You never know where your next opportunity might be sitting.
For Adam Hall, the founder of Naples-based education technology firm Nervanix, it was a chance meeting on an airplane. On a flight from Fort Myers to New York City late in 2015, Hall by chance sat next to Bill Stone, the CEO of SS&C Technologies.
At the time, Hall didn't know who Stone was, but as they chatted he explained Nervanix had developed groundbreaking technology using neuroscience to measure how the brain is responding to curriculum. The three-hour flight led to a deal in which Hall sold one-third of his company to SS&C for an undisclosed sum in cash.
“We just hit it off,” Hall says. “He gave me a ride into Manhattan. He wanted me to come to work for SS&C.”
At the time, Hall had been in the middle of raising capital to fund the growth of Nervanix. The company uses sensors in a headset to measure brain activity and with the use of algorithms and software it has developed it can tailor learning programs so people pay attention.
Initially, Hall envisioned Nervanix' market would be school-aged children. After all, schools and teachers could teach more effectively if they knew their students were paying attention.
“We figured out learning,” Hall says.
But schools are slow to pick up on new technology and Hall shifted his attention to the corporate-learning arena. “The reason I picked K-12 was because that's where I started my career,” Hall says. “But they're not ready. They're still trying to figure out how to go from textbooks to digital.”
Certainly, Hall had a track record of success in the education technology field for schools. He sold his prior company, Impact Education, to publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing in 2010 for an undisclosed sum and used the proceeds to start Nervanix. That year Hall was a winner of the Business Observer's 40 under 40 awards. At the time, he was 34.
SS&C is a technology firm based in Windsor, Conn., that helps more than 10,000 financial-services customers manage their investment accounts. It plans to use Nervanix' technology to help train fund administrators more efficiently by designing an attention-grabbing curriculum and alerting them when they're losing focus. “No other fintech can do this,” says Hall, referring to the popular acronym for financial technology.
But Hall says financial technology isn't the only industry that might benefit from Nervanix' technology. For example, the company could use sensors in the headsets that airplane pilots wear when in a simulator to measure how well they're paying attention to their training.
Hall says SS&C's investment is better than raising capital from investors because it provided a new revenue source for Nervanix. “Not every dollar is equal,” he says. “It's opened up a treasure trove of influence and relationships.”
As part of the deal, Hall is joining SS&C's management team and the Connecticut firm has the right of first refusal to purchase the rest of Nervanix. “It's taken us to the next level,” Hall says.
Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss