WWU professors take their teaching to the business world with new startup

By Emily Hamann 
The Bellingham Business Journal

It’s a very Bellingham story.

Two Western Washington University professors, while biking from work, met by chance and launched a new startup company.

Around five months ago Eric Kean and Kirsten Drickey launched Avizr.com, a new software platform that allows companies to create training programs for employees.

Avizr can be also used for nonprofits and individuals too. Increasingly, people are building lessons themselves, teaching some kind of skill — everything from cooking to writing to how to play the guitar — and selling them online through sites like Skillshare, or, now, Avizr and third-party business and marketing tools.

“More and more people are selling courses online, and it’s more of an entrepreneurial thing,” Dickey said.

Drickey said Avizr can also be helpful for nonprofits — which tend to spend a lot of time training new volunteers.

With Avizr, trainers can build courses, complete with videos, slideshows, quizzes and a certificate at the end.

The system can send out reminders and lets the trainers see the trainee’s progress.

It’s cloud-based, so employees can complete the training from anywhere and nothing has to be installed.

Companies can customize their courses with the business logo and colors.

As teachers, Kean and Drickey know a little something about how to set up a course for people to learn things.

“We both have the inside track on how to make things easy and clear,” Dickey said.

Kean, who teaches math and viola at Western, is a self-taught programmer and coded Avizr himself.

Drickey, who teaches Spanish, is in charge of marketing.

Kean invited Dickey onboard when they bumped into each other while biking back from Western.

The idea for Avizr sprang from one of Kean’s earlier projects.

Around five years ago he started work to create It’s More Than a Textbook, which allows professors to build their own online interactive textbooks.

Drickey actually became familiar with Kean’s work back then — she used the site to build a Spanish textbook.

After building It’s More Than a Textbook, Kean came up with Avizr — the same idea, but for applications outside academia.

“[In] corporate systems, you basically want something that’s really easy to use, really straightforward, and does the job,” Kean said.

As professors, both Kean and Drickey have experience with overcomplicated online learning and grading programs universities implement.

When the school picks a new program, sometimes it’s not really done with teachers in mind, Kean said.

“A lot of it is whatever the computer people think is cool and interesting,” Kean said. “When I develop this, I forgo cool and interesting for ‘it works.’”

He designed it to be as easy to use as possible.

“We really wanted to make sure that it was simple enough that even people who don’t like computers can use it,” he said. “And [it’s] not loaded with things you’re never going to use.”

Kean developed the entire project himself.

“I learned coding like a lot of people do these days, through videos, forums, that sort of thing,” he said. “It was a painful first year.”

He started programming as a way to help with his teaching.

“I was at the point in my teaching where I wanted to use technology to provide help for my students,” he said. “Now I just think of code as another way to express my ideas.”

Currently, 10 companies are using Avizr during a free trial period.

Kean said other Whatcom County businesses and nonprofits can get a free trial, as well.

They’re also looking for input from users about what works and what could be improved with Avizr.

“The beauty about being a little company is that they can talk to us and we’ll listen,” Kean said.


*This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Kirsten Drickey’s name.

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