When your CTO lives in Denver, Colorado, your team lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and you live in Waterloo, Ontario—it’s safe to say technology plays a big part in your day-to-day. Leah Skerry, co-founder and CEO of Eyeread, an education technology startup helping children learn to read, certainly credits technology for the ability to communicate with her team via video conferencing and other platforms.
Not only does technology help with communication—it’s the foundation of her company. Eyeread helps personalize reading lessons for teachers, uses analytics to help determine what is holding children back, and creates lesson plans to adapt to different skill sets. And this isn’t Leah’s first venture. She launched a crowdfunding site for amateur athletes called Pursu.it, was selected as one of the 21 Emerging Leaders of Nova Scotia, and is an active member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community.
Leah has partnered with Cisco’s Circle of Innovation, an internship program managed by Cisco, Communitech, and Business Development Bank of Canada with interns from the University of Waterloo, to help grow Eyeread’s digital presence. We asked Leah and her new intern, Joyce Yu, about their new partnership and how they’ll be using technology to collaborate and drive future growth and success.
Why did you decide to be an entrepreneur?
It was not a conscious decision. In the early days of university, at the Sobey School of Business, I discovered a way to major in business but take all my electives at NSCAD studying design and fine art. I wanted to be an architect. Then mid-way through university, I was assigned a class project to grow a business using only ten dollars. I combined my interest in business and love of design to create a successful initiative developing ads using Facebook and Twitter, which were still novel at the time. I snagged the Atlantic Canadian Student Entrepreneur of The Year in 2009 and since then I’ve been captivated with solving challenges through new approaches and innovations.
My boldest move to date was reaching out to successful, and notable people like David Ferrucci (who was the principal investigator at IBM, leading a team to develop the Watson computer system that won Jeopardy) and IDEO leaders when Eyeread was just an idea. Our mission was to improve literacy globally and based on that we were able to secure amazing people in a one-hour online think tank.
What is your best advice to those starting their own business?
I was once told the difference between an entrepreneur and an employee is the ability to work through the psychological ups and downs. My advice is not to give up if you choose to start a company. Developing something new takes time. You will most likely pivot from your original idea while establishing your company in the early days. To get through the ‘ups and downs,’ be passionate about the problem you are addressing. If you are consumed with solving a problem and starting a company is the only way to solve it, you are in a good spot; You will be able to work through the tough times because there will always be tough times.
I surprise people when I tell them I love aerial silks. Like Cirque du Soleil style. I practice as often as I can. It’s an amazing way to bring creativity and exercise into my life.
Technology has helped my business because my CTO is in Denver, the rest of my team is in Halifax, and I am currently based in Waterloo. Video conferencing has helped my team produce meaningful, thoughtful, and valuable work without needing to be in the same space. Products like Google Hangouts, WebEx, and Slack (team messaging) allow us to communicate effectively while working remotely.
I plan to use technology in the future to teach every child in the world to learn and love how to read.
We use machine learning to create games that teach children basic reading skills that adapt to a child’s unique skill level and interest. Our technology solves a big problem for teachers: Teaching to a class makes it difficult to personalize instruction and engage children in subjects they are interested in. Our technology helps teachers personalize lessons and keeps children engaged.
Meet Leah’s intern, Joyce Yu
School: University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University
Program: Honours Business Administration (Wilfrid Laurier University) and Computer Science (University of Waterloo) Double Degree
Year of Study: 1 (Starting 2A term in September)
What are you looking forward to at your new internship?
I am looking forward to using Cisco’s various products, especially their collaboration endpoint products like TP. Such tools that make long-distance communication effortless interest me; perhaps it is because I have been apart from my family who lives overseas while I was growing up. More importantly, I’m excited to see how I can integrate the use of such products into other companies’ projects. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with two entrepreneurs, TrustPoint Technologies and Eyeread, on very interesting projects. I’m hoping to learn more about IoT security solutions through my work with TrustPoint, as well as contribute to Eyeread’s amazing product that helps improve literacy skills of young children today.
How will you use technology to engage with your new employers?
I am excited to get involved with the online platform Cisco has created for employees, such as the various social media campaigns like #LoveWhereYouWork and #NeverBetter that allow me to share my intern experience with others. I also plan to make good use of Cisco Jabber to connect with my mentors and colleagues, and have WebEx meetings to see them face-to-face, regardless of where they physically are. Aside from Cisco’s tools, I use Google Hangouts to meet with the two entrepreneurs I am collaborating with, who are in Waterloo, Ontario and Halifax, Nova Scotia, respectively. With the use of technology, I can close the distance between my employers and I.
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