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Survey says … Possip makes history

After a conversation about difficult communication, Possip founder Shani Dowell created an easy, survey-based method for parents and schools to share info. Today the edtech company is growing — and Dowell has hit a historic milestone.

A conversation with her husband lit the spark that led Shani Dowell to Possip. Both educators, the couple were chatting about one of the common stressors of working with kids: parents.

“In that discussion in 2016, we were talking through a parent challenge he was having,” Dowell recalled. “It crystallized for me that while the underlying problem seemed like a small issue, there wasn’t a system in place for sharing information. I realized that teachers only hear from parents when things are bad, and that makes teachers’ jobs much harder.”

Dowell approached her own children’s school to try a pilot — a Survey Monkey questionnaire that collected comments from parents she then shared with the school. “The reaction was positive,” Dowell said. “They said, basically, ‘We thought we were getting parent feedback until we started getting parent feedback.’”

Today, Possip, the name a combo of “positive” and “gossip,” uses text-based pulse checks to help families share praise, feedback, and information with schools. The company has a presence in 75 schools around the US, including in Hawaii, and has seven full-time and six part-time employees. Dowell travels quite a bit, pitching her company to new schools and to investors as the team works to expand and enhance data collection and other tools.

Possip reaches $1 million investment milestone

In Tennessee, Dowell has achieved an important milestone: She is the first black woman in the state — and one of fewer than 60 black women in the US — to reach the $1 million investment mark. Nationally, less than 2% of all venture funding goes to companies led by women, and .006% to companies led by black women.

“Raising over $1 million has special significance for me as a black woman in Tennessee,” Dowell said. “There are incredible companies being founded and led by women and people of color in this state. We hope Possip is just the start of even more investments in these great companies.”

Part of that investment came from LaunchTN’s Innovation Capital Continuum, a series of equity initiatives offering in-demand solutions for scalable early-stage companies.

“This funding allows us to grow our team, our technology, and ultimately our impact,” Dowell said.

She believes building visibility is key to keeping Possip’s momentum going and to a successful startup community in Tennessee. “I’m the Entrepreneur in Residence at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, and there are so many founders who are doing great things, but they’re just not getting enough runway time,” Dowell said. “I think one of the pathways toward opening up capital markets is going to be more individual folks who can invest more, who can identify and tap into more funding sources.”

“And on the entrepreneur side, skill building and knowledge building are so important,” she said. “You don’t even realize how much learning is involved until you are down the path.”

Predicting the future to solve the ‘catch-up’ cycle

Part of the focus that Dowell believes makes Possip attractive to investors is its capability for predictive analytics. “As an example, this time of year is particularly sensitive for schools,” Dowell said. “We’ve found that many teachers will go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas and not come back.”

Possip now has the ability to remind school administrators in advance that teachers may need extra support during the holidays, when students are super-wired and the stresses of the season can take a toll.

“Schools are often playing catch-up, but we’re now able to help them predict challenges they likely will face,” Dowell said. “And then on the back-end, if they do have turnover, we’re able to support them with effective ways to communicate that news to parents.”

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