Founder Profile: Nona Ullman (WG96)
“The struggle and iteration to find product-market fit after creating a new software product that we think has great value was a surprise to me.”
MEET NONA ULLMAN, EDTECH INNOVATOR
Nona Ullman (WG96) is the Founder and CEO of LessonLoop, the first company to offer educators a data-driven professional learning platform to instantly improve learner engagement and educational outcomes.
Nona has three decades of management consulting experience improving the American public education system in strategic planning, financial analysis, information technology project management, organizational design and grant writing. She has assisted over 50 educational and government agencies in 20 states.
Nona is an expert in understanding how to improve student engagement in our schools. She served on the Malcolm Baldrige Board of Examiners for the U.S. Department of Commerce where she helped develop and assess total quality management principles for educational and private sector organizations. Nona was also a Managing Director and National K-12 Education Lead for BearingPoint (formerly KPMG Consulting). Along with her MBA from Wharton, she graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Industrial and Labor Relations.
The mission for LessonLoop is to amplify student voice and equip educators with the tools to deliver more effective and engaging lessons. Their learner engagement analytics and professional learning platform measures how students experience a lesson cognitively, socially, emotionally, and through lesson design, content accessibility, and technology use. Survey results provide educators with personalized professional learning tips and student feedback to improve class instructional strategies and engagement.
Tell us about your company
LessonLoop provides an online platform to educators in grades 3–12 so they can assess learner engagement analytics for any class lesson and receive instructional recommendations and professional learning on how to improve student engagement.
What inspired you to start your business — what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?
After spending 30 years providing management consulting services to over 50 educational agencies in 22 states, I realized that the greatest promise to improve our public education system lies in the transformative power of student voice and agency. We translate student voice into real-time insights and instructional recommendations to assist teachers in understanding and quantifying the level of their students’ engagement and how to improve it at the class lesson level. Improving student engagement will increase academic outcomes, the goal of every educator.
What is it about your personal background, experience, or perspective that fuels your passion for this venture?
My mom was a teacher and my father was a school district attorney. Education was always a priority in our home. I had really exciting and disappointing experiences in my public education which crystallized into a passion for improving our public education system when the first Charter School legislation passed in Minnesota in 1991, a catalytic moment for education reform.
Source: Lesson Loop
What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?
Inventing a new measure of student engagement, developing a web-based application to collect these data, and hearing the excitement from initial student and teachers users is extremely gratifying.
What has been one or two of your biggest learnings so far?
The importance of surrounding yourself with excellent people who bring equal passion and a diversity of skills, perspectives, and experiences in building and growing an EdTech company.
What is an obstacle that you are grappling with as you continue to build this venture?
The use of our software platform requires a change in school culture for most districts that learning should be active, joyful, supportive and meaningful, and personalized to every student. Currently, districts are held accountable for standardized test scores that often require students to memorize and regurgitate information, and where all students follow the same learning paths we’ve had for generations. We are grappling with how to incentivize use of our application within a system that does not consistently reward learning experiences that support student voice, agency, critical thinking, and collaboration.
What surprises have you encountered as an entrepreneur? Something out of left field?
I’ve been an entrepreneur for 17 years with my management consulting company. Selling services in response to client requests helps ensure your work is needed and valued. The struggle and iteration to find product-market fit after creating a new software product that we think has great value was a surprise to me.