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Step softly when social disruption is afoot

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When your innovation comes with the potential for disruption, it’s best to get your messaging straight. That was the challenge facing Trevor Koverko, co-founder of eProf Education, an online learning platform set to launch shortly that uses the power of the Internet to connect teachers and students in virtual classrooms.

The idea behind it all was simple enough, he says. “Our goal was to ensure that the next generation of students can learn applicable skills from great teachers without the painful tuition price tag.”

It’s a worthy cause indeed for those in the world that want more affordable ways to pick up specific skills to enhance their business success. Mr. Koverko admits however that taking on the education market requires more diplomacy than he anticipated. That was a lesson learned during his company’s time with the JOLT earlystage accelerator program at MaRS Discovery District.

“I did an inventory of the current education system,” he says. “I didn’t think it needed to be tweaked or supplemented. In my mind, it needed to be reinvented. So that’s how I pitched it and why we got early attention from accelerators.”

As he and his team got into actual product development and started talking to potential partners and educators, that same pitch was having the opposite affect. “We discovered we were alienating a lot of people with that message.”

Krista Jones, practice lead at MaRS and lead advisor for eProf in the JOLT program, says the biggest problem facing a company delivering a potentially disruptive solution is knowing how to position it without getting caught up in sector politics. “The biggest question for eProf was how do you find your path in a market that’s very chaotic, while at the same time, stay out of a broader debate that has people divided on both sides of the fence?”

Ultimately, success will rely on not presenting innovation as a threat she says. “It is important to talk about a solution that can complement the system and gain traction without getting caught up in the religious discussion of the evolution of education. Messaging and execution is everything.”

While many people are proposing solutions, eProf is at an advantage because it can already run alongside current education systems, she adds. “It’s very operational and can be effective tomorrow.”

Mr. Koverko says that he is working on marketing eProf as a value-added offering that can run on top of the current education system. “It’s been a huge change. We’ve learned that when navigating through education, you have to make a trade-off between integrating and partnering with a current system that tends to be slow and not innovative. At the same time, we don’t want to get slowed down in building our own marketplace.

“Through JOLT we’ve learned how to find the right message that positions ourselves within the ecosystem. We have an amazing team and technology. What we need to do now is get people excited about the social changes we are bringing to education.”