Founder Friday: Thomas Wilkie and Tim Adowski, Storillo

Think back to when you were assigned a group project in school – didn’t it always seem like one person ended up doing the majority of the work? Maybe a member of the group didn’t trust the other team members to complete the assignment on time, or schedules were too hectic to find a time to get together and work on the project.

Storillo is here to change all that. Their app is working to make group work more collaborative and get teachers integrated into the group’s workflow. Teachers can see specific student contributions to a project and identify each student’s academic strengths and opportunities for growth.

Learn how Storillo is putting “the group back in group work” in today’s Founder Friday with co-founders Thomas Wilkie and Tim Adowski!

How did your startup, well, start up?

Storillo started as a collaborative storytelling social network. The goal was to battle the individualistic and consumption-based behavior we were seeing online, and instead foster a mentality of collaboration and creativity.

Along the way we realized what we were building would be really helpful in a classroom setting, so we decided to focus on building Storillo for education where we could have more impact!

What do you do? Your startup?

Storillo is a group work management platform for education that puts the “group” back in group work.

Currently we focus on collaborative writing projects, and we help teachers better emphasize the process of working together to create something, and not just focus on the final product.

Our mission is to make group work easier for teachers and more educational for students so we can better prepare students for their futures. We’ve been used from middle school through college, and we like to say that we’re not grade – or subject – dependent, but project-dependent.

In terms of what we do at Storillo, Tim is the one who built the Storillo web app from the ground up, and Thomas focuses on outreach and getting feedback from schools, students, and teachers.

When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?

We’ve had a few ‘aha’ moments…the first was when we were in the Buffalo Student Sandbox where we pivoted to focus on education. That was the first time other people seemed to get what we were trying to accomplish.

The next big ‘aha’ moment came when we were in the I-Corps program at UB. The program had us go out and talk to as many people as possible, and through those conversations we really started to see the different opportunities we had and how we could build and develop Storillo to take advantage of those.

What has been the biggest accomplishment for your startup to-date?

There’s been a few big moments for us, but the biggest has to be officially launching Storillo in November 2018.

As we developed it over the past few years, we had the opportunity to work with some amazing teachers and students who were extremely patient with us as we worked out all of the kinks. And to get it to a point where we could make it available to the wider public is very gratifying.

Second would have to be coming in 2nd place at the Panasci TEC Competition last April. What makes it such a big accomplishment for us is not so much winning, but the progress we made in order to win. We had applied for Panasci the year before and didn’t even make it through the first round. So last year we worked hard, got tons of feedback on our pitch and messaging from as many people as we could, and went through over a dozen iterations of our pitch during the 3-month competition (the last iteration was done less than 48 hours before the finals). And after all that, to be able to come back and not only advance, but to win one of the two prizes, was validation that our work was paying off.

Goals for the next year? Three years?

Having really just launched, our goals are pretty simple: we want to hit the New Year running to get as much traction as possible. One teacher, one school at a time.

And over the next 3 years, we want to keep building Storillo and incorporating all the ideas we’ve come up with and the feedback we’ve gotten over the last 3 years!

Most of the ideas are centered around improving how students give feedback to one another, while giving the teacher more tools and resources to support their students in that process.

Why Buffalo?

Simply put, it’s home.

We met as freshmen playing soccer at Cardinal O’Hara High School, and we continued to stay friends as we each went to Daemen College and UB respectively.

And with Buffalo’s startup scene on the rise, “where else would you rather be than right here, right now?”

How do you do it? What drives you?

Education is foundational. I (Thomas) was just in a classroom helping them get started on Storillo where I saw a little sign on the wall that read, “Teachers make all other professions possible.”

We have so much appreciation for the teachers who have changed our lives over the years (shout-out to Mr. Steck!), that if we are able to do anything to make their lives easier and help them be more impactful, we can’t think of anything more important that we could be doing.

We envision a world where students grow to become leaders who not only talk about bringing people together, but have the skills and desire to do so. And it all starts with teachers.

We are able to do it because, having known each other for almost half of our lives at this point, we each have very complementary skill sets and tremendous respect for what the other can do.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

We still feel like we’re the ones looking for advice!

But we’d have to say be patient because it takes time for everything to take shape. And during that process, be open to feedback from others; realize if people aren’t getting it, you either need to do a better job at communicating what you’re doing or re-evaluate it altogether. Feedback is probably the single most valuable thing for early startups, and you can never have enough. So seek it out, talk to everyone you possibly can, and keep an open mind!