The Entrepreneur

Troy Pressens taught special education for 10 years. But he moonlighted as a technology entrepreneur, which gave him motivation to look at technology-based solutions for education. Experience told him that if you want to innovate in the public school system, typically you have to do so from outside the triangle of teachers’ unions, parents and school administrators.

Pressens left his teaching job to start a Harpers Ferry, W.V.-based company to create a learning tool for students. His first offering was StudyByApp, an online platform that makes it easy to build apps to accomplish learning goals. From his time in the classroom, Pressens was keenly aware of how students learn at different rates and have different abilities. He knew his solution had to be intuitive enough for every student to be able to use. Now he is working on a platform focused on improving skills in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Pitch


“STEMitUP is a collaborative Web-based platform that empowers students to create mobile apps for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, while applying 21st century project management skills. Our drag-and-drop platform allows students to take components and elements of what they want, such as animation or audio, all done through icons and imagery. The platform engages students at any level, while supporting extensive team building and collaboration skills. And the cool thing is, when it’s all said and done, the app the students create is actually available for download via iTunes.

“A big part of this equation is teaming and collaboration in building the app. We don’t want a student using this platform without any input from others. We want peer and mentor collaboration — that’s critical for success of the project, as that mirrors real-world work scenarios.

“STEMitUP is still in prototype mode. We are going after federal grant money to help with a large-scale roll-out. With our first platform, StudyByApp, we experienced the tremendous bureaucratic challenges of selling directly to school districts. With this app, our model is to offer the platform as a low-price to ‘freemium’ offering, leveraging appropriate advertising within the model. But first we want teacher adoption. When you have teachers and students already using and liking the technology, it becomes much more likely to be adopted by the district. We need to make sure we are marketing STEMitUp most effectively.”

The advice

Drew Bewick, social entrepreneur-in-residence, Center for Social Value Creation at the Robert H. Smith School of Business

“There is huge market opportunity here, with an estimated 1.7 billion students globally in K-12 and total annual U.S. expenditures for education of more than $600 billion. Administrators and teachers are looking for new ways to reach and educate students. And we’re in an apps economy where e-learning is morphing into a mobile learning market. Your approach to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math really hits home for many of the players, and marrying it up with the idea of personalized education is really interesting. Plus, you already have a proven track record launching other education-related technologies.

“With those factors, I think you’re in the enviable position of identifying strategic partners to complement your marketing strategy. Consider relationships such as strategic alliances with premier science and technology organizations, and buyer-seller relationships to minimize the risk of failure before STEMitUp’s rollout. Consider formulating a strong marketing strategy to target teachers directly. Use your previous customers with StudyByApp to foster these relationships.

“Also be sure to highlight elements of STEMitUp’s value proposition that cater to customers’ needs and address pain points. Values may be quantitative, such as price or speed of service, or qualitative, such as design or customer experience. Clearly connect how this platform can enable teachers and students to share new ways of learning. I suspect from an educator standpoint, getting students to want to learn more is a constant challenge, and one STEMitUP really seems to address.”