Hi there, my name is Spiffy, I’m an interplanetary journalist hanging out on Planet Earth. Today I’m interviewing Luisa Velez, the founder and CEO of Skalo, a company working on UN SDG 4: Quality Education all the way over in Colombia.
Spiffy: It’s wonderful to meet you, Luisa. I’m curious about the challenges Skalo is addressing. What can you tell me?
Luisa: It’s great to meet you too, Spiffy, thanks for having me! To answer your question, teaching a classroom where all students have different motivations, emotional backgrounds, abilities, difficulties, or disabilities, is not an easy task. We built Skalo, a platform for teachers to ease the management of this learning diversity by customizing and monitoring strategies and accommodations for students that are facing learning barriers and that learn at a different pace. With Skalo, teachers for grades Pre-K to 12 teach each student in the way they learn according to their needs and monitor their progress to get useful data for pedagogical decisions about learning barriers based on evidence. It provides a customized plan with accommodations for instruction, interaction, and evaluation for each student.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
Luisa: I wanted to help teachers teach any kind of student, no matter their abilities or needs. My motivation is one of my sons, Matias, who has cerebral palsy—I saw how his teachers and school had to adapt and create strategies for him to participate and learn. My initial approach was to develop a platform for teachers to manage inclusion of students with permanent learning barriers, but once we piloted Skalo, we realized that it worked for all students facing temporary or permanent learning barriers that can affect their ability to learn, such as malnutrition, lack of motivation, bullying, emotional difficulties, violence, learning diagnosis or disabilities.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about how you and Skalo are working towards a more equitable world?
Luisa: In LatAm 50% of the students are at academic risk and COVID-19 further exacerbated these learning gaps. With the right tools and guidance, most of them could find their own way to successfully achieve their full potential based on their preferences, characteristics, abilities, and needs and could continue with their academic journey. Skalo creates a path for every student, and with the help of parents, teachers, and institutions, builds a community that works towards inclusion of every child despite any barrier, disability, or challenge that they face. Skalo is an affordable innovation to ease teaching a diverse classroom and to level the field for those students at academic risk so they can participate and progress in the school system.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent company initiative and about how it impacts your target community.
Luisa: We started a partnership with United Way because we share their commitment of transforming education by improving quality and accessibility. United Way’s experience in providing lasting solutions to communities and their focus on an education that spans from cradle to career is strategic to bringing Skalo to those students at academic risk, especially in vulnerable populations.
Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it, if anything?
Luisa: Failure is a constant in a startup’s life, it is the way we learn because expectations are high, and iteration is the only way to create and grow. We have failed sometimes in designing features that we think will be useful but end up not adding value, in recruiting team members that were not the right fit for the company, in pitching to fundraise and not getting a yes. But we are relentless believers in the positive impact that we can create in transforming educational challenges into opportunities and we keep trying every time we face failure and learning from it. Our strong mission helps us to understand that each failure is just another step to continue building Skalo.
Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Luisa: Having a child with a disability teaches me every day the value of diversity, perseverance, and the need to create opportunities for all.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Luisa—it’s been an honor!
Luisa Velez is a social entrepreneur with a background in corporate finance and an MBA from Duke University. She is a second-time founder and a creator of opportunities for women in tech. Luisa co-founded a non-profit 10 years ago in Bogotá, Cero a Tres Foundation to support children with developmental needs with early intervention. She also founded Skalo, an ed-tech startup with a platform for teachers to ease the management of learning diversity and inclusion. (Nominated by Josef Scarantino at Hubspot Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on May 18, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.