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Educational Tools SOLD! How I did it

By Wendy Bautista    

Myron Pincomb has always considered himself an entrepreneur, even starting his first company as a freshman in college. But when he started Educational Tools 11 years ago with less than $10,000 of his own money, one employee, and a dream that he could make a difference, he only aspired to be running a $100 million company with more than 500 employees someday.

Well, that “someday” has become “today” with the recent sale of his company to Triumph Learning.

The beginnings  

When the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) added science to its test, many teachers were concerned. With his degrees in biology and chemistry, Pincomb understood the “pain and panic of science.”

“Most elementary teachers have never had any formal training in science, so dissecting a frog was one of the scariest things they could do,” says Pincomb. “What we did was develop tools to help make that easy for them.”

He hired some of the best writers and curriculum experts in the county, including some from the department of education that wrote the FCAT for Florida, and asked them to be a part of his vision to change education.  

With the forethought of how to make a teacher’s job easier and how to help students learn faster and more effectively, he started the company as a print-based curriculum provider, essentially “aerating workbooks and textbooks for students,” says Pincomb, in the form of activities and worksheets in the subjects of science, math, and reading.

“We were a pretty good size and in 17 states,” says Pincomb. But as in most industries, the past few years have brought about a lot of change. “Even when we were print-based, we pushed the envelope and did some very creative things. But in the last three to four years, we have gone 100% digital and today, are on the cutting edge of educational innovation.”

Changing with the times

While Pincomb says education has generally been slow to adopt technology, recent events with the economy and some state and federal mandates demonstrates the need for education to speed up its conversion. 

According to Pincomb, the state of California has a new law that prohibits schools from using state money to purchase conventional textbooks. “The reason being is textbooks are usually outdated before they are printed and are rarely used in todays’ classroom,” says Pincomb. “It is difficult to engage a student in today’s classroom by sticking him or her in front of a book.”

And that’s where Educational Tools’ digital product iCORE steps in. “What iCORE does is take every topic taught in the classroom and provides the teacher 12 to 15 different ways to teach it,” says Pincomb. “So literally, you can reach every learning style and every learning level within a classroom.”

It takes what is conventionally known as a textbook, workbook, lab book, video library, audio library, or curriculum-based gaming tool, and delivers them through the Internet so teachers can access the curriculum on anything from a laptop to a smart phone.

Teachers can pull it up on screen and print it out if they don’t have any other technology, or they can use it on LCD projectors and smart boards. “Everything is available digitally so it doesn’t matter how they want it delivered, they can use our curriculum on just about any device,” says Pincomb.

The curriculum consists of full activities; if it is printed, it looks like a worksheet, but if it is used it on a smart board, it is interactive.

Gaining momentum

Pincomb says as soon as they converted to digital and had that competitive advantage, people started to take notice of them. “I think we were one of the first ones to really define what technology means in education,” says Pincomb. “For a lot of years, there were LCD projectors and smart boards and all this hardware in the classroom, but no one utilizing it. Basically, what we did was create the curriculum to work on all these different hardware.”

In the past three to four years, they have been very successful in their approach. During this time, Pincomb tried to be very active in industry associations and get the name in front of a lot of key people. As a result, he was courted by several companies before making the final decision on Triumph Learning.

Once he started to get offers and a lot of people started to show interest, he surrounded himself with a really good team of people in legal and accounting who knew what they were doing, and he says he could not have done it without them. 

“Ironically, the company that bought us was one of our biggest competitors six to eight years ago when we were just a print company,” says Pincomb.

On this deal alone, it took six months of grueling due diligence that went on 24/7. Pincomb says they had eight teams of consultants checking with each team member and every customer. “They look at you upside down and every way,” says Pincomb. “I mean it’s a very in-depth process to go through, but in the end it was worth it because it was successful.”

 In this case, Pincomb took over as President/CEO of the new company, so his main concern was not just to sell the company, but also to position the new combined company so that it could be successful in years to come. 

