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Founder’s Five is a continuing series from Tyton Partners that invites education company founders to shed light on their own success and illuminate the landscape for other education entrepreneurs and investors by answering five basic questions.
Today, TeachTown, which was sold to Bain Double Impact in 2020, serves more than 100,000 students across 1,500 school districts across the country with a target digital curriculum for autistic students that is universally acclaimed by special education professionals.
Following the sale of TeachTown, Dan founded Multiple Hub, a non-profit innovation platform (501c3) for the autism community. Multiple’s mission is to transform the lives of people with autism at scale by supporting innovative technologies and working to attract investors to the autism market.
TeachTown came from a place of love, but also from a place of fear, as any parent can understand in one way or another. While raising my son with autism in the 90’s I could not find enough resources – particularly speech and language and education – that would help him grow and flourish. After partnering with some of the leading autism entrepreneurs and researchers in the world, we were able to create tools and curriculum built from the bottom up for people with autism that could finally help teachers, school districts and parents.
My TeachTown journey taught me a lot about the huge array of challenges inherent to building a startup in autism and about how fragmented the autism investment space is. There are many that don’t see enough of a return to make the investment, and even more VCs who are not willing to jump into potentially risky, pre-seed rounds needed to fund new, innovative solutions. I created Multiple Hub, to help connect entrepreneurs, experts, funders, and community members to assemble talent, scale solutions, attract capital, and continue to turn high-potential ideas into successful ventures.
Currently 1 in 30 children are diagnosed with autism in the US, a significant increase from 1 in 300 when my son was first diagnosed. Investors need to understand that more solutions are needed to help address the needs of this growing community. However, it’s not just on them. The autism community also needs to come together to help educate investors on the growing market and the scalability of solutions.
Be singularly focused on impact and efficacy; be clear about who your first customers are and what they are hiring your product to do for them? Understand the aspect of autism you are addressing and the sector – for example profound autism (people who are unlikely to live independently) versus higher functioning autism. Be aware that non-speaking does not mean low functioning: one-third of the autism population are limited or non-speakers. Does your product address autism symptoms or comorbidities or both and if so which specific ones? (i.e. challenging behaviors, social skills, motor, learning, anxiety, depression).
It all comes down to understanding the real market size… for the five million autistic individuals directly impacted, there are 10 or more family members impacted, and another 10 caregivers.Dan Feshbach
It all comes down to understanding the real market size and the advances in technology that enables scale. For every individual with autism there are many people impacted: two or more parents, on average two siblings, four aunts and uncles, four grandparents, and 10 caregivers. For the five million autistic individuals directly impacted, there are 10 or more family members impacted, and another 10 caregivers: teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and behavior therapists.
The beauty of the autism and autism education space is the variety of different companies working on new innovations that positively impact the autism community. Floreo for example is using virtual reality to teach important communication and interpersonal skills. Mentra, Divergent, and Inclusively are building marketplaces and support services and training programs for people with autism. Social Cipher is building online and mobile games focused on social and emotional learning to students across the country. Also, Hiki, a dating and friendship app for people on the spectrum. The variety of solutions is one of the reasons we began hosting showcases that would help spotlight new solutions to investors and experts in the space.
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