By harnessing the power of AI, Sibme will boost the effectiveness of instructional coaching and save teachers’ time as they receive data and feedback in real time on how they conduct their classroom lessons. Photo via Getty Images

Not many adages stand the test of time quite like this one: to be the best, learn from the best.

Sage advice, which is why Houston-based Sibme, the learning engagement platform designed by teachers, is introducing an all-new artificial intelligence tool to transform professional learning for teachers.

By harnessing the power of AI, Sibme will boost the effectiveness of instructional coaching and save teachers’ time as they receive data and feedback in real time on how they conduct their classroom lessons. This is accomplished by providing teachers with more opportunities for meaningful, in-depth conversations with their instructional coaches through automatically generated quantitative data on video and audio recordings of teachers’ classroom instruction.

“When David Wakefield founded the company in 2013, it was primarily based on something that was pretty difficult to do at the time, which was just being able to record and upload video in classrooms,” COO TJ Hoffman tells InnovationMap. “Sibme was the first mobile-first technology that made it possible to upload a video longer than an hour into the cloud. And that was sort of our original approach in the classrooms.

Wakefield and Hoffman were former teachers, with former working in Houston ISD, and the latter in Pasadena ISD.

"We recognized that a lot of the ways in which teachers are trained in traditional workshops, or trainings like modules online and stuff like that, weren't in any way improving our ability to do our jobs as teachers," Hoffman says. “And the thing that really did make it easy for us to grow as teachers was watching other teachers teach and being able to ask them questions and that sort of stuff.

"It's hard to do in schools because teachers are in classrooms with kids all day long," Hoffman continues. "There's no time for them to leave and go watch someone else do their job. So that idea of recording a video and annotating it with comments and asking feedback three minutes in, like ‘Hey, why did you ask that question of that student that way?’ That was something that we originally did, and that's been the primary driver of our growth over the last ten years.”

Efficient education for the educators

With the tagline, “making every moment a teachable moment,” Sibme has broken through as the go-to learning engagement platform for professional development, replete with coaching, cohort-based professional learning communities and peer-to-peer collaboration.

“The thing that we've recognized and have worked on for the last couple of years is, if I record and upload a 45-minute lesson and share it with the teacher next door or the principal at the school or somebody else, they've got to watch it for 45 minutes and that's time-consuming as well,” says Hoffman. “Our newest iteration, our AI tools, make it easier to identify key moments in a video that are related to things that a teacher can do better to reach kids more equitably and more effectively so that they're learning better.”

Not surprisingly, the creators of Sibme are excited about the AI component, which is able to watch the videos, transcribe them and identify key moments where the teacher asks important questions in those videos.

“Now with the AI tool, I can go straight to those moments and see which kids I have called on, what kinds of questions I have asked them, who responded and who hasn't, so it helps teachers develop better strategies for reaching kids.”

Practice makes progress, according to the Sibme platform, which embeds training and collaboration in every workday, engaging employees while building a stronger community of learners.

“Sibme builds off the same principle of athletes,” adds Wakefield. “I can watch a million Astros games, but I'm not going to be a better baseball player until I pick up a bat or pick up a glove and actually start playing and then get coaching on it, right? It's the same principle for training teachers. Teaching is a complex activity. I can't just show you how to teach or tell you how to teach and then you can do it.

“You've got to get up and teach, and then you've got to get really concrete feedback the same way that a great coach provides concrete feedback to a player. Hold the bat a little bit differently or, you know, lean on your left hip. Those real kind of small changes, it's the same thing with a teacher. You know, walk to the left side of the room. Being able to actually provide that feedback on the teacher's work rather than saying, here's how you should teach, which is what training typically does, right? Training is just theory, not actual practice. This is giving teachers an opportunity to rehearse and then get coached by a real coach, whether that coach is someone with a formal title of instructional coach or just the teacher next door.”

Making the network work

Sibme’s novel, yet simple approach to improving teachers via their peers has proven to be much more effective than the typical training methods of the past.

Currently, Sibme works with more than 1,000 innovative schools, districts, and institutions – including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ASCD, Scholastic, the University of Texas, and the Houston Independent School District.

“At this point, I believe we're in 40 states,” says Wakefield. “We're also in some international countries. We have some channel partners that have also helped distribute for us. We probably are in every state in the US in some form or another, in a white-labeled version or within our own Sibme platform. We're definitely one of the leaders in our space for this type of next-generation solutions for professional learning and training.”

