on-demand

Houston-area early childhood education startup launches app to find at-home educators

A Houston startup is using technology to provide on-demand educators. Educational First Steps/Facebook

A Houston-area early childhood care and education startup and MassChallenge Texas in Austin 2020 participant, recently launched its 24/7 on-demand, two-sided marketplace platform that provides benefits for both parents and guardians or child care operators who need qualified educators quickly.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many parents are still juggling a full-time job and childcare at the same time. The launch of a marketplace platform app like OpenStaff aims to solve that problem, providing temporary or permanent childcare and teacher personnel to families and childcare operators across the Houston area, until children are able to safely go back to their daycare centers or classrooms.

"OpenStaff's Educational Mentors provide a structure that allows your child and family to retain some much-needed normalcy," says Jose Rodriguez, CEO and founder. "Our fully certified early childhood teachers and practitioners use their knowledge and experience to further a child's education while providing a safe, fun, and caring learning experience at home."

The app was launched on iOS platforms and is actively being user tested while they continue to build their database of qualified early childhood educators and substitute teachers for families and centers. All their educators comply with child care licensing regulations, completing a rigorous vetting process before they are allowed to join the platform.

"When you hire someone through our platform," says Rodriguez, "you have the peace of mind and our assurance that this teacher has been qualified, certified, background checked, and licensed in order to become a member of the OpenStaff educator community."

The early-stage startup came about from Rodriguez's first business, a childcare center that he took over six years ago with his wife. For them, the biggest challenge in this industry was staff management, dealing with unplanned absences would change plans drastically, sometimes changing teaching plans or restructuring classes.

"Even though we have an amazing team, sometimes life happens and they are not available to come into work that morning," says Rodriguez. "It was very stressful for office managers and owners as well as the rest of the team and if we were unable to find anyone to cover, even my wife or I would end up in the classroom."

That's when he started using staffing agencies for unplanned temporary workers but those, he says, are time-consuming and overpriced.

"We wanted to offer a different option that really works for everyone, not just parents during this crisis but also daycare centers," says Rodriguez. "Our app provides an open marketplace where centers can post a job by simply using their phone and receive applicants in minutes."

OpenStaff is currently focused on taking its service to the market, using the data and feedback as a way to make their offering better to then accelerate and scale, as many childcare centers continue to struggle to operate or find a sense of normalcy amid the social distancing measures that are the new normal.

"Many childcare centers have been hard hit during the coronavirus pandemic," says Rodriguez. "Many are struggling, closing their business, or operating with limited staff and children. With our app, we can, in the short term, help Houston families by providing quality education for their children."

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Building Houston

 
 

Cloudbreak Enterprises is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo via Getty Images

Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

"We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

"Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudgate is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

"We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

"What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

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