Shaping classroom experiences around the world: showbie
When Colin Bramm and Roy Pombeiro launched Showbie in 2012, the pair thought it would be impressive if they could have their classroom software used not just in Alberta, but across the border in Saskatchewan or even the United States. It turns out, they may have set their sights a little small – today, Showbie is used by 3 million teachers, parents and students in more than 135 countries.
The company grew out of consulting work that Bramm and Pombeiro did for local school boards, building educational software for teachers. They soon realized that many schools were facing the same challenges, and set out to build a one-size-fits-all application that would allow teachers to organize their classes, assign and grade homework, and provide personalized feedback to their students.
At its core, Showbie functions like a Dropbox for students and teachers: a teacher uploads assignments, which students then complete on their iPads, and the teacher can grade and provide feedback on, all within the app. That reduces the amount of paper being used in the classroom, saving schools money and making classrooms more environmentally friendly.
Bramm had worked out of the Advanced Technology Centre since 2005, and found it invaluable for his consulting work. “ I needed a place outside of my home to do business. Inviting customers into my living room to conduct business meetings just wasn't professional any longer and so the ATC really fit a key need for me, which was to get my business to the next level,” he says. Those same things made ATC an obvious choice for Showbie’s initial home, and the Centre was instrumental to Showbie’s early success.
“There were a lot of Friday afternoon gatherings at the ATC where we could mix and mingle with others in the building, and that actually led to some of our early grant funding opportunities,” says Bramm.
From ATC, Showbie moved to Startup Edmonton before enrolling in an EdTech accelerator program, Imagine K12, in San Francisco in 2013. It was supposed to be a one-way trip; Bramm expected that after completing the accelerator program, he’d stay in California and build the company in Silicon Valley. Instead, he was on a return flight a year later.
“There's just a huge opportunity to build something great in Edmonton, and to be able to create a global impact,” says Bramm. Global impact is right – the overwhelming majority of Showbie’s users are oversees. In fact, one of Showbie’s largest markets in Norway, where it is used by approximately 15 per cent of the country’s teachers. Digital communication tools have made it easier than ever for Showbie staff to work closely with teachers and schools across the world from their offices in Edmonton. “We do occasionally visit there but even more interesting is we're able to support them entirely from Edmonton.”