Founders: Katie Hench, Christopher Flint, Lally Daley
Company Description: Infiniteach is developing autism solutions through technology and training.
Company Site: http://infiniteach.com/, Facebook, Twitter
Interview Date: November 2014
Katie Hench is one of the 3 co-founders of Infiniteach, a company dedicated to changing the approach in Autism education through tools like SkillChamp, an education software that allows for affordable and customized learning for each student. She is passionate and dedicated to improving the quality and accessibility of Autism education, and Infiniteach is part of that journey.
On finding her mission:
“My start in Autism is really from my brother who is on the spectrum. At the time, I did not really understand Autism, but understood how I had to engage with my brother. We have this really unique and amazing relationship which has always brought me back to working with kids and working in education.”
“I’m a huge advocate of accessible affordable resources for every child. The rates of Autism have soared ridiculously in the past few decades. 1 in 68 kids, and a 600% increase in the past two decades! No resources could have kept up with the demand. That’s what my family felt. I’m from a small town in Ohio. We were driving an hour and a half each way to get to therapy appointments and groups for my brother. It was a tremendous strain on my family and that was just time-wise. If you think about financially, when services are in that high of a demand – of course it’s going to be exorbitant as well.”
“Families are struggling to afford what we know are really life changing resources. That’s how I got my start, my passion.”
On having a technology product, but not having a technical founder:
Katie and her co-founder are Autism educators by trade with no technology background.
“We brought technology in the mix because it’s a ubiquitous platform that’s really easy to reach kids regardless of where they live and almost regardless of their socio-economic status at this point. We know that technology is the future of classrooms.”
Katie shares the challenge of bringing the technology development in-house. To find someone with the right skills (not too junior, not too senior), that they can afford and that is in-tune with and passionate about the vision is no small task.
“The Chicago technology community is so supportive. We’ve been very open about reaching out and saying we don’t know how to do this. We’ve had mentor after mentor come in and say, ‘We really want you guys to succeed. What information can we give you to make this possible?’”
On moving from non-profit to for-profit:
Katie met Chris soon after he founded the nonprofit Aaction Autism, which aims to develop global awareness, support and acceptance of Autism through education and training.
“We could work on it (Aaction Autism) 365 days a year if we had the funding. That’s how we came up with this idea to build a product that’s effective and efficient and that people will want to buy to help us fund the broader missions of global awareness and resources.”
Their mission is the same, but now their question is “How do we have a socially-minded for profit business that has a mission? We have to go back and do business homework to focus on making a sustainable profit as well as providing a great product. It’s a steep learning curve.”
“It’s very much learning how to run a business so that Infiniteach is appealing to investors and we can find people to believe we can make this happen. We like to talk about the social impact of what we can do. That’s the type of investor we look for – the type that is focused on social impact. But we want to be a financially responsible business and one that can be sustainable.”
On her relationship with her co-founder:
“He and I are so opposite. Chris is very much the creative ideas guy and I’m kind of the ‘to-do list how are we breaking it down kind of person. I think that’s really benefited our relationship and we’ve had to navigate how to work that relationship together. It’s given us great division of responsibilities. I really respect Chris and his passion for the Autism community. He’s so talented and that would be so hard to find in another co-founder – someone who has his innate skills. My goal is to figure out how to open up his mind and put it in technology and disseminate it to the world because everyone deserves to know what he’s thinking.”
On most memorable moment so far:
“The teacher had been trying to teach her student a skill for months. When she presented it to her through Skill Champ, our first product, the student was able to finally complete that skill. The student wasn’t just able to do the skill on the iPad but also used the printable curriculum to apply the skill in other areas. So now the student is walking around and able to identify colors. This is an older student – a lot of times you can get so frustrated because they’ve been working on the skill so long. You know they are capable of getting it. We have to change the way we’re teaching it to them. That’s what Skill Champ does. It structures how we teach our kids in a different way that really makes sense for them.”
“That is so cool when you hear that your product helped a child gain a skill that they never had before.”
On why she believes:
“It’s the potential. There are a million and a half kids in this country alone that are on the Autism spectrum. It’s also the statistic of when they become adults – how few of them are employed. My brother lives in a group home and has really limited employment opportunities. I think that could’ve been changed if we had given him more skills at a younger age. I really think his whole life trajectory could be different now.”
“I’m in Autism for the rest of my life, regardless of what happens with Infiniteach.”