expanding Colin’s network and it didn’t take long until Showbie was selected to participate in Imagine K12, a Silicon Valley start-up accelerator focused on education technology.
Colin spent the better part of a year in California working with the accelerator and credits this program with helping to build their initial success.
Once Colin was back in the Edmonton region, he received support from members of the A100, which helped Showbie acquire seed funding and move forward with product development and sales.
Since then, the organization has grown organically across the world as teachers adopted the app’s free version leading to school administrations eventually purchasing licenses so that their staff would be able to access the enhanced features.
In July 2018, the company acquired Socrative, an app that allows teachers to deploy real-time quizzes. Together, Showbie and Socrative create a complementary set of assessment and feedback tools for educators and that have been proven to be critical as classrooms all over the world have shifted to an online format due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Why the Edmonton Metropolitan Region?
When asked why he chose to return to the Edmonton region to continue to grow his business, Colin credits the supportive community and quality of life that exists here.
“It’s a region where you have everything that larger communities like Toronto or Vancouver have, but the cost of living makes it so attractive. This is extremely helpful in attracting and retaining talent,” says Colin. “And from a business cost perspective, it’s more affordable. Especially when we compare ourselves to the US where health insurance costs for businesses are so high.”
How the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated growth
“There are not a lot of businesses right now that would say that the pandemic helped to shift the market in their favour,” says Colin. ”But that is exactly what has happened for Showbie. Since the global shift to online classrooms, we’ve seen tremendous engagement from our teachers. This situation has allowed us to build an even more concrete presence internationally. We’ve been able to harness local talent and a network of big thinkers globally to act as our customer support network”.
This week, Showbie is launching video chat function to its enhanced features.
“We are always looking for ways to improve the tools that educators can use in the classroom,” says Colin. “Unlike applications like Microsoft Teams or the Google suite of applications, which were developed for a more corporate audience, our products have always been built with the school classroom in mind. We really consider the relationships that develop between a teacher and their students which can be undermined on an online platform. Our product allows teachers to give rich feedback to their students and this leads to better engagement and communication.”
As for Allan, he’s continued to keep an eye on what Colin and his team are doing as they’ve scaled their business and expanded their network to include a global community in the education space.
“They’ve come a long way from where they started in 2012,” says Allan. “But I firmly believe that for Colin, the best is yet to come. He has the ability to build meaningful connections with people who share his vision and he’s successfully leveraged those relationships to build advocates for his product all over the globe.”