How the labs group at publisher Houghton Mifflin is building an ecosystem of developers and partners

Claudia Reuter, SVP of HMH Labs. Photo by Melissa Mahoney for Innovation Leader.

Claudia Reuter, SVP of HMH Labs. Photo by Melissa Mahoney for Innovation Leader.

Before there were digital platforms like YouTube and iTunes that efficiently distribute bits around the world, there were publishers that excelled at the efficient distribution of books. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, headquartered in Boston, traces its lineage back to that era. Not only was it responsible for many of the textbooks that you toted around in your grade school backpack, but in the 19th century, the company published iconic American writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau, and the Curious George books your parents may have read to you at bedtime.

But now, as reading and education shift to tablets and laptops, the company is working to remake itself. Can it become a digital platform, too, distributing content, software, and cloud-based services to schools? That’s the question that led to the creation of HMH Labs in 2014. The fifteen-person group was formed in the aftermath of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s acquisition of a small software company called SchoolChapters, Inc. That company’s CEO, Claudia Reuter, was chosen to lead HMH Labs. We spoke with her recently, on a day that she was hosting a meetup for Boston-area software developers at HMH headquarters. (Reuter will also be leading a session at next month’s Teach-In gathering.)

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