Nashville-based Possip is a primary and secondary education platform founded by Shani Dowell. Possip uses routine, multilingual SMS surveys (i.e., pulse checks) to empower feedback between students’ families, teachers, and school administrators. Dowell says the idea for the company came out of a dinner table discussion with her husband.
We spoke to Dowell about the company and its purpose.
Tell us about the origin of the company.
Dowell: I’m a former teacher who’s also spent some time in business. My husband and I met through education. He was a school principal, and now has a network of seven schools that he leads. We were talking over dinner in late October 2016 about an issue he was having with a parent who was frustrated about communicating with teachers. The only way she could get feedback was over the telephone and in email. We thought there had to be a way to create a loop of feedback that parents, teachers, and school staff could use together.
The need for a more straightforward feedback system helps teachers as well?
Dowell: Teachers work so hard but they often only hear from parents when things are bad. We don’t have an easy way for stakeholders in schools to share. There’s really not a digestible way for school staff to hear from parents.
How does the platform work?
Dowell: Each week, parents will get a discussion prompt question, like ‘Are you happy with school this week?’ Schools can customize their own questions, like ‘What did you think about the parent conferences on Friday?’ or ‘Do you feel welcome in your school community?’
This message goes out in over 100 languages and the categories are based on what we know are core parts of school and academics, community, culture, and operations. Parents reply and our platform uses machine learning to organize it. Is it praise or feedback? We have a team of reporters who elevate any follow up as needed or note any trends. The pulse check happens on a Friday. On Monday, school administrators get a copy of the report when they log onto the platform.
Everyone can offer feedback?
Dowell: And it can take any form. A parent might be worried that her kid is being bullied or wants to learn about extra tutoring for a student.
You mentioned that the messages go out in over 100 languages.
Dowell: It goes out in the language of the parents. If you’re a parent who speaks Spanish, you’ll get your text in Spanish. Then our tech will translate what you share so the school can access it. It’s to give voice to parents who may not otherwise have it because there’s no one at school who speaks their language.
What funding have you raised?
Dowell: We’ve raised a little over $4 million to date from a group called TTCER, a funding group from Asurion.
Who are your clients?
Dowell: Predominately school systems. We sell in school districts and they pay per student, based on enrollment. Our base has grown to about 1,000 schools so far.
What was it like starting Possip in Nashville?
Dowell: It’s been good because of a couple of things. One, I’d say the Nashville entrepreneurial spirit is really growing. There are parts of the ecosystem here that are really trying to elevate the entrepreneurial experience. We also have a lot of tech talent here. I think some things are just different in a place like Nashville. You’re really able to see true needs, what regular everyday people are kind of wrestling with. And then you’re able to come up with solutions that really meet the needs of people where they are, which I think is really important, especially in schools and districts.
Were there any organizations that helped you in your entrepreneurial journey?
Dowell: We were members of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and that was really helpful. We also were a part of Google’s Women Techmakers program. Our relationship with Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub in Cincinnati, which is more about social impact, was very helpful.
How has the feedback from the schools been so far?
Dowell: We have over a 90% retention rate. We’re getting back out to conferences and out into the world. We’re seeing the need and opportunity everywhere. So we’re really excited and have had a great first quarter of 2022.