A fledgling Riverhead tech start-up has suddenly found its way into thousands of classrooms across the globe.
Buncee, a web-based app for curating and creating interactive content, has enamored educators and students worldwide with its user-friendly interface and powerful creation tools.
The company has nearly tripled its user base in the past year, with more than 65,000 users in 48 states and 72 countries.
That’s in part thanks to a surge in popularity among teachers, who are using Buncee to design interactive lessons and allow their students to flex their creative muscles by presenting assignments and reports with Buncees of their own.
“We’ve just been growing and growing,” said Marie Arturi, founder of Buncee. “Teachers love it because it’s so easy to use. It gives students the ability to express their own authentic voices.”
Buncee is a digital canvas where users can arrange text, images, video and audio bytes into a multi-slide presentation. Users can upload their own content or use Buncee’s in-app search engine to explore a vast wealth of content already available online, from YouTube videos to Google and Flickr images and Gooru resources.
For students, this means the research process is streamlined into a single app, where it’s possible to find images, videos and links to articles about a topic without ever leaving the “Create a Buncee” page.
A sweeping redesign this summer has posited Buncee to become even more popular in schools. The redesign adds new features that specifically target educators, including student accounts, assignment management, grading and drag-and-drop organization of classrooms and project groups.
“I can’t even tell you how Buncee has changed my teaching,” said Stephanie Suter, a third grade teacher at Southold Elementary School. “The enthusiasm and the passion it brings out in the kids is just awesome.”
Suter first learned about Buncee at a technology conference last year. When she introduced the tool into her third grade classroom last September, she says she was surprised by the creative ways her students immediately began using the website.
“It’s such a kid-friendly tool,” Suter said. “It really engages them, and they get so excited about it. They’re constantly making Buncees and sending them to me.”
Suter has used Buncee both as a tool to present lessons to the classroom and as a means for students to research and create presentations of their own. She has taken her students on virtual field trips with Buncee and then instructed them to make their own Buncees to present the information they learned.
“They write book reviews,” she said. “They send invitations to their parents. They use ‘buncee’ as both a verb and a noun. It’s just such an amazing addition to my classroom.”
She’s not the only one who thinks so. Buncee is being used by more than 1,000 schools internationally and by teachers as far away as Bulgaria. By the end of the year, school districts will be able to purchase bulk licenses with a new release that will also bring district administrator functionality.
But though Buncee’s team has been shifting gears to cater to its explosion of popularity in the education technology sector, Buncee was not originally intended for the classroom.
The app was born out of a medical conference hosted by Arturi’s foundation, which she created to raise money and awareness for a rare disorder that abruptly ended her seven-month-old daughter’s life in 1996.
Diamond Blackfan Anemia is an incurable bone marrow failure disorder, for which treatment options are few and very risky. The death of Arturi’s daughter was ultimately caused not by the disorder itself, but by a treatment attempting to control the disease. Shortly after their daughter’s death, Arturi and her husband created the Daniella Maria Arturi Foundation to stimulate more research for the ultra-rare disorder.
It was after one of the foundation’s annual medical conferences that Arturi first had the idea for Buncee.
“I was emailing all the doctors thank-you notes, and I was looking for a more creative way to share my thoughts with them,” Arturi said. “I looked around for something like Buncee, and it didn’t exist.”
So Arturi decided to create it herself.
In 2010, Buncee launched out of a small office in Riverhead. The app originally billed itself as a creative way to share online greeting cards and personalized messages. But it wasn’t until last year that Buncee began truly gaining traction – not as a means for sending greeting cards, but in the classroom.
“A couple educators came to us and said, ‘This tool is perfect for schools,’” Arturi said.
It quickly became clear that Buncee filled a void in the education technology industry. Many teachers were looking for a digital creation tool to use in their classrooms, and Buncee was that tool.
“Since I brought Buncee to Southold, a lot of other teachers have started using it, too,” Suter said. “I think the whole school’s going to have it this year.”
Over the course of two years, the start-up has snowballed from only a few thousand users to more than 65,000 today. And the Buncee team is expanding, too. In 2013, Buncee moved headquarters from its office on Route 58 to a larger space in the Stony Brook University Incubator in Calverton. Buncee also has a satellite office in Manhattan.
The company currently employs a team of 12, plus several interns. Its employees are young, bright and full of zeal. They glow with enthusiasm whenever they talk about their product.
“My son is autistic, but he responds very well to Buncee,” said Amy Krawczyk, Buncee’s education associate. “He uses Buncee’s text-to-speech to read what’s on the screen. He uses Buncee to record his voice and listen to his pitch and his diction.”
Although Buncee hasn’t generated much in the way of profits yet – the company is financed privately by Arturi and her husband, who hope to donate any eventual profits to the foundation they created in memory of their daughter – Arturi is optimistic about the company’s future.
“A lot of people still don’t know about us,” she said. “We’re putting a lot into getting the word out right now.”
And as its popularity grows among teachers, Arturi is confident Buncee is on the path to reaching critical mass in the education market.
“There’s really no end to what you can create with this tool,” Arturi said. “The sky’s the limit.”