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VY money fuels tech company’s Brattleboro expansion

BRATTLEBORO—A Bristol, Vermont-based education technology company will use a $350,000 state loan to establish a presence in Windham County — and to expand its reach far beyond Vermont’s borders.

SchoolHack Solutions landed the funding via the Windham County Economic Development Program, a pot of cash established by a 2013 shutdown settlement agreement between the state and Entergy Vermont Yankee.

SchoolHack will hire an unspecified number of staffers and establish a physical presence in the Brattleboro area, said David Lipkin, chief executive officer and a co-founder of the business.

The move comes as SchoolHack seeks to grow by “expanding to serve more schools in Vermont and beyond, including internationally,” Lipkin said.

As part of a settlement signed prior to the December 2014 shutdown of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, Entergy agreed to pay the state $10 million “to promote economic development in Windham County.”

The company is making five annual payments of $2 million, which the state — with local and regional input — then disburses through grants and loans.

Picking up momentum

After a slow start and a regulatory revamp, officials have said the Windham County Economic Development Program is hitting its stride. In September, documents showed that $4.83 million of the $6 million paid out by Entergy had been awarded or otherwise committed through pending loan applications.

The program has funded large projects such as the retention and expansion of G.S. Precision in Brattleboro, while also supporting smaller-scale initiatives like a community planning process in Vernon.

The $350,000 loan to SchoolHack represents an investment in high-tech jobs, which is one aspect of the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, said R.T. Brown, who manages the Windham County Economic Development Program.

Brown said officials are “pleased to support an innovative Vermont company in taking the next step to succeed on the national level.”

SchoolHack was founded in July 2014. Though the company is young, “our team consists of pioneering educational counselors and policy makers,” Lipkin said. “They’ve contributed to Vermont’s nationally recognized progressive educational model.”

Personalized learning system

SchoolHack has staked its claim to the education technology market with a program dubbed LiFT. Billed as a “comprehensive personalized learning system,” LiFT is in use in 25 Vermont schools, according to administrators.

Lipkin said the system’s primary goal is “to create student ownership and motivation and make sure the learning is relevant to the person.”

“Students are able to set goals — personal, career and academic goals — and collaboratively design a pathway to achieve their goals and make academic progress,” he said.

LiFT also can help measure student progress and can bolster professional development for teachers, SchoolHack says.

Even before the planned expansion into Windham County, SchoolHack had a connection to the area: LiFT was developed in partnership with Green River, a Brattleboro software-development company.

Lipkin expects that will be an “ongoing partnership,” and he also said Green River is helping SchoolHack establish its own information-technology department. That will provide some of the jobs SchoolHack plans for Windham County, along with sales and customer-support positions, Lipkin said.

The company has made its first Windham County hire and, “over the course of several years, we plan to create a number of high-paying jobs in Windham County,” Lipkin said.

He also sees opportunities beyond direct job creation and the existing relationship with Green River.

“LiFT itself is designed to create economic opportunity by building partnerships between community organizations, businesses, and schools,” Lipkin said. “So the economic development opportunity in Windham County is a natural fit.”

He added that the expansion is geographically beneficial because “it also gives us access to a pool of talent in the region.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #384 (Wednesday, November 23, 2016). This story appeared on page A3.

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