Innovation Saskatchewan is responsible for implementing the province’s innovation priorities and helping grow Saskatchewan’s tech sector. Effective April 2022, this includes operation of the Innovation Place technology parks in Saskatoon and Regina.

How TinyEYE Survived the COVID-19 Crisis

When the pandemic first hit Canada in March, many companies scrambled to pivot both their products and teams online as the world transitioned to working, learning and living digitally. TinyEYE, an online child-focused therapy platform and tenant at Innovation Place in Saskatoon, seemed positioned to skyrocket through the COVID-19 crisis with its established online platform. However, when every school in North American closed its doors on March 16, TinyEYE faced one of its biggest challenges yet.

“We lost millions of dollars in booked revenue on that one afternoon in March,” said Greg Sutton, CEO and Co-Founder of TinyEYE. “We went from serving over 4,000 kids every week to around 100.” Fortunately, TinyEYE has come out on the other side and will be celebrated by the North Saskatoon Business Association (NSBA) at the 6th Annual Popcorn & Entrepreneurship series on September 2 for adapting and overcoming the obstacles posed by COVID-19. Here’s how they charted their path to survival.

Rebuilding and Refocusing During a Pandemic

“We took 10 minutes to mourn the loss of our business and future strategic plans and then moved on to rebuilding from the shattered remains,” says Sutton. TinyEYE focused first on rebuilding its vision and aligning everyone around a change of goal: to be set up to serve the world in whatever state it is in and bring all the kids back so they can live their best lives. Then the team set a six-month window of September 1 to mark TinyEYE’s survival through the COVID crisis. “It didn’t mean the crisis was over, but that we will have survived and transformed our business to be able to thrive in this new environment,” says Sutton.

TinyEYE’s customer base is primarily in the U.S. across 31 states and 8 provinces in Canada. The first major hurdle was the majority of schools didn’t have up-to-date contact information for parents. The team set to work gathering the necessary information and tracked key metrics daily like how many kids started and how many parents were contacted. Currently, TinyEYE has brought 1,800 kids back to the program. (That’s a lot!)

The second hurdle was the majority of kids didn’t have technology at home suitable for online learning in addition to the added complications of parents and TinyEYE’s online therapists transitioning to remote work. So, TinyEYE rebuilt the software with the latest version to be released in September. The software is a robust system that allows everything from billing and scheduling to recording and compliance to games -- basically anything you need to run an online therapy practice to scale -- and integrates elements within the system to make it run smoother in the home environment. There are added layers of security and functionality for easier login and the system works within a variable bandwidth environment.

These adjustments have allowed TinyEYE to bring in a hybrid model that will provide the schools with the reporting and oversight they need to ensure kids are progressing with their individual education plans and goals regardless of the physical setting. “We've presented a plan that works in a VUCA [Volatility, Uncertainty, Chaos/Complexity and Ambiguity] world,” says Sutton. “We can adjust and know all of the different elements to manage, so that the schools have zero stress. Our customers really appreciate that.”

A Strong Investment In Company Culture

Sutton credits TinyEYE’s success to its experienced and dedicated team and their ability to leverage the lessons learned from past mistakes. “We've been through crises like this before; the unique thing is this was caused by something external, previously it was always caused by us!” laughs Sutton. Specifically, navigating previous challenges, like cash crunches, solidified TinyEYE’s pre-COVID strategy to have six to twelve months of cash flow in the bank. This prescient cash cushion allowed TinyEYE to forgo immediate layoffs and rebuild with its full team of experienced people.

The pandemic also expedited decisions that were lingering and offered Sutton an opportunity to grow as a leader. “Every organization is bottlenecked by the capacity of its founders,” says Sutton. “To truly grow an organization, you have to grow yourself.” TinyEYE’s initial investment in creating a company culture based on self mastery, high-functioning teams and leadership rooted in a growth mindset eased the chaos of this transitional phase and allowed Sutton to act with intention when making improvements. “We took the opportunity to seize the moment and really dig in to understand how our organization works in these modes and what wasn't working,” says Sutton.

TinyEYE now finds itself set up for success -- out of pandemic mode and restructured as a business that can survive with or without this pandemic variable. “Everyone is out there looking for that glimmer of light and ray of hope in the darkness of all of this,” says Sutton. “Instead of being the first people finding that first ray of light, our job is to be the light. Be the hope. And it's to help people through this and help the kids that we served find their best life. And we'll continue to do that.”

TinyEYE provides online therapy services to children in schools and has delivered over 700,000 online therapy sessions to over 25,000 kids with a team of approximately 200 speech language pathologists, occupational therapists and mental health professionals using its custom-built tele-health platform.

Subscribe to the Scene newsletter for the latest information on Innovation Place and our tenants.

- August 28, 2020