Over the past year, business leaders across virtually every industry had to innovate and adapt their business models due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tons of businesses across the country significantly reduced the scope of their operations, pushing some to close their doors altogether. Others have pivoted to better position themselves in the new post-pandemic marketplace by altering their business models to account for shorter value chains, remote work, social distancing, consumer introspection, and heightened technology use.
Rather than resizing, repackaging, or ceasing operations, some business leaders found great opportunity in their ‘new normal’ landscape. Flores Executive MBA alumna Elizabeth Minton is one of those leaders that seized an opportunity presented by the pandemic. Having been in the education industry for over 15 years, Minton co-founded Canopy Education in 2019, an education technology start-up aimed at helping students stay productive while saving teachers time. Minton and the rest of Canopy’s founding team established the company near the beginning of the pandemic in response to the growing complaints from K-12 educators regarding virtual learning platforms
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 2005, Minton started as a classroom teacher for Teach for America, and soon requested to move to south Louisiana, ultimately landing in Baton Rouge. “I had done some research about Louisiana and found the culture to be really intriguing, so I decided to try it out,” Minton stated. “I got down here, fell in love with it, and the rest is history.”
Citing equity in education as one of her most prominent motivators, Minton stayed with Teach for America for over 10 years, wearing a few different hats, and eventually becoming the director of alumni impact for Louisiana. During her four years in that role, Minton payed close attention to the condition of the education sector at both the state and federal levels. She added, “I really got to interact with educators, from classroom teachers all the way up to officials in the Department of Education, and everybody in between. I got to hear a lot about what was happening across the education sector from a lot of different perspectives.”
Minton decided to join the Flores EMBA Program in 2018 to refine her knowledge from UPenn and to learn more about entrepreneurship and business practices. According to Minton, many of the skills you build in the MBA program are transferrable. “Whether it’s in operations or in IT, a lot of the big-picture lessons you pick up in the program can be cross-referenced into the technology space. Between innovation, design thinking, and customer research (one of my biggest takeaways), I’ve directly applied a lot of the skills I learned in the program in my everyday life as the co-founder of an ed tech company,” commented Minton.
In the midst of her program, however, the pandemic struck, forcing universities to transition to a virtual learning format. Minton recalls this as the moment that Canopy was born. “Being in the MBA program, you get into a learning mindset. When you’re in that headspace, you can achieve incredible things. I had built some confidence in my business skillset at that point, and so when my husband and I decided to start Canopy Ed, I felt that being in the program was preparing me to do exactly what we did,” said Minton.
To get Canopy off the ground, she networked vigorously, conducted in-depth consumer research, and participated in LSU’s I-Corps program, part of the National Science Foundation. Minton continued, “Through I-Corps, we learned more about entrepreneurship, developed a pitch deck, defined our value proposition, and got great feedback from their entrepreneurial panel.”
While Canopy was early in its development stage, Minton reached out to students, teachers, and administrators to understand their frustrations with existing online learning platforms. A major pain point she found was in the online learning experience, as people spend lots of time and energy navigating between multiple platforms. Additionally, many of the programs on the market were designed for business or higher education, leaving K-12 students and teachers without technology catered to their specific needs. Administrators also didn’t have access to analytics tools to develop data-driven solutions for their teachers.
Combining her education experience with the knowledge she gained from the Flores MBA Program, Minton and the founding team designed Canopy to address the problems that educators were facing. “We designed the Canopy platform to keep students focused, save teachers time, and provide administrators with the analytics they need to be able to support teaching and learning,” said Minton. “As a teacher, student, or parent, what is the full experience of engaging with a lesson from start to finish? We thought about this question and fixated on that aspect of user experience to create a more seamless, education-focused platform for our users.” After exhaustive research and development, the first version of Canopy is scheduled to launch very soon and features a user-friendly interface and Google Classroom integration.
Elizabeth Minton’s story illustrates how thinking creative thinking can open opportunities, even in the most hopeless and chaotic situations. Her passion for education and empathetic approach to her work led her to create an online learning platform that has the potential to innovate the classroom experience. “I think there are lots of opportunities, but we have to be more creative in identifying them,” Minton added. “For me, I’ve always found hope in the shaking-up of the status quo. Anytime it gets shaken-up, new trends emerge and new opportunities arise. For anyone who doesn’t feel hopeful, I think being open to change and the possibilities of what the future could look like is really the key to tapping into that hope.”
To learn more about Canopy Education, click here.
The LSU Flores MBA Program provides you with a flexible path to advance your career. Our nationally ranked program currently administers a traditional, two-year, full-time program, a one-year, full-time program for business majors, a part-time online (no residency requirement) program, and an Executive MBA Flex. For more information, visit mba.lsu.edu.