Marcus Lemonis had something up his sleeve.
The Marquette alumnus and Camping World chief executive officer turned off his microphone and whispered to Summerfest CEO Don Smiley and event organizers Matt Cordio of Startup Milwaukee and Kathleen Gallagher of the Milwaukee Institute while the crowd grew restless.
Lemonis hatched his plan as he judged the 5 Lakes Pitch competition at Discovery World on Milwaukee’s lakefront in late June. The contest, part of Summerfest Tech, pitted four startups against each other in competition for a $7,500 cash prize and in-kind services. That top prize went to health care interoperability startup OneChart Health.
But the celebrity entrepreneur decided on the spot to invest $10,000 of his own money in the promising second-place startup, Fiveable.
Amanda DoAmaral, founder and chief executive officer of Fiveable, also announced at the event that – after being established in Maine last year, stopping in Philadelphia and moving to Madison for the gener8tor program this spring – the company was moving its headquarters to Milwaukee.
The company has found early success based on the platform it has built to connect teachers and students for virtual after-school help sessions via livestreaming.
DoAmaral came up with the idea after five years of teaching 9th- and 10th-grade history in Oakland, California. She had left teaching and moved near family in Maine.
“It was actually a couple of former students that lit the path for me,” DoAmaral said. “They had gone into their junior year with AP U.S. History and they were feeling frustrated by a lack of resources and frustrated by their teacher that year.”
So, she offered to help them prepare for their AP test via livestream.
“Then I started thinking, ‘I bet there are a lot of other students that are in the same boat as my students right now,’” DoAmaral said. “At first it was out of convenience and then I realized I could reach more kids this way.”
She got the word out on social media, Reddit and by reaching out to teachers via email. In Fiveable’s first month-and-a-half, a little more than 2,000 students tuned in to the livestream.
Fiveable started bringing in other teachers who were experts in other subject areas, such as psychology, English and biology. And then the company added professional development for AP teachers themselves, interviewing textbook writers and creating livestreams covering each part of an exam and how to pace a class around the subject.
Now a four-person full-time staff, Fiveable has wrapped up its first full school year with $6,000 in monthly recurring revenue and 1,200 members in May. The startup is currently raising $600,000 from investors, and is about halfway with the help of Lemonis’ investment, the $5,000 grant it earned in 5 Lakes Pitch and the $80,000 gener8tor contributed as part of its equity incubator program.
The company has found success by identifying teachers who have proven results and giving them a wider platform.
“I know that there are a lot of other resources that students and teachers use. But it’s pretty decentralized and one of the frustrations is a lack of collaboration and communication across teachers and students,” DoAmaral said. “It’s not that there’s a lack of curriculum or content, it’s that there’s a lack of
human interaction within them and space to collaborate around them.”
Fiveable has been cobbling together its platform with third-party webinar products, but has now developed a minimum viable product for its own system that it plans to launch in January in conjunction with the start of the spring semester, she said.
The new platform is scalable and tailored to how Fiveable will use it. It will also allow the company to pull more data around how teachers and students are using the platform.
The users have provided validation for Fiveable every step of the way, encouraging DoAmaral to continue, she said.
“They latched on early on wanting to help me build it, wanting to spread the word,” she said. “Every time we talk through what we’re doing, why we’re doing it…we just see so much excitement in students and teachers and a desire to be a part of it.”
Innovation: Live-streamed social learning platform
Founder: Amanda DoAmaral