Cindy Hollar, former CEO at TE21, spends her days thinking about children. Now a vice president at Certica Solutions—the company that acquired TE21 in April—Cindy became an education entrepreneur at the age of 34, following a business career at IBM. Having also been a kindergarten teacher in her early years, Cindy has always looked for ways to positively impact the lives of children.
With her business background, Cindy knew she could have the greatest impact by providing products and services that would help teachers and students. Her first education-sector venture was a drop-in day care business housed in a store front. Cindy sold that business in 1995 and then worked as a consultant, meeting her future business partners—most of them corporate trainers. TE21 was launched in 1999 as training company, thus the name “TE21, Training and Education in the 21st Century.” Over time, Cindy narrowed the company’s focus to K-12 education, offering products from education publishers (such as curricula and instructional programs), as well as developing new products for K-12.
As a one-time teacher, herself, Cindy understood the needs of teachers and students and wanted to develop products that would help students achieve their full potential. Cindy learned from her school and district customers about the need for high-quality assessments that would not only guide the teaching process but could ultimately change the lives of students. Cindy and her team created assessments that evaluated what students were learning in the classroom—and gave all students the opportunity to improve throughout the school year.
Acquisition of TE21
TE21 grew to a multi-million-dollar company with 58 employees and school district customers spanning 6 states in the Southeast. The company was known for its exceptional assessment products and support organization, but TE21 lacked the technology and processes to scale its assessment products to a national level. As CEO, Cindy and her leadership team felt it was time to either bring in growth capital which would enable them to take the company to the next level or consider an acquisition by a complementary company which could help them expand. Cindy and her team engaged with Certica Solutions, a nationally recognized K-12 provider with both educational content, Software-as-a-Service, and data and analytics offerings. The addition of TE21’s assessments with Certica’s analytics application deepened the value of both company’s products. The combination of high-quality student assessments and rich data visualizations have resulted in a powerful classroom offering that provides teachers with meaningful, immediate, actionable student data.
Further, although the acquiring company, Certica, is based in the Northeast, and TE21 is based in the Southeast, the two companies share a strong commitment to excellence in education and a culture of outstanding customer service. It was a good match.
Accountability is Key
Cindy observes that accountability is a key theme in K-12 education today. Teachers are searching for tools and methods to improve student performance in their classrooms. “Our team at TE21, now Certica Solutions, is dedicated to developing high-quality assessment solutions to help teachers verify that learning mastery is occurring in the classroom,” she adds. TE21’s benchmark assessments follow each state’s blueprint but are customized to the instructional scope and sequence of each school district the company partners with—this differentiates the TE21 benchmark assessments from other assessments. The TE21 team works to both prepare students for the rigor and type of assessment they will take at the end of the year and gives data to teachers with a rapid turnaround time, to guide instruction and interventions.
Most state summative assessments today are given to students at the end of the school year and reveal that students either learned what they should have or that they did not. By the time that data is available to educators, it is too late for teachers to make course corrections and modify instruction to meet the needs of students. With the company’s benchmark assessments, TE21—now Certica Solutions—tests what is being taught in a school or district every nine weeks and gives data back to teachers within a 72-hour window once the assessments are completed.
Communicating with Teams
Cindy consults and strategizes with her teams daily in order to stay current. She is a believer in being a player-coach, so she’s on the road with her sales team and customers continuously, listening and learning from them. She reads as much as possible to keep her hand on the pulse of education news and trends. All in all, she believes that her outstanding products and customer service have been the key to her success.
Don’t Underestimate Funds
Cindy asserts that one of the biggest challenges at the time of business inception is monetary support. In her words, nobody wants to lend small business and start-ups any money until they are making money. She went into the initial phases of the company’s development underestimating how much money would be needed and learned along the way. She is thankful for her “angel investor” who worked with her to provide the necessary support in the start-up years. In her words, “he has been a true angel.” To all those start up leaders who seek her advice, she suggests doubling or tripling what they think they will need financially.
Cindy is excited to be back in the field as vice president of Assessment Sales for Certica Solutions. She believes the strong operational foundation and vision of Certica will help take their business to new heights. Certica has embraced all the TE21 staff and is committed to continuing—and expanding— TE21’s important work. Cindy’s commitment to education is evident in her aspiration to serve on boards of small businesses and continue to work with small business owners and other entrepreneurs in growing their companies and reaching their goals.