One of the University of Georgia's most innovative startup companies is preparing to expand its business after graduating from the Georgia BioBusiness Center, UGA's business incubator, which supports companies with research and technology ties to UGA.
IS3D LLC, maker of interactive educational software designed to teach high school students fundamental scientific principles, has received support from the GBBC for the past three years. In that time, the company has developed a variety of products, including interactive case studies, 3-D animations, applications, games and e-books that make science more understandable and engaging.
"The company is getting ready to stand on its own two feet," said Tom Robertson, associate professor of physiology and pharmacology at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and CEO of IS3D. "We have moved from space provided by the GBBC into 2,500-square-foot office and computer space owned by the Clarke County School District so we can work more directly with teachers and students from the local area."
The move is part of a new partnership with the Athens Community Career Academy, a charter program that allows students in the district to take college classes and participate in career-themed internships.
The ACCA will supply space for the young company in exchange for free use of IS3D's materials in classrooms and training opportunities for students interested in entrepreneurship, software development or other aspects of their business.
Many teachers who have used IS3D products and trained with their staff already have a strong partnership with the company, according to Clarke County School Superintendent Philip Lanoue. But this expanded relationship will give more students access to IS3D software.
"We have some space, and rather than have it sit free, we can bring in a group like IS3D that's working with our school district, that's developing with our school district, and that allows our kids to experience something they couldn't before," Lanoue said. "It's a really good thing."
Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics career, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Demand for jobs in these sectors is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.
IS3D was founded in 2010 by eight UGA faculty and staff members who shared a dream of improving science comprehension and inspiring young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM fields. Through partnerships with more than a dozen school districts, IS3D's team of artists, designers and programmers have developed a robust catalogue of products based on student and teacher feedback, and the software has made many students excited about science for the first time.
"They have accomplished so much in a very short amount of time," said Margaret Wagner Dahl, associate vice president for economic development and GBBC director. "I'm so pleased that our partnership has helped them grow a business that will have a real impact on the lives of students everywhere."
Their latest development is an online analysis system called SABLE, which stands for skills and assessments-based learning environment. As students work through case studies and challenges created by IS3D, the teacher can monitor students' critical thinking skills in real time through SABLE.
If a student is struggling with a specific concept or skill, the teacher can see this on a computer screen and offer help to the student immediately, rather than waiting to grade homework assignments or exams.
"The beautiful thing about our new SABLE technology is that we can apply it to any school subject, but it's also perfectly suited for adults who need job training or skill development," Robertson said. "Products like this will go a long way toward making our company completely self-sustaining."
A pharmaceutical company could, for example, use the SABLE system to make sure that all its drug representatives understand the way a new drug works so that they can talk about it with researchers, physicians and pharmacists, Robertson said.
As IS3D gains a stronger foothold in the marketplace, it plans to boost production and bring its unique products to as many classrooms as possible, both in the U.S. and around the world.