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Meet the 2015 Merrick Momentum Award Finalists: ThinkCERCA

Q: Tell us about what your company does.

A: For students to survive and get ahead in today’s world, they need to be able to evaluate and synthesize information and communicate their ideas effectivelythey need strong critical thinking skills. ThinkCERCA supports this kind of learning by empowering schools with the technology, engaging content and expert-designed lessons needed to personalize instruction across subjects and content areas. Our schoolwide approach to literacy, based on decades of research from the University of Chicago, is designed to prepare students for college and career by building up their close reading and academic writing skills in every class, from English language arts and science to social studies and math.  

Q: How long has your company been around and how did it get its start?

A: I founded ThinkCERCA in 2012 after being an English teacher for 15 years. I was also the founding English Department Chair at Walter Payton College Prep and served as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for over 100 of Chicago’s highest performing schools. In this role, I became passionate about the role technology could play in education in the 21st century and eventually left CPS to help all students achieve career and college readiness. After prototyping the product with former colleagues, ThinkCERCA officially got its start when I was accepted into the inaugural class of Impact Engine, Chicago’s first impact investment fund and accelerator.

Q: Why is your company located in Chicago? What makes the city a great place to build a business?

A: Chicago is my home. It’s where I raised my kids and had a long and wonderful career at CPS. It’s important to stay in touch with your users as much as possible. And because of my former job, I was in a good position to build a product with a lot of valuable input from Chicago-area educators. I couldn’t have done that anywhere else. Chicago also has some amazing, world-class mentors. The team behind Impact Engine alone—Chuck Templeton and Linda Darragh—opened doors for me that I never thought possible. I’m extremely grateful to the mentors and supporters I’ve met in this fantastic city.

Q: How is your company stay connected to Chicago’s entrepreneurial community?

A: Until two months ago, we were housed inside 1871, which is a great location to be for any startup. I met a tremendous number of mentors, investors and entrepreneurs there who I still turn to today for advice and support. Once we grew to more than 30 people, we moved to our own offices just around the corner, but I stay connected through meetups and networking events. One of the great things about Chicago is a willingness on behalf of other startups to help one another. I can think of several ed tech companies like Learnmetrics and Infiniteach that have participated in ThinkCERCA events and gatherings. In fact, my co-founder, Abby Ross, and I started an annual event called the Education Technology Startup Collaborative, where we bring educators and ed tech entrepreneurs together for peer presentations, hands-on demonstrations and feedback. It’s a great event and one that keeps the the ed tech community in Chicago close knit and collaborative with our customers.

Topics: Insights

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