online education

Houston-area education platform looking for new schools to help teachers with online tools

Houston-based iEducate is connecting local tutors and mentors to students. Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

A Houston-based nonprofit mentorship program that matches underperforming second to fifth graders with college student tutors to provide them targeted support has adapted to the online schooling era, by introducing hybrid learning services in partnership with Texas Region 4 Education Service Center.

iEducate engages student mentors from the nearby University of Houston education program and graduating Alief ISD high school students to work alongside teachers to ensure that every child has the academic support needed to achieve their full potential.

"Before the pandemic closed schools, our vision was to have an in-person system mixing public institutions with our local community," says Arun Gir, CEO of iEducate. "Mentors could provide their math, science, and literacy skills to prove targeted support to students, encouraging teachers to differentiate learning by identifying groups that could benefit the most from our help."

Gir says the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent school closings have forced iEducate to adapt, just like many other teachers and educators. For the first time, they are offering a needs assessment to any school that is interested in working with them.

"We are building on our unique range of educational support services that we have provided over the past to help schools advance student learning in these uncertain times," says Gir.

With their recently announced partnership with the Texas Region 4 Education Service Center, they will be able to train mentors on instructional tools and strategies to support any type of instruction including in-person, remote, and hybrid instruction.

"We are excited to collaborate with iEducate," says Pam Wells, executive director of Region 4 Education Service Center. "Their transformational work confirms the value that iEducate brings along with their ability to adapt and respond to our evolving educational needs."

The nonprofit, which was founded in 2013, started off as a hobby with Gir and volunteers working directly with individual schools, but after a few years, he left his job to work on building iEducate.

"Our focus is definitely on closing that achievement gap," says Gir. "One of our biggest issues is the literacy gap because that's a precursor to any type of student achievement beyond the early years. Personalized instruction focused on getting the portion of the class that is behind has led to growth for the students."

This summer, they conducted a needs assessment and revamped their mentorship program for a virtual classroom's needs, including calling out for more mentors. More than 600 applicants answered the call, ready to support over 7,000 students during the 2020-2021 school year.

"There was an overwhelming need for new types of assistance," says Gir. "From helping parents learn how to use online digital learning platforms to one-on-one tutoring and group tutoring sessions in the evening for students and parents, our mentors are willing and able and they have risen to the challenge."

To learn more about working with iEducate, email contact@iEducateUSA.org.

"We are navigating unexplored waters," says Gir. "We thought about opening up any school in the Houston area because we know that COVID-19 response measures are very decentralized which means we have to go directly to the source."

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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