Sunday August 9, 2020

Making It Work: Academic software firm still making the grade for students

Terminalfour’s acquisition of Dublin-based BetterExaminations helped it weather the Covid-19 crisis

19th July, 2020
Piero Tintori, founder of Terminalfour: ‘With universities grappling with how to teach and test students remotely, we’re doing well on that front.‘ Photo: Fergal Phillips.

For Piero Tintori, who founded Terminalfour while still at college, the software company’s subsequent international growth in the third-level sector has been a natural progression.

Tintori set up the business in 1997 while studying computer applications at Dublin City University. Just over two decades on, the company has accumulated 220 third-level clients in ten countries and has annual revenues of close to €10 million.

“It has been a journey of many phases. We don’t feel like a 20-year-old company. We feel a lot younger than that,” Tintori said.

A few years ago, the 42-year-old, who is originally from Glasnevin in north Dublin, considered doing an MBA.

“A friend of mine said to me: ‘Why would you do it? It’s basically what you’re doing already in real life.’ That really stuck with me.

“The company started out as a learning experience for me at college and I’ve been learning ever since, every step of the way.”

Terminalfour develops digital engagement and web content management platforms for third-level colleges and universities. Clients include Griffith College in Dublin, the University of Oxford in England and Cardiff University in Wales.

A new strategy, kick-started early last year with the acquisition of BetterExaminations, the Dublin-based online start-up, stood Terminalfour in good stead as Covid-19 took hold.

“What we’ve been doing in the last year strategically is widening what we offer by looking at new solutions we can build to improve the student experience and help universities become more efficient in dealing with this digitally native audience,” Tintori said.

“That naturally led us into the whole area of online exams and e-assessment. Now, with universities grappling with how to teach and test students remotely, we’re doing well on that front.”

BetterExaminations allows third-level institutions to create and distribute exam papers securely online.

“It’s really curious that the way exams are run in this part of the world hasn’t changed at all in the past 250 years or so,” Tintori said.

“Students still file into a hall in, say, the RDS to do an exam in the same way British civil servants did back in the 1800s. Nothing has changed.”

Terminalfour is currently rolling out the BetterExaminations system with a big university in Canada.

“We can help them to manage exams online and all of the governance around that. Technically, we could run something like the Leaving Cert, and other ‘high stakes’ exams like university finals and medical exams on the platform,” Tintori said.

“You can have different levels of invigilation where everything on the student’s screen or webcam is recorded.

“We’re fielding a lot of queries right now for BetterExaminations and that’s because of Covid-19. We couldn’t have predicted that.”

Terminalfour employs 72 people at its headquarters in Dublin and its offices in Britain, the US, Australia and Poland.

The company has taken external funding of about €2.25 million to date from sources including Investec and the seed capital fund run jointly by AIB and Enterprise Ireland (EI). Terminalfour is a client company of the state agency.

“I don’t think I took on board quickly enough the training-led education EI offers. I wish I had made use of that sooner,” Tintori said.

“I took part in their Leadership 4 Growth programme and that really taught me the importance of culture and of getting the right people on board.

“Hiring the right people is really crucial. We could have the smartest person in the world do an interview with us, but, if they’re not the right fit, then we wouldn’t take them on.

“We hire based on our culture and values and we don’t rush the hiring process either, no matter how busy we are. We would rather wait, even up to a few months, for the right fit.”

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