Kansas State University-developed software lays foundation for new tech startup
MANHATTAN — A Kansas State University software development team that created the nationally used PEARS software program is now launching its own company.
The team has opened Canopy, a public benefit limited liability company that will serve clients with community-focused programs.
"Our vision is to help social impact programs by providing the technical tools and evaluation resources needed to maximize their success," said Aaron Schroeder, Canopy president and a member of the K-State team that developed the university-patented PEARS — Program Evaluation and Reporting System — software that the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service is now using as its national SNAP-Ed, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Nutrition Education, reporting system.
PEARS is a web-based data management software that helps nutrition education professionals and extension administrators manage program data and demonstrate impact. The system was originally developed through a collaboration between the Office of Educational Innovation and Evaluation, or OEIE, in the College of Education and K-State Research and Extension in 2015 to help Kansas manage its SNAP-Ed program.
"We were able to develop and grow the software package within OEIE to the point that there was enough outside interest to license and commercialize the project," said Debbie Mercer, dean of the College of Education. "This was a unique opportunity to collaborate with K-State Innovation Partners to commercially deploy a software package in a way that we've never done before."
Over a five-year period, the PEARS system has been adopted by SNAP-Ed programs in 37 states and eight statewide extension programs. PEARS was selected as the national SNAP-Ed reporting system in 2021. As a stand-alone entity, Canopy will be able to support existing PEARS users, further grow and deploy the PEARS software in new markets and develop new innovative technologies.
"We're proud of the role we played in getting PEARS up and running," said Ernie Minton, dean of the College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research and Extension. "The success of this project will undoubtedly pave the way for other technical innovations coming out of K-State."
The unique licensing and commercialization process carried out by K-State Innovation Partners and the PEARS team establishes a framework for future technologies coming out of K-State.
"The PEARS partnership with the colleges, and ultimately the Canopy rollout, establishes a blueprint for how Innovation Partners can coordinate and cooperate with others on campus that may have similar software and service products in development," said Ken Williams, chief commercialization and licensing officer with K-State Innovation Partners. "Additionally, the ongoing partnership with Canopy will allow Innovation Partners the opportunity to have a skilled partner within the community to collaborate with as we look to deploy new technologies in the future."
As Canopy continues to support PEARS and grow its business, the company will provide internship opportunities for K-State students and seek further collaboration with researchers and faculty. Canopy also plans to partner with local businesses to help address their planning, evaluation and tracking needs.
"We are excited to see Canopy bringing high-paying technology jobs to Manhattan and retain prime talent in the region," said Jason Smith, president and CEO of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce. "Canopy's growth also provides a great opportunity for local businesses to capitalize on the company's expertise."