Early Stage: Flip Learning

Chris Spielvogel’s path to becoming the CEO of a tech startup started on sabbatical from a position as a tenured professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  Two seed accelerators, two business partners, and a few employees, Chris’ product, “Flip Learning” is on its way to mass commercialization.

In the classroom for over 12 years, Chris Spielvogel could not help but see a need for a more compelling way to teach students.  The traditional model of a lecturer talking to students about material from a textbook, despite all efforts, was simply not connecting with students.

In 2007, while on sabbatical, Chris created Flip Learning (then called Learning Interfaces).  Flip Learning is a publishing and distribution platform that allows instructors, authors and publishers to “gameify” their educational content and resources, setting the stage as the next evolution of social e-textbooks.

By immersing students in online role-playing simulations, Flip Learning completely engages them in the subjects they are learning.  The idea was innovative enough to catch the attention of not one but two seed accelerators: Momentum-MI and Kauffman Venture Labs.  By plugging into the collective experience and networks of talented people connected with the accelerators, Chris was able to transform the rough prototype into a commercialized product. “Momentum was really my first exposure to working with startups,” Chris explained.  “It was a three month crash course in commercializing our research-based concept.”

Soon after Momentum, Chris was accepted into Kauffman Venture Labs, and made the move down to Kansas City. “The environment at Kauffman was incredibly intense.  It accelerated everything, both good and bad, as we grew.  It forced us to be very honest about what was working and what wasn’t, and ultimately lead to a change toward a crowd-sourced model of content production.” As a result, users can submit their own role-playing scenarios for use in Flip Learning’s technology platform.  Chris views this change as one geared toward scalability. In the beginning, Chris didn’t really think about scaling the product.  But, since his experiences with Momentum and Kauffman, Chris learned that scalability is key.Chris is back in West Michigan with his wife Laurie, tenured professor at Western Michigan University. Together they are cultivating the next round of investment.  Chris aims to grow Flip Learning to a large valuation before being acquired by a big publishing partner, enabling the technology to scale worldwide.

“Ultimately, we’re going after the $10-billion textbook industry,” said Chris.
And then, back to the classroom, but one fundamentally changed by technology.

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