Rochester e-commerce startup Schoolizon targets the classroom

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 10.27.59 AMIf you have kids, chances are good that you’ve endured the annual nightmares of school shopping, sifting through crowded stores in late August and checking off a seemingly endless list of supplies and materials needed for class.

The process of acquiring such materials can be equally challenging for school officials themselves, but a new startup based in Rochester is looking to ease that burden with an online B2B store designed to serve as a one-stop shop for all classroom necessities.

Schoolizon leverages its connections to large distributors and manufacturers within the industry, along with a lean organizational structure built for low overhead, to offer a wide range of products at a highly competitive price in its online store.

“It’s about much more than simply setting up an ecommerce store,” says CEO Derek Mazula. “It’s about finding a way to give back and to make the educational process a lot easier to navigate through.”

Mazula, a longtime tech entrepreneur, initially served in a consulting role for Schoolizon, which launched in earnest June of 2013. He came aboard full time this year as CEO and expresses great excitement about the company’s potential, especially considering the size and landscape of the educational market.

There are about 100,000 K-12 public schools in the country, Mazula says, and if you add in private schools and home schools that number jumps even higher. He sees revenue potential in the hundreds of millions, if Schoolizon can capture even a small share of the market.

Because they have only four employees, and rely on existing technology and partners — such as MN-based transaction platform Apruve — rather than devoting resources to developing their own, Schoolizon is able to offer pricing that compares to heavy hitters like Amazon, while delivering a more targeted experience that is adaptive based on direct feedback received from teachers and school officials.

For instance, teachers can create a “wish list” of classroom supplies that aren’t covered by the school, enabling parents to make donations that will serve their child’s education. Mazula believes this could be a big draw, citing a study the company conducted which found the average teacher spends $750 per year out of pocket on such supplies.

While teachers and others in charge of purchasing for schools are the target audience, Mazula says that he’s been surprised to find that about a third of their business thus far has come from B2C sales.
He adds that key metrics such as traffic, cost per click and conversion rate have improved “in accordance with our plan” since the company embarked on its current path this summer. Those trends will continue, he believes, as long as they execute and take advantage of the interconnected dynamics within the industry.

“We know that if we do well with one school or a couple schools within a district, word tends to travel fast. We like to see that buzz and that referral happening.”