And as schools nationwide try to battle with teacher retention, Sibme offers its own solution by giving teachers concrete evidence that they are growing and improving as educators. After all, Sibme is an acronym for “Seeing is Believing Me,” which means that teachers will likely stay onboard if they feel that they are succeeding.

“One of our principals said that they don't have a retention problem because they invest so much in teacher excellence,” says Wakefield. “And when teachers feel successful, then they don't leave. They had, I think it was like an 86 percent decline in teacher turnover in one year just from the teachers being able to look at themselves and see that they’re growing and getting better and improving. That has a huge impact on their feelings of success in their jobs.”

A bright future

With more than 10 years under its belt, Sibme hopes the next 10 will offer even more advancements in the professional development space.

“We're sort of in that first sort of initial iteration of our release with AI,” says Wakefield. “That's only going to improve where things will just become more and more automated. The platform is just going to be able to help them do their work much more efficiently in the future. And they can coach and support far more people than they ever could without AI. And the experts can come in and leverage the AI to be so much more effective at their jobs.

“We’ll continue preparing the next generation of teachers, as well as in university teacher prep programs, so that teachers are getting better prepared for the realities of the classroom by getting a lot more reflection and practice.”

Allie Danziger joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss her edtech startup Ampersand's exit. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

How this Houston edtech startup's acquisition is primed to further advance platform reach, impact

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 200

For the second time in less than six years, Houston entrepreneur Allie Danziger has navigated a company through an exit. But, with the two exists under her belt, Danziger says the two transactions could not be any more different.

Danziger founded Integrate Agency, a digital-focused public relations firm, in 2009 and sold it to another marketing and PR firm based in Austin in 2018. She founded her next company, Ampersand Professionals, in 2020 to address the challenges for upskilling young professionals to prepare them for success in the workplace — something employers really wanted, but struggled to do consistently.

Last month, Ampersand was acquired by Ascent Funding, a college loan provider that's building out a platform to support its college-aged borrowers. In this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Danziger shares how this opportunity came about and looks back on these two pivotal deals.

"Integrate definitely was not built to sell — I didn't even know that people sold businesses when I was 24 (and started the agency," Danziger, who worked in PR her entire career at that time, says, adding that she thought she'd work at the company her whole life before passing it down to her children. "It ended up being a life-changing experience and opportunity because it did open my eyes up to other other things that I could do professionally — and also just kind of like the way that businesses are structured and run."

One of those things she considered post acquisition was upskilling entry-level employees. At Integrate, she hired a lot of interns and recent college graduates. She recognized there was a gap in the market. The first problem she identified was the need to match interns to positions at companies in an optimized way. While that's how the company started, it pivoted as Danziger says she saw the bigger need not for finding interns, but for making sure they were ready for their positions from the start.

"Most business leaders need their interns and entry-level employees starting day one with an understanding of how to communicate, and they don't really have the resources to teach them some of these skills," she explains.

Once the Ampersand platform, which has tons of resources and hours of instruction loaded on it, the challenge was finding the stakeholders that wanted the platform to exist — her potential customers. Was it the colleges or the employers? Through this journey, she realized that college loan lenders are part of that equation too.

"The lenders — the ones who are giving the student loans — they're the ones who really need them to be successful in the workplace," Danziger explains, saying the success of their loan recipients ensures a timely payout for the lender. "Their business model is predicated on students being successful, and I'd always known that, but not quite known what to do with that knowledge."

Danziger says the idea for acquisition, while always in the back of her mind, really became a possibility when she went out to raise funding.

"You're always raising money, and you're always for sale," Danziger says of the startup journey.

When a potential investor raised the idea of being a potential acquirer, Danziger says she started doing some soul searching. The right acquisition deal could help her address the milestones she wanted to reach with investment funding — growing her team, expanding her technology, and broadening reach. Through a diligent process, Danziger decided on Ascent from a few other potential acquirers.

"I'm not going anywhere. I want to still keep solving this problem, but with a larger team and larger resources," she says. "Either I could go find that myself, or I could join forces we could join forces with an established organization."

Danziger says her role at Ascent is still being constructed in terms of scope and responsibilities, but her title as of now is senior vice president and general manager of student success. She will lead the company's educational program that focuses on equipping students with skills from education to employment.

