By Brian Womack – Staff Writer, Dallas Business Journal
DALLAS, February 7, 2019 — More than 20 years ago, Ossa Fisher was a student at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, Calif., where administrators grappled with high drop-out rates and teen pregnancies. But she saw a future, not just in higher education, but at Yale University.
“I was told nobody had gotten into Yale from Newark Memorial … and to not get my hopes up,” said Fisher, speaking in an interview at Dallas' Istation, where she's now president and chief operating officer.
While that might have been the case at the high school, Fisher prevailed with the Ivy League institution.
“When I did get into Yale, I hyperventilated,” she said. “And I loved that experience. It was very transformative.”
Now, she’s playing an important role in helping kids excel in education at Istation, where she’s worked for four years. The company specializes in providing computer-adaptive assessments and instruction in reading, math and Spanish literacy.
She proved herself early on at the company as chief marketing officer before becoming chief operating officer. Istation announced her new, additional role as president last month.
“I have been trying to find my way to make a difference in education,” she said. “I’ve always had a passion.”
Fisher sees opportunities ahead as the company embraces new technologies and pushes into more schools around the country.
The company has been ramping up its size. Istation's headcount has grown from less than 90 in 2013 to approximately 250 employees today. The company’s Dallas presence has grown to more than 46,000 square feet from 16,000 square feet in 2012.
Fisher, who has been with the company since 2015, sees more expansion ahead with expectations for easily 20 new employees in the coming year. That would include hiring in the areas of product development, engineering, sales, marketing, research and curriculum.
A key area of expansion has been a push into more states. At one time, Texas had more than 80 percent of the company’s sales, but in the past five to 10 years, Istation has expanded nationally and is now in all 50 states, she said. It’s also in eight additional countries.
Teachers are increasingly using the services that prepare students for a future after school. The products range from pre-kindergarten to junior high.
Fisher herself had a desire to be a teacher. When she received her master’s of business administration from Stanford University, she also earned a master of education where she learned from experts in the field.
“I knew, unfortunately, for better or worse, that I was not a teacher,” she said. “I have teachers who have been the most blessed gift to me, who have changed my life. I wish I had that gift, but just like I’m not a rock star either, teaching was not my gift.”
She has a “pragmatic, data-driven brain” that doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to captivating a room full of struggling students.
Yet those skills are well-suited for other fields. Following an earlier stint at Goldman Sachs, she went on to join consulting firm Bain & Co., where she worked for nearly a decade. She began as a consultant and rose up the ranks to partner.
There, she worked with some of the largest corporations in the world, including technology companies. Yet, even then, she would do “pro-bono” work with organizations that were focused on kids and schools.
But she wanted more.
“I was approaching 40 and probably had a little bit of a mid-life crisis. I said to my husband, 'I have been talking about education for as long as we’ve known each other – it’s always been my mission,'” she said. “Now, education technology – it’s really blowing up. It’s emergent, and I feel like this is a fit for me because my background was business and technology.”
She eventually joined Istation, drawn by its mission and long commitment to education.
In her first role as CMO, the mandate was to spread the word about Istation nationwide. The brand awareness in Texas was “OK,” but that wasn’t enough. She went to work, and the awareness of the brand jumped five-fold.
She pointed to success around taking the simple idea of the cape a child wears in the logo to help amplify the brand. The company worked on something called “red cape nation,” relaying the notion that every child deserves to feel like a super hero. For example, children could wear the accessory, showing them off to others as a reward for their efforts.
“That became more viral than I think I could have anticipated,” she said.
In her new role, she’s looking forward to the future. The company’s strategic priorities include research, voice-recognition, enhanced data analytics and increasingly sophisticated personalization, Fisher said in a separate email.
“All of these initiatives will drive growth for the company and, more importantly, they will drive positive impact in the classroom,” she said.
Founded in 1998 and based in Dallas, Texas, Istation (Imagination Station) has become one of the nation’s leading providers of richly animated, game-like, educational technology. Istation was named one of 2019’s “EdTech 1000: Companies Transforming Education” by EdTech Digest, and has received numerous national educational technology awards. The Istation program puts more instructional time in the classroom through small-group and collaborative instruction. Istation’s innovative reading, math and Spanish programs immerse students in an engaging and interactive environment and inspire them to learn. Additionally, administrators and educators can use Istation to easily track the progress of their students, schools and classrooms. Istation now serves more than 4 million students throughout the United States and in several other countries. The company celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018.