A Class Act
As a kid, John C. Bower looked forward to receiving the Weekly Reader, an educational magazine used in schools nationwide since 1902. It was, in his words, “more exciting than textbooks.”
Bower eventually went on to graduate with honors from Cornell University and lead startup companies Hawaii Biotech, Sennet Capital and Chicago-based HealthRev. Last year, Bower returned to where it all began. He now serves as chief executive officer of UBoost, an educational startup that provides online content for, you guessed it, the Weekly Reader. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at UBoost’s virtual world:
WHAT IS UBOOST?
A company that provides online content for the Weekly Reader, an educational-magazine group with 9 million subscribers worldwide. Its Web site, uboost.com, offers quizzes, rewards and other interactive features. More than 50,000 users have signed up for the site as of January 2008, and, by the end of this year, UBoost hopes to capture up to 15 percent of Weekly Reader’s subscribers. The company also hopes to work with other educational groups similar to Weekly Reader.
WHO USES IT?
UBoost.com caters to parents, teachers and students grades 2 to 12 and is full of unique widgets, such as alien-looking creatures, interactive games and a “Room Building Wizard” that allows students to customize virtual rooms. Students take online quizzes related to Weekly Reader’s content, and, based on their scores, accumulate points redeemable for rewards, such as tangible prizes (a free smoothie coupon); acts of charity (save a shelter animal); long-term goals (a college fund); and virtual goodies (wallpaper of recent flicks). As students learn online, parents can track their children’s progress by downloading a widget onto their cell phones or computers. Teachers use UBoost to automatically grade quizzes and track students’ scores.
WHEN DID IT LAUNCH?The beta site went live Sept. 2, 2007, and is free to anyone who signs up through the summer of 2008.
WHERE IS IT LOCATED?The company is located in Kakaako, Hawaii, and employs two-dozen software engineers and educational specialists.
HOW DOES IT MAKE MONEY?UBoost raised approximately $3 million in total Series A funding in August and December 2007. It anticipates another $5 million in a Series B round before Septem-ber 2008. Once UBoost is fully operational, the company will make money through Weekly Reader subscriptions.
WHY IS UBOOST IMPORTANT?
The Weekly Reader, a 106-year-old magazine owned by Reader’s Digest, became available on the Web for the first time last September, thanks to the geniuses at UBoost. The product stands out from others because: It is the only educational-magazine-based Web site that allows students to earn points redeemable for rewards; it has grading and ranking tools that allow teachers to be more efficient; and it has a tracking device that enables parents to keep tabs on their children’s schoolwork.
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