She shares more on the acquisition process — including her advice to startups thinking about the M&A path. Listen to the interview here — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Houston chemist lands $2M NIH grant for cancer treatment research

future of cellular health

A Rice University chemist has landed a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health for his work that aims to reprogram the genetic code and explore the role certain cells play in causing diseases like cancer and neurological disorders.

The funds were awarded to Han Xiao, the Norman Hackerman-Welch Young Investigator, associate professor of chemistry, from the NIH's Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program, which supports medically focused laboratories.

Xiao will use the five-year grant to develop noncanonical amino acids (ncAAs) with diverse properties to help build proteins, according to a statement from Rice. He and his team will then use the ncAAs to explore the vivo sensors for enzymes involved in posttranslational modifications (PTMs), which play a role in the development of cancers and neurological disorders. Additionally, the team will look to develop a way to detect these enzymes in living organisms in real-time rather than in a lab.

“This innovative approach could revolutionize how we understand and control cellular functions,” Xiao said in the statement.

According to Rice, these developments could have major implications for the way diseases are treated, specifically for epigenetic inhibitors that are used to treat cancer.

Xiao helped lead the charge to launch Rice's new Synthesis X Center this spring. The center, which was born out of informal meetings between Xio's lab and others from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine, aims to improve cancer outcomes by turning fundamental research into clinical applications.

They will build upon annual retreats, in which investigators can share unpublished findings, and also plan to host a national conference, the first slated for this fall titled "Synthetic Innovations Towards a Cure for Cancer.”

Houston neighbor ranks as one of America's most livable small cities

mo city

Some Houston suburbs stick out from the rest thanks to their affluent residents, and now Missouri City is getting time in the spotlight, thanks to its new ranking as the No. 77 most livable small city in the country.

The tiny but mighty Houston neighbor, located less than 20 miles southwest of Houston, was among six Texas cities that earned a top-100 ranking in SmartAsset's 2024 " Most Livable Small Cities" report. It compared 281 U.S. cities with populations between 65,000 and 100,000 residents across eight metrics, such as a resident's housing costs as a percentage of household income, the city's average commute times, and the proportions of entertainment, food service, and healthcare establishments.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Missouri City has an estimated population of over 76,000 residents, whose median household income comes out to $97,211. SmartAsset calculated that a Missouri City household's annual housing costs only take up 19.4 percent of that household's income. Additionally, the study found only six percent of the town's population live below the poverty level.

Here's how Missouri City performed in two other metrics in the study:

  • 1.4 percent – The proportion of arts, entertainment, and recreation businesses as a percentage of all businesses
  • 29.9 minutes – Worker's average commute time

But income and housing aren't the only things that make Missouri City one of the most livable small cities in Texas. Residents benefit from its proximity from central Houston, but the town mainly prides itself on its spacious park system, playgrounds, and other recreational activities.

Missouri City, Texas

Missouri City residents have plenty of parkland to enjoy. www.missouricitytx.gov

The Missouri City Parks and Recreation Departmen meticulously maintains 21 parks spanning just over 515 acres of land, an additional 500 acres of undeveloped parkland, and 14.4 miles of trails throughout the town, according to the city's website."Small cities may offer cost benefits for residents looking to stretch their income while enjoying a comfortable – and more spacious – lifestyle," the report's author wrote. "While livability is a subjective concept that may take on different definitions for different people, some elements of a community can come close to being universally beneficial."

Missouri City is also home to Fort Bend Town Square, a massive mixed-use development at the intersection of TX 6 and the Fort Bend Parkway. It offers apartments, shopping, and restaurants, including a rumored location of Trill Burgers.

Other Houston-area cities that earned a spot in the report include

Spring (No. 227) and Baytown (No. 254).The five remaining Texas cities that were among the top 100 most livable small cities in the U.S. include Flower Mound (No. 29), Leander (No. 60), Mansfield (No. 69), Pflugerville (No. 78), and Cedar Park (No. 85).

The top 10 most livable small cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – Troy, Michigan
  • No. 2 – Rochester Hills, Michigan
  • No. 3 – Eau Claire, Wisconsin
  • No. 4 – Franklin, Tennessee
  • No. 5 – Redmond, Washington
  • No. 6 – Appleton, Wisconsin
  • No. 7 – Apex, North Carolina
  • No. 8 – Plymouth, Minnesota
  • No. 9 – Livonia, Michigan
  • No. 10 – Oshkosh, Wisconsin

The report examined data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2022 1-year American Community Survey and the 2021 County Business Patterns Survey to determine its rankings.The report and its methodology can be found on

smartasset.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.