Keating’s son has autism and their family and educators were trying to figure out how to effectively meet his needs.
“While his teachers were doing their absolute best to track behavior issues in the classroom, it took a lot of effort to manually collect that data, and it was mostly anecdotal, which is less actionable,” Keating said. “As a parent navigating the public school process, it became apparent to me that this was creating a challenge.”
He wondered: “How do you make good decisions when the information you have access to isn’t the best information?”
Keating wanted to make it easier for educators to track student behavior and learn what was working for kids and what wasn’t. But the tools most readily available — handwriting notes and using apps on phones — forced teachers to disengage from students, were time consuming and required significant tech support from school administration and coordination among staff.
Then he found inspiration from a completely non-education related-gadget: The Amazon Dash button. His wife used one of the now-discontinued thumb-sized devices to click and automatically reorder laundry detergent.
Keating created a similar WiFi enabled device that allows educators to quickly log behavioral events. Educators create a profile for each student, and assign three tracked behaviors: one click might log a disruptive action, two could indicate a student is working effectively on a task, and when the button is pressed and held, it could track positive peer interactions.
The data is automatically uploaded and charted to show when in the day different behaviors occurred and to track trends and changes over time. The information can be easily shared with parents, doctors, dieticians and others working to help a child.
mytaptrack is marketing directly to school districts. It costs $25 per student per month and each student gets up to two devices for free. The startup can advise districts in applying for government grants that cover some of the costs.
For younger students, teachers can carry the button on a lanyard or place it on a desk, while older students can carry the device and track behavior themselves. One of the advantages of the service is that the device can travel easily with a student from educator-to-educator, as opposed to requiring multiple teachers to download a certain app and log in to record a student’s behavior.
Keating, who has worked in technology for about two decades, had experience at Northwest companies large and small, including Microsoft, IoT business BSquare, music-focused MediaNet, and as a founder of two startups.
mytaptrack, which is based in Enumclaw, east of Tacoma, Wash., has three employees and contracts with vendors providing web services, data security and professional services. Educators can learn how to use mytaptrack through training videos on YouTube.
School districts in five states are using mytaptrack; Keating declined to say how many districts or students are using the platform.
This summer the startup raised $250,000 from angel investors, and they raised an earlier friends-and-family round that was roughly the same amount, Keating said. In coming months the company will be working to improve the tool to make it easier to record additional information such as the duration of a behavior and details about what was taking place at the time of the event.
“Our goal is to help children succeed,” said Keating, “and provide the value that we can for an industry that definitely needs our services.”
We caught up with Keating for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
What does your company do? mytaptrack is a symptoms-tracking IoT device and online platform for children with special needs. It shares detailed, context-based data in real time with teachers, parents and doctors. Artificial intelligence is leveraged to identify data patterns and more importantly, pattern anomalies that may be a concern for the child’s team. mytaptrack is committed to providing private, secure, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) compliant solutions for children nationwide.
Inspiration hit us when: I believe inspiration hits us when we transform the challenges life throws at us into something that can help millions of people. For me, it was my wife and I struggling to get our son, who has autism, the best education possible. He’s bright, but some of his symptoms — including absence seizures, which are characterized by brief, sudden lapses in attention — create barriers to his learning. Once we were able to accurately track and treat those symptoms, it allowed him to better engage in school.
My inspiration was seeing my wife ordering laundry detergent with an Amazon Dash button — that clicked for me. I knew I could reconfigure an IoT button to track my son’s data and pair it with an online dashboard to find out what was going on with him right away in the moment.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Angel. We’ve found a smart group of individuals from the worlds of tech, finance and child development, two of whom are also parents of a child with special needs. They saw the value in this solution, and in new ed-tech overall.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our secret sauce is our mytaptrack button and its patent-pending usage. mytaptrack is not an app so it doesn’t require the purchase of expensive cell phones or tablets by school districts. It can be easily handed off between teachers, paraeducators, special educators and even gym teachers.
The information can be easily shared between the child’s entire support team inside and outside of the school. With time-stamped and context-rich data, special educators and behavior analysts can more effectively provide advice and support for diverse learners. As personalized learning continues to become more and more essential in our society, mytaptrack makes it possible. Finally, parents and teachers can have more effective conversations based on a foundation of data collected, rather than the impression of what was remembered in a classroom. And doctors, therapists and nutritionists can validate the effects of their prescriptions and advice based on that data.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Working with educators and behavior analysts cross the country to build a feedback loop focused on how we can best support their needs.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Initially expecting a sales cycle for the B2G (business to government) education sector that’s comparable to B2C or B2B, when in fact it is much slower.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Bill Gates and Andrew Yang, entrepreneur, philanthropist and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Gates for his obvious experience in health, disability and special needs-related issues, as well as technology that pushes the boundaries of the possible and the practical; and Yang, who is the father of a child with special needs, for his experience accelerating early stage growth brands.
Our favorite team-building activity is: I personally love a good conference call. We can get together to share ideas for building out new capabilities or partnerships. A little something is always lost in translation via email so it’s nice to hear the intonation and intention in someone’s voice when they get excited about a new idea.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: A diverse background. I find the more diverse the candidate, the more they are driven by passion and shaped by empathy.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Just start somewhere. Every great idea started at someone’s kitchen table, in their garage or dorm room. Don’t wait another year. Take that first baby step and then slowly surround yourself with people who are great at doing everything else you need done.