Successful American businesses have a penchant for starting out in a garage; the most famous is Apple, founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in a
Mountain View, CA garage. Yet plenty of other examples exist, including one of the most innovative and prominent K-12 educational firms in the United States, Teach TCI. Twenty-five years ago, CEO Bert Bower started TCI with no funding, but a strong passion for developing creative, out-of-the-box student instruction.
Mr. Bower started out as teacher’s aide, quickly progressed to full-time social studies teacher, and eventually earned a PhD in Curriculum and Teacher Education from Stanford University. According to Mr. Bower, the “silent violence” of stand-and-deliver instruction is not only ineffective, but can be outright detrimental to student development.
The idea for TCI started with a solution to a problem. And throughout the years, TCI’s advanced, interactive teaching methods have earned numerous technology and educational awards. With a full suite of teaching tools for every level of K-12 schooling, TCI is poised to remain one of the most popular, progressive instructional programs for instructors all across the country.
We spent some time with Mr. Bower recently to get his ideas about entrepreneurial instincts, personal inspiration, creating success from failures and plenty of other interesting topics. As expected, Mr. Bower didn’t disappoint; here are some highlights from our talk.
- Who has been your greatest inspiration?
The thousands of K-12 students I have worked with across the nation. I was a teacher for 8 years and continued to be a volunteer teacher after that. I constantly go into the classroom with students for useful interaction. I have them use our materials and make sure they absolutely love it. That’s where the inspiration comes into play; whenever I see each student smile with excitement, that’s my inspiration, plain and simple.
- What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to become an entrepreneur?
Ask yourself a simple question: “What makes you angry?” Then, go fix the problem. For me, I was angry watching students sitting in a classroom being passively lectured at. I call it “Silent Violence,” and this type of inefficient instruction method made me want to create the best curricular tool possible, one that focused on teacher creativity. This way, teachers everywhere could make the most impact and also create the most beneficial, widespread changes in their classrooms – a win-win for both students and instructors!
- Where do you see your business in 10 years?
I see TCI expanding to have a curriculum for all core subjects, to become the complete solution for districts. I know technology will change drastically in the next ten years, I am sure TCI will maintain our technology leadership within the industry. TCI will always be ahead of the curve. However, we never see technology as having kids sit in front of a computer. We have used, and will only ever use, technology to create human interactions – which is where the real learning happens.
- How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
We are most successful by word of mouth, specifically in schools and other learning environments. We were created by teachers, for teachers. Teachers who use our product love our product. They tell their friends, and that has been our best marketing for the past 25 years. More recently, a robust virtual profile with SEO content and professional online marketing (thanks, Ignite Visibility) have provided an added boost to TCI’s overall awareness and presence in the educational community.
- What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Our teaching techniques are robust and content-rich, and inspiring technology within the educational industry can be tough. It does require some trial and error. We’ve made a lot of mistakes, but we know to “fail fast”. We don’t worry too much about our failures, they help shape our successes. This is why we’ve been the winner of the CODIE and EdTech awards. TCI is in the educational field, and one of the great things about education is that you never stop learning – especially from failures!
Mr. Bower’s originality, innovation and ingenuity have forced traditional teaching methods to second-guess decades of status quo instruction. His company’s first 25 years have witnessed many impressive milestones, and TCI will remain a cornerstone contributor to unorthodox teaching styles for the next quarter-century, thanks to Mr. Bower’s entrepreneurial approach to helping students learn.