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Entrepreneurship News

January 13, 2014

Daniel Fountenberry '08: Books that Grow as You Do

Daniel Fountenberry '08: Books that Grow as You Do


Social Entrepreneur Daniel Fountenberry ’08 saw an opportunity to personalize learning through technology. Through his company, Borne Digital, he and his team developed an adaptive reading platform for tablet devices called Books That Grow. These digital books ‘grow’ in difficulty as students become better readers.

Borne Digital was recently named a finalist at the SXSWedu Start up Competition. Read on to learn how learning to read is rapidly changing through the use of technology.

Tell us about Borne Digital and what is unique about it.
Borne Digital develops digital books that gather data while the child reads, analyzes that data in the cloud, and adapts the content in real time to suit each student’s needs.  Our goal is to provide each student the most challenging experience they can manage, keeping them within what psychologists call the “Proximal Zone of Development.”

By creating a real time feedback loop within a book, our platform serves as a bridge between Publishing and Big Data.
 
What has been your biggest “A-Ha!” moment to date? How did it change your business?

We originally developed our technology with struggling readers in mind. We thought we were developing an intervention tool. However, during our initial pilots with elementary schools in Harlem, we found that the kids who were most excited about Books That Grow where the students who hungered to be challenged.

Our platform gave the students an opportunity to ‘grow’ beyond their teacher’s expectations. I’m pleasantly surprised every time an educator or student finds a use case for Books That Grow that I had not planned on, from ESL to adult education. We know now that Books That Grow is about growth and advancement no matter where you start.
 
When communicating with those “borne digital” today, what main differences should we keep in mind?
Our name is a double entendre. “Borne” is the past participle of the verb “to bear” – like a blood-borne disease or air-borne pathogen. Today’s youth are not only born into a digital age, but “borne” by digital media. Whether it’s a homework assignment, a photo of friend, or a favorite song, Digital Natives prefer media that they can tag, mash up, and share. Their greatest fear is being left out of the conversation.
 
How did the Columbia Business School classes you took shape your business/management approach? 

At Columbia, I studied mostly finance, which has been very helpful thus far. However, the class that I’ve relied on most is Michael Feiner’s High Performance Leadership. Professor Feiner would often say, you can lead people to “stack bricks or build a cathedral.”

Each day, I’m humbled and inspired by the passion and hard work of my team. They are not working for me. Rather, they are working for the vision and mission of Borne Digital.
 
The Columbia Alumni Connection: How have you used it? How do you stay involved?
I’m very grateful for the support I’ve received from the Columbia community, not just the Business School but across the entire university.

The Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) at Teachers College incubated and housed Borne Digital for its first nine months. We also partnered with IUME to organize a conferenced called “Apps that Close the Gap” which focused on using technology to accelerate achievement in urban schools.

I’ve met most of my collaborators through Teachers College, including my Co-Founder, Dr. Jason Buhle, an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience who also earned his Ph.D. at Columbia. I rely on Columbia Business School alumni for strategic advice. Our advisors include Douglas Holloway, a legend in the cable industry, and Vineet Madeen who previously ran digital for McGraw Hill Education.

I engage with current students and alumni primarily through Columbia Venture Community (CVC) and The Black Business Students Association (BBSA).    
 
Where do you see your business going?
Personalized, data driven learning.
 
What advice would you give to a graduating Columbia student with entrepreneurial aspirations?
Focus on solving real problems. You know you’ve found a real problem when your target customers are developing their own work-arounds to make something in their lives better (or less painful). 

Once you’ve developed something that you believe solves a problem, offer it to your target customers. If they would rather pay for your product than use their own work-arounds, then you’ve solved a problem.
 

 

Spring 2014 Events

June 17, 2014

Columbia Business Lab Demo and Mentor Appreciation Reception

 

May 27, 2014

Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Columbia Demo Event
6:00-9:00pm
Venue - Morgan Stanley

 

May 21, 2014

Commencement

 

May 8, 2014

Entrepreneurs in Residence Workshop #6
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 301

 

May 6, 2014

Lang Fund Board Meeting
9:00-2:00pm
Venue TBD

 

April 28, 2014

Greenhouse Class Reunion Dinner
6:00-8:30pm
Felberg Space, Warren Hall

 

April 21, 2014

Spring Venture Showcase
6:30-9:00pm
Uris Hall Classrooms 301, 303, 329, 331, 333

 

April 17, 2014

Brian Cohen Workshop
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 142

 

April 15, 2014

Entrepreneur in Residence Austin Okere Workshop
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 140

 

April 14 2014

Columbia Entrepreneurs Lab Deadline

 

April 11, 2014

#StartupColumbia Festival
Columbia University
 

 

April 10, 2014

Entrepreneur in Residence Jim Moore Workshop
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 332

 

April 8, 2014

Pitch Workshop with David Rose
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 301

 

April 7, 2014

Spring Venture Showcase Applications Due
MIDNIGHT via Gust

 

April 3, 2014

The Ecademy Awards
3:30-4:30pm
Alfred Lerner Hall Auditorium

 

March 27, 2014

Entrepreneurs in Residence Workshop #3
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 307

 

March 27, 2014

Columbia Entrepreneurs Lab Event
6:00-9:00pm
Calder Lounge, Uris Hall

 

March 25, 2014

Columbia Entrepreneurs Lab Event
6:00-9:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 332

 

March 10-20, 2014

Columbia Business Lab Interviews
9:00-6:00pm
Uris Hall Conference Room TBD

 

March 7, 2014

A. Lorne Weil SharkTank Competition
1:00-6:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 332

 

March 6, 2014

Entrepreneurs in Residence Workshop #2
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 307

 

February 27, 2014

Entrepreneurs in Residence Workshop #1
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 307

 

February, 2014 - TBD

Columbia Business Lab Application - Link opens for submissions
(closes Sunday, March 9)

 

February, 2014 - TBD

Columbia Business Lab Info Session
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 140

 

February 6, 2014

Lang Center Info Session
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 140

 

February 4, 2014

Columbia Entrepreneurs Lab Lunch 'n' Learn
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 333

 

February 3, 2014

Entrepreneurial Sounding Board Begins

 

January 13-17, 2014

Lean LaunchPad Block Week Course