In Focus: AppleTree Agency looks to change the way job training is done

Founder of the AppleTree Agency and co-creator of an innovative application called Graspie, Derrick Parson is looking to make his mark on the Buffalo entrepreneurial scene.

Graspie, a learning application for smart phones, was created by Parson and his team to change the way job training is done, in light of the growing number of millennials hitting the workforce.

“The long-term goal here is to be a formidable player in the learning and development space,” said Parson. “But more importantly, we tag ourselves with the line that we’re the first-ever mobile platform for learning and engagement of the millennial workforce.

“We do that deliberately, because how a millennial learns today, how they are consumed by their mobile devices and the apps that they use, this platform speaks directly to them. We want to be the go-to product for millennial learners.”

Parson, who has spent his entire career in the field of training and education, saw that a change was needed from the outset, and sees the new application as a culmination of the time and study he has put in.

“I began my career working at local colleges, developing classes for a variety of programs, network technology, accounting, business, and medical fields,” Parson noted. “While I was doing that, being the youngest person in the department, I would sit with the college students during their breaks and I’m hearing them say ‘these classes are horrible’ and it rung a chord with me because I was a part of the creation process. Little did they know, I was one of those people creating the courses for them to learn, so they let me know pretty much in a nutshell that the courses weren’t targeted to them or to how they learned.

“Here I am, the youngest in the department, just came out of my master’s program using foundational practices and theories to create these courses, yet they’re missing their mark,” Parson said. “When I brought it to the department, it wasn’t so much that they didn’t care, but they were more focused on the bottom line. The more courses that they churn out, the more enrollment they get, which means more funding.”

When his advice fell on deaf ears, Parson decided to leave his work with local colleges and create what he saw as a new way of learning.

“I decided I wanted to set out to build content and courses for organizations and small businesses,” said Parson. “The journey led me to where I work out of right now, the Design Innovation Garage on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. I put together my business plan and pitched my vision and received a one year scholarship from DIG.”

After receiving the funding, Parson and his group landed a client, but were quickly met with challenges.

“When we got our first client, they ended up backing out at the last minute,” Parson noted. “We asked them what the problem was, and they informed us that it wasn’t the content itself, but the delivery of that content.

“They were an organization that worked with refugees who had a hard time accessing computers or weren’t able to come into their offices directly, so that’s where we came up with the idea for a mobile platform that can be used anywhere.”

Using what they had already created, they focused on their current objective of making the product into a one-of-a-kind mobile application.

“When creating our app, we didn’t want to replicate what was already out there,” stated Parson. “One of the biggest things that we’ve seen with our competitors is that they’re just reinventing the wheel.”

From this, the team came up with an interactive way for the trainees to learn within an app. As they pass certain stages or levels of the training process, they will “grasp” coins, which can be redeemed for real-life products.

“If the app is designed in a way that’s familiar to the user, there’s a 50-50 chance they’ll take to it,” added Parsons. “Once they take to it, that’s how you reel them in with the actual content and engagement. And as they’re actually learning, we want to make sure they’re enjoying the product.”

Although Parson is satisfied with the application, he knows that there is still plenty that can be improved to ensure future stability in an ever-growing field.

“We need to pull things from companies that do engagement well, such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. Snapchat does a great job with their discovery page and that is something we can look at to make sure the user can get exactly what they want.”

With his product ready to be launched, Parson has advice for local entrepreneurs that may be looking to go down a similar road.

“Have advisors, champions, and mentors very early on,” Parsons suggested.” The goal shouldn’t be to just look for funding; you should make sure you’re creating good products and ones that people actually want or need. It’s important to understand funding--how much it costs to create and maintain your product--but it is not everything.”

And for minorities looking to become entrepreneurs in the Buffalo area, like Parson, who is of African American decent, he offers this advice, “Across the nation, when it comes to minority entrepreneurs and funding, we’re still in the bottom one percent. But what I love about what’s happening in Buffalo right now, is that they are actually taking the bull by the horns and looking for minority entrepreneurs with great ideas and are willing to back them. That’s not seen in a lot of cities. When a community rallies behind minorities and women entrepreneurs, the success can be great.”

Read more articles by Sean Brock.

A native of Western New York, Brock has worked in the field of writing and public relations over the past several years, while also gaining a master’s degree from Canisius College this May. He has worked for several universities and professional sports teams in a public relations capacity during that time, and has always kept a love for writing. In his free time Brock enjoys hiking, history, reading and watching as many baseball and football games as he can.   
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