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VOL. 38 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 07, 2014

Cato’s app connects teens to teachers, employers

By Zack Barnes

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Hal Cato spent 10 years as CEO of the Oasis Center, a community center for at-risk teens. When he announced that he was leaving in 2011, Nashvillians knew that Oasis Center and the community were losing a great asset.

But they also knew that Cato would go on to do great work somewhere else. And he has.

After leaving Oasis, Cato developed a new business at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, an educational app called Zeumo, which has been up and running successfully in schools in Middle Tennessee.

Zeumo is on the phones of many Middle Tennessee teens, continuing Cato’s passion for connecting with youth. The app connects teens and those who need to connect to them – teachers, employers and others.

Q: In your own words, what is Zeumo?

A: “Zeumo is the name of the core product we first developed to help close the communication gap that exists between students, schools and their surrounding community. It is a closed, social-mobile communication platform designed to help students separate “signal from noise” and create a personalized feed of the academic and extracurricular information most relevant to their day-to-day lives.’’

Q: How did you first come up with the idea of Zeumo?

A: “While I was leading Oasis Center, I spent a lot of time in schools. I heard principals still making important announcements over P.A. systems. I watched counselors struggle with connecting with the ever growing and changing rosters of students they were responsible for. And I observed far too many students not know about scholarship, leadership, community and employment opportunities that were right under their noses.

“At the same time, these same students had never been more connected to one another -- thanks to the small computers they carried in their pockets and purses.’’

Q: How long did it take you to get Zeumo from idea to product?

A: "It took about six months to get our Beta test out the door (January 2013). We are now on the verge of launching our second product into another interesting vehicle that has similar communication challenges: hospitals.’’

Q: What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your start up?

A: “Internally, it was finding the tech talent and expertise needed to get a product built and shipped out the door. I was also challenged with the concept of building a minimally viable product that would get us in the game, but also was interesting enough to capture a 15-year-olds attention.

“Externally, getting staff and faculty in schools to use Zeumo the way it was originally designed has been an ongoing challenge. Schools are overwhelmed with education technology platforms right now.’’

Q: How widely available to Zeumo? Are your goals to make this product available nationwide?

A: "’Right now, Zeumo is available in Middle Tennessee. We will soon be launching sites in Florida and Nevada.’’