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The Innovators: Claude Laflamme of Lyryx Learning Inc.

1. Q: How did you become an innovator/entrepreneur? What was your path?
We faced difficulties in supporting the increasing number of students in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics. [Fellow professor] Keith Nicholson and I discussed some ideas, and took advantage of an opportunity arising from the Government of Alberta to develop online educational tools. Thus it all started as a pedagogical research project, and simply emerged as a company in an effort to self-sustain the project and make the resources available to other institutions.

2. Q: How did you spark that curiosity here at the University of Calgary?
I have always believed that innovation is part of everything we do at the University, so I am always looking at new ways of doing things.

3. Q: Can you describe your company?
The company, Lyryx Learning Inc., started by developing online formative assessments, trying to replicate paper homework and instructor marking as much as possible. Exams (summative assessment) have been available electronically for a long time, but homework (formative assessment) is a lot more difficult to effectively distribute electronically.

Lyryx works with authors to develop and adapt open texts, which are then provided to students at no cost. The open licences mean there are no copyright and cost issues, as material can be downloaded for free by anyone. The material can also be adapted as desired, as long as it is attributed to the original creators.

The company has since developed into a complete and independent publisher supporting open content, trying to offer a better publishing model to both students and instructors.

4. Q: What market need does your venture address?
All instructors teaching Business & Economics and Mathematics & Statistics (for now) first year courses at higher education institutions around the planet. Almost 5,000 students in our Department of Mathematics & Statistics are benefiting from open educational resources for first-year calculus and linear algebra courses.

5. Q: What discovery has allowed you to make that a viable, marketable product?
It was the realization that, given a high enough number of students, certain aspects of teaching and student learning are well, if not better, done by advanced software.

6. Q: How has your entrepreneurial work impacted the way you approach your work at the university?
It builds on what I have been doing since my early days as a postdoc, including scheduling software for nurses, mathematical games for K-12, etc.

7. Q: Why did you choose to apply this discovery to business?
We sought to reach a self-sustaining project and make the resources available to other institutions. It is moreover very rewarding to move a project from a kickstarter grant to adoptions by actual paying users.

8. Q: If a colleague who was apprehensive about taking the entrepreneurial path approached you, what advice would you give him or her, based on your experience?
My advice would be to appreciate the level of entrepreneurial spirit already present among their undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Make the most of it by harnessing their energy and interests!