Moving forward

With Triumph Learning still a 100% print publisher and one of the largest supplemental print publishers in the country, the big draw for acquiring Educational Tools and its iCORE product was finding somebody that knew how to convert to digital and then grow a digital business. “That was the match for them as they acquired our platform, but then also our team and now were running the whole company,” says Pincomb.

With competition increasing every day, Pincomb says it’s nice to know there is a ton of potential with Triumph Learning. “The good thing about the new company is we now have more content available to provide teachers and educators,” says Pincomb. “We have more content than probably any other publisher in the United States and we’re digitizing it. We’re working with teams all over the world to digitize it quickly and be able to deliver it for classroom use.” And that potential has grown iCORE from being available in 17 states to all 50 states.

 Pincomb says that part of what they’re doing right now with the merger is integrating the sales force and integrating every department. The sales force will roll out in January for a full, nationwide coverage with all 50 states.

This merger has brought a lot of change to Pincomb’s life. He now works in three offices—Jacksonville, Fla., New York City, and Littleton, Mass., which is just outside of Boston—and oversees about 580 employees.

His Jacksonville office will also see some changes. Pincomb foresees hiring about 12 to 15 people in the next four to six months to create an inside sales team for Web sales, increase his development team, and bring on a CTO. He also has plans to build a marketing team in the near future.

While Educational Tools will only retain its name through the end of the year, at which point it will become Triumph Learning, iCORE will remain as the brand.

Looking ahead

“We will continue the print element as it’s a large piece of our business, but it’s going be as a customer dictates it,” says Pincomb. “We will be able to go to a school and say, ‘Would you like this content in print or in the full digital version?’ and I think the natural erosion of print means we can expect huge growth in digital.”

Pincomb says that while it’s a different world working for a $100 million company, you just have to apply a lot of the same principles you learn in small business to your current situation. He says it all still comes down to hard work, honesty, and relationships with employees. “That’s what it’s all about,” says Pincomb. “It’s just on a bigger scale.”

He says one of the best things you can do is find your passion. “I knew I wanted to make a difference,” says Pincomb. “And it sure is easy to get out bed knowing that more than 10 million students use your product every day.” 

Wendy Bautista is editor of Advantage: The Resource for Small Business. She can be reached at Wendy@advantagebizmag.com or 904-536-2234.

How you learn

Research shows that if you can actually bring in content or information in several different ways at once, your retention will be higher. For example: If you can read something while you’re hearing it and watching a video about it, the retention of that information will be increased.

However, everyone learns in different ways.

• Audio learners learn through listening,

• Visual learners learns through seeing,

• Tactile learners learn through touch and feel, and

• Literary learners learn through reading.  

Any way you look at it, it is called differentiated learning. Everybody is not one style learner, but everybody has a preferred way to learn.

Which is the reason iCORE offers 12 to 15 different ways to teach one topic.

Whether it’s through an LCD projector, a smart board, a computer screen, a print out, or a game, iCORE takes the content that was locked in a book and unlocks it, with the intention of reaching more students on different levels.

“With the games, students can play them on their smart phone, or whatever it happens to be, and play it live with other students from all over the country,” says Pincomb. “But because it’s an educational game, they’re learning something as a result. It’s just another tool in the teacher’s bag when and if they are having trouble engaging their students.”

Data driven

In the business world, people are familiar to receiving data all the time. They may even be used to watching the stock market ticker go across the screen to see what happens. Essentially, that is what iCORE brings to the education world.

iCORE uses what is known as data driven instruction Every time a student touches one of the activities, iCORE collects data on them. The data reveals how long a student is using it and what he or she is doing correct and incorrect, and then feeds it back to a teacher through a dashboard. 

A teacher can then pull up the dashboard and see that this group of students performed well and here’s why they did—bringing one other element of data that was never available to a teacher previously.


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