Techstars, an entrepreneurial accelerator, selected tech startup TeacherTalent as one of 10 companies to join their 2017 cohort in Kansas City, Missouri.

Created and run by Valley natives Michael Barnes and Jose Bethancourt, TeacherTalent is an application that matches schools with teachers that will be a good fit for them. For the next three months, Barnes and Bethancourt will be networking, receiving mentorship and courting investors to bring their app to the national stage.

Barnes, who is the CEO of the company, said the idea for TeacherTalent came to him while he was working for Austin Achieve Public Schools in charge of recruiting. He often found the process of finding good teachers frustrating.

“[With] job boards you get tons of applicants that are very poor quality or a poor fit, and referral programs just don’t get enough of the right people,” Barnes said.

To remedy this, Barnes teamed up with “coding prodigy” Bethancourt, with whom he had previously worked. Bethancourt now serves as TeacherTalent’s chief technology officer.

“We had a project early on in the school year, which was about taking business cards and making them digital,” Bethancourt said. “And then we thought about making more of a social impact and how we can better impact those in the education field.”

Shortly after creating the platform, the duo signed their first clients. Austin Achieve Public Schools and their biggest client to date – San Francisco Unified School District - are among those already being served by TeacherTalent.

“We make it very easy for a school district, who is a client, to know about every single teacher in America, but, specifically, the few thousand, let’s say, that bests fit that school’s vision, the students in the school, and the ability of that teacher to help those students be successful,” Barnes said. “And the school gets those teachers’ information deposited into their app and that makes it easy for the school to then hire the absolute best-fit teachers, so there’s no teacher shortage and they don’t have to compromise quality.”

After establishing their criteria, the app provides schools “360-degree teacher profiles.” Pulling data from various sources, clients can view information such as a candidate’s years teaching and their credentials. It’s headhunting, but with a teacher’s busy schedule in mind.

“Teachers don’t have the kind of social mixing opportunities for employment that you see in other industries, and so this is a great way to take all that pressure off a teacher,” Barnes said.

As a former math teacher for Edcouch-Elsa ISD, Barnes knew this well. He remembered his fatigued-laden days while working on TeacherTalent, and that consideration makes it unique among other similar hiring apps.

“A lot of people have tried to do this for teachers before. It’s kind of a stick before the carrot. They force them to go through this really complicated login process and then, theoretically, they’ll be given a good offer,” Barnes said. “We go the opposite route. When we know that we have a great offer for a teacher, we introduce it to them, and they’re very, very excited.”

Using the app is also substantially cheaper than using a typical headhunting group. The app is free, and when a candidate it hired, TeacherTalent’s fee is calculated at 4 percent of the teacher’s first year salary, while the average recruiting fees are between 15 and 25 percent.

For Barnes, TeacherTalent is not only a recruiting tool, but way to stanch the increasing national teacher shortages. Barnes, who will earn his doctorate in education policy in August, says one of the major factors of teacher attrition (teachers leaving the field), is their work environment. Burnout, inexperience and inadequate training are contributors.

According to a 2016 Learning Policy Institute report, teacher attrition is about eight percent in the U.S. compared to three-to-four percent in high performing countries. And, Texas is ranked as one of the least attractive states for teachers with the report’s lowest rating for turnover.

“I think long-term what we want to see is teachers that are respected and have weight so that they can shape their environment to be one that is sustainable and supportive,” Barnes said.

So far, it seems to be working. TeacherTalent’s first client, Austin Achieve Public Schools, has been using the app since 2013 and now maintain 97 percent teacher retention.

Through the help of Techstars, the Barnes and Bethancourt plan on having their complete “end to end” app available by mid-August. Naturally, they hope schools in the Valley will consider using TeacherTalent.

“Generally, public school districts do take a while to make decisions,” Barnes said. “I would encourage them to try us. And, we’d love to spend more time in the Rio Grande Valley with this work because obviously it’s very close to our hearts. And, my sons … who are in the school district that I taught at, I also want them to have a great experience.”

For more information about TeacherTalent, you can check out their website at teachertalent.io, contact team@teachertalent.io, or see the official announcement by Techstars - Kansas City.