When longtime friends Joe Paiva and Bob Morris both found themselves out of work in the geospatial industry, they seized the opportunity to finally act on an idea that had been germinating for more than 20 years. Paiva and Morris created GeoLearn, a Lenexa-based online education company that provides professional development courses for those in the surveying, mapping, GIS and related communities.
The students are taught by some of the top professionals in the industry and receive credits through a formal arrangement with Texas A University-Corpus Christi. The courses are available through computers and by a downloadable app on iPhones and iPads.
Q: Why did you start this type of business now?
“We launched the business because the pace of technological advances is so fast that professionals need to be up to date,” Paiva said. “It’s real future friendly. People can get education when they want.”
Researching the educational marketplace, the two men found little competition for this kind of delivery method in the geospatial industry.
Currently, GeoLearn has 22 courses available and hopes to double that by summer. GeoLearn is recruiting students across the United States.
“We do have plans to go international over the summer,” Morris said. “We hope to be all over the world.”
Q: How did you approach this idea from a business perspective?
Morris and Paiva pulled from their own professional experiences to pull GeoLearn together; the pair had worked together at four different companies over the years. Morris had been lecturing over the years for land surveyors. Paiva had worked in various capacities in the geospatial industry, including extensive efforts with drone technology.
“It wasn’t hard for us to put a business plan together,” Paiva said. “Then we (went) hunting for our sugar daddy to finance it.”
A silent partner has provided most of the funding for GeoLearn.
“Part of our strategy is to compete with the face-to-face seminars,” Morris said. “We needed to provide an experience.”
They brought in Pete Barrett, who has his own communications company, to film and direct the video lectures. Barrett is GeoLearn’s first employee.
Q: How does a course come together?
Months and months of planning go into preparing for each course’s video lecture.
Through Barrett, GeoLearn has access to a full production studio in the same building as its offices where all the courses are produced.
“We use experts from across the country who are well-known to be our faculty … and we have them talk right to the student,” Morris said.
GeoLearn uses a multi-camera system to film the instructor’s presentation and a learning management’s software system for delivery. It takes about two hours of production time for every hour of video course.
Having the courses accredited by Texas A Christi “gives us a lot of credibility,” Morris said.
GeoLearn is focused on providing convenient and cost-effective professional courses for its student customer. The typical hourlong course costs $49.
“We believe it’s one of the most economical forms of delivery once you get through it,” Paiva said. “People look at it at a time they want.… It’s much better than having to take time off from work to travel somewhere to take a course and have the expense of the course, hotels and travel.”
Students enroll online and use a credit card to pay for access to the course.
“You determine your pace,” Paiva said.
Q: How are you marketing your new venture?
“It’s been challenging,” Morris said. “Making sure people know what our company is and what we stand for.”
GeoLearn currently uses email blasts to reach its target audience as well as placing articles in professional organizations’ publications. The owners also push visiting GeoLearn’s website. They hope to put an incentive program in place with discounts “to get people tasting what we’re doing,” Morris said.
Q: What’s next for your young company?
Morris and Paiva said there is no real competition in their industry for this type of online course.
“We hope we are changing the way people think about this kind of online course,” Paiva said. While still in its infancy, GeoLearn hasn’t approached the corporate sector with its product — yet. For now, Morris and Paiva are focused on their own geospatial industry.
“There’s plenty to do in our industry,” Paiva said.