Release Date: February 2, 2021
BUFFALO, N.Y. — As a University at Buffalo undergraduate, Rohan Shah joined with fellow UB students to begin building an educational technology company.
That startup’s first product — Classavo — is now serving college students and professors nationwide, providing cutting-edge tools for online education in the midst of a pandemic. And Shah and fellow UB alumnus Huy Duc Pham have been named to the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 list for education.
“Every opportunity I have, I want to empower and motivate students to follow their passion, to believe in themselves. It’s been hard, but I have met so many cool people and learned so much in such a short time,” says Shah, CEO of interactiveX, the company that created Classavo. He graduated from UB in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a minor in business.
“Wild things happen when ideas intersect. UB is a great place for that. With grit and determination, I think we can bottle magic. Sharing this news to my instructors who taught me was extremely satisfying,” says Pham, director of product for Classavo. He graduated from UB in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in media study.
The Classavo team is based at UB’s Incubator @ Baird in Amherst, New York.
Shah describes Classavo as an “all-in-one teaching and learning platform that helps professors engage students better through interactive content.” This includes digital textbooks that professors can edit, adding features such as videos, photos, graphics, notes and questions that students can answer in the text.
The platform has features for taking attendance, polling and hosting discussions and office hours. Instructors can also access analytics that allow them to understand how much students are engaging with course materials — information that can guide improvements to future courses, Shah says.
The pandemic has changed Classavo’s business, fueling a five-fold increase in requests from professors interested in the platform, Shah says.
“Previously, we had to explain to people what Classavo is and why they should use it. This year, it’s different: universities and professors are coming to us,” Shah says.
UB played an early role in Classavo’s growth, with professors testing and providing feedback on the platform. The startup and its founders have received support, funding and mentorship through university programs including the Entrepreneurship Lab (eLab) course; the Buffalo Student Sandbox; and the UB Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE). interactiveX is also part of the START-UP NY and WIN: WNY Incubator Network economic development program.
Shah says his recent experience as a student has informed the company’s mission.
He says one goal is to cut costs for students by reducing the need to purchase expensive materials like conventional textbooks and handheld clickers that students can use to answer questions in class.
Classavo is free to professors, and students pay between $20 for a semester and $69 for five years to access courses through the platform. That price includes a built-in polling feature that can replace clicker technology, as well as access to digital course content including certain textbooks.
Additional course materials can be purchased through a Classavo marketplace, where professors can publish textbooks and other content without working through publishing companies. Classavo donates 10% of publishing revenues from these sales to a scholarship fund the company created, Shah says. Through the fund, instructors who use Classavo can nominate students to receive financial support toward tuition, academic supplies and other aspects of their education.
“In a college class, you have all these different things: A textbook. An online homework system. Clicker systems. And students have to pay for a lot of this, and it’s expensive,” Shah says. “Classavo brings many different tools together, and our hope is to help students save on costs. It’s $20 for unlimited courses for one semester, so if you have three classes, it’s still $20.
“On a broader scale, our ultimate goal is really to empower students and democratize access to education globally. If we can solve education, we can solve every other problem in the world,” Shah says.