Startup Stories: Marker Learning Simplifies Testing for Learning Disabilities
In this series, we talk to student and alumni entrepreneurs about how they are making an impact with their startups.
Venture: Marker Learning offers learning disability assessments and personalized action plans to students and schools through a digital platform that simplifies the process and reduces costs.
Founders: Stefan Bauer ’16 and Yale College alum Emily Yudofsky ’10
What was the moment when you had the idea for this startup?
When I (Stefan) was in elementary school, I really struggled with reading and had a hard time keeping up with my classmates, so much so that several of my teachers told my mother that I would be lucky to graduate high school. She didn’t take that as an accurate assessment of my abilities and had me evaluated for a learning disability by a psychologist in New York City. The evaluation was not covered by insurance, and my mom paid over $8,000. Once I was diagnosed with dyslexia, I excelled in school, and I have always looked back at that diagnosis as one of the most important events of my life.
When I meet people who have dyslexia, I often ask how they were diagnosed, and more often than not, we talk about how difficult and costly it is to get a diagnosis.
In my role at McKinsey, I have worked with several companies on their digital strategies. I decided to apply the same digital principles to the learning disability assessment market, so that we could make evaluations more accessible and affordable. I presented my plans to psychologists from Johns Hopkins and leaders in the learning disability space, and the vast majority were not only supportive, but wanted to help us design the platform.
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve or the gap you’re trying to fill?
While 20% of students have dyslexia, only 5% get properly diagnosed in the U.S. Evaluations often cost more than $10,000 and are not usually covered by insurance. Emily and I were so fortunate to both get diagnosed with dyslexia early, but the reality is that most people do not have access to the same resources we did.
There is no way I would have attended Yale and worked at McKinsey if I hadn’t been evaluated for a learning disability in elementary school. At Marker, we are on a mission to provide best-in-class evaluations to the millions of students who currently don’t have access by offering more affordable, accessible learning evaluations and services.
What was the most important resource Yale SOM contributed to your startup?
While several classes in particular had a lasting impact on me, such as Competitive Strategy, Negotiations, and Management of Software Development, the most important resource is the network and friends I made during my MBA. When I started working on Marker, I called more than 30 of my MBA classmates and got feedback on everything from the business and funding plans to growth strategy.
What’s the biggest milestone your startup has hit?
After we completed a few trial evaluations for a school superintendent, he called us and asked if we could evaluate 100 students the next month. I remember thinking, “Wow, we might be onto something.”