Just StartX It!

StartX, aiming to establish themselves as the “YCombinator of Stanford,” hosted a successful demo day today, leaving standing room only at Annenberg Auditorium. The teams, consisting mainly of Stanford undergrads, grad students and alumni, were chosen out of hundreds of applications and were full of praise for the accelerator program that introduced them to the lingo, mentorship and relationships necessary to launch their startups. The event started with a quick message from Board Member and long time supporter, George Zachary, from Charles River Ventures.

Half of the companies in their portfolio pitched today (see below for a list) and did a great job conveying their energy and enthusiasm. While the teams and product ideas were impressive, I was most excited by the program itself which is explicitly providing educational support to entrepreneurs, encouraging them to explore the unique opportunities available to them as part of the Stanford and Silicon Valley community. One of the speakers captured the theme of the day in their statement, “I know many of you could get a job with Google or Facebook tomorrow, but I highly encourage you to join one of the startups you see here, even as a side project.” I loved the positivity around the program and the overall message to explore entrepreneurship and take advantage of the resources right here in front of you (especially StartX.)

Applications for the next round are due this Wednesday, October 5th and they are aggressively recruiting for staff positions as well.

StartX companies that pitched today (in order of presentation):

  1. Morpheus: creating the first patient-specific airflow simulation software for medical applications.
  2. Kitchit: bridging private chefs and event planners to create personal, in-home fine dining experiences
  3. Modewalk: creating the most emotionally engaging shopping experience online for luxury goods
  4. 6Dot: developing a new portable, easy-to-use braille labeling device based on unique labeling technology
  5. Black Swan Solar: making solar energy cheaper than coal
  6. WifiSlam: enabling a technology for indoor positioning, location based tagging/check-ins in indoor spaces
  7. qWhisper: social search platform that will revolutionize the way people discover and find information from their social graph
  8. HungryTribe: meal planning and nutrition information targeted for corporations to save money on healthcare costs
  9. ClassOwl: online app for students/teachers to create personalized planners
  10. MotionMath: pioneering movement-based learning games for mobile devices
  11. Tactilize: creating the first publishing app for tablets
  12. diffbot: applies computer vision techniques to extract useful metadata from web docs.
  13. Loki Studios: utilizes GPS-enabled mobile devices to bring content-awareness to immersive social gaming
  14. FountainLoop: website and mobile application to help you find campus events and discover nearby friends.
  15. AiryLabs: creating the next generation of social learning games for kids
  16. Gameclosure: multiplatform. multiplayer. HTML5.
  17. Lark: enables the mobile phone to monitor, alert and improve sleep

Each of us, All of us…

A MUST WATCH for all Americans. Cory Booker’s ‘bold optimism’ is infectious. We all need to think about how ‘each of us, all of us’ can be a part of the solution.

Here is a link to the McKinsey Study that he mentions- The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools

If you liked the video, take some time to watch the panel discussion that followed as well.


“Go fast, go alone; go far, go together”

As I continue on my journey as an education evangelist, I keep coming back to the this idea of collective impact and Stanford Social Innovation Review’s article from last winter on how collaboration among non-profits can lead to the long-term systemic results that we’ve been chasing for decades in various social sectors. The key lesson is that achieving collective impact not only requires shifting investment of time and money towards long-term goals, but more so a shift in non-profit and philanthropic culture to value and fund collaborative efforts, including the operational costs needed to establish conditions for effective collaboration.

The research team goes on to outline the five conditions of collective success:

  1. Common Agenda
  2. Shared Measurement Systems
  3. Mutually reinforcing activities
  4. Continuous communication
  5. Backbone support organizations

In thinking about the scale needed to reach all the students that need help now, this point resonated with me the most- “In the field of education, even the most highly respected nonprofits—such as the Harlem Children’s Zone, Teach for America, and the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP)—have taken decades to reach tens of thousands of children, a remarkable achievement that deserves praise, but one that is three orders of magnitude short of the tens of millions of U.S. children that need help.” Through a collective approach, do you think successful programs could scale more effectively and efficiently to reach kids who are in failing schools today?

Do you know if anyone in the Bay Area is trying out this approach? I’d love to hear from you and them!

Want to read more on this topic? Check out David Bornstein’s New York Times article (March 2011) on Collective Impact  titled, “The Power of Partnerships.”

Citation: The title of this post is an abbreviated version of Warren Buffet’s statement- “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”


Imagining a Better Way…

Imagine K-12 is quickly gaining exposure and recognition as the best education startup incubator around. All 10 companies from the first cohort got the chance to pitch at TechCrunch Disrupt earlier this month, and you can read more about them and watch the pitches here.

Blended Learning

The ‘flip’ is just the first step…

The Economist recently published an article on applying Khan Academy to ‘flip’ the classroom. This ‘flip’ refers to covering content as homework (through online KA videos) and then spending classroom time on exercises (which traditionally would be done at home.)

Thinking about the ‘flip’ in this narrow way is problematic. Merely shifting when/where lectures and homework are done is just the first step. The biggest opportunity that the ‘flip’ offers is the increased time for teachers to engage students through social, project-based activities that reinforce the concepts covered in the videos. While one of the teachers claims ‘math is social now’ they fail to provide examples of what that really means. Once teachers are given tools and resources to integrate hands-on learning into the increased classroom time, then we will all see real results. We are heading in the right direction, but ‘flipping’ the classroom is the first step and not the full solution.


Strengthening Demand for Innovation in Education

Bellwether Education Partners recently published the 3rd paper in a series focused on analyzing the emerging ecosystem of innovation in K-12 public education-  Pull and Push: Strengthening Demand for Innovation in Education.

This paper builds on concepts from Larry Berger’s piece (that I analyzed in a previous post), which seeks to identify the barriers that prevent innovative ideas and systems from being fully adopted into the K-12 landscape. This is a good read for anyone currently looking to transform the education space using technology tools, to help gain perspective of your target users, teachers and students, and understand how to encourage adoption in the current system. The paper revisits barriers that inhibit the number and power of early adopters and that limit the spread of innovations, and identifies ways to strengthen the demand for improved innovation and productivity in public education.

The core of the paper is the analysis of these 4 key ways to engage educators and increase demand for your innovation.

1. Encourage early adopters: Identify, support and strengthen the work of education’s existing early adopters.

2. Bolster smart adoption: Replace policy and operational barriers that inhibit smart adoption with infrastructure that encourages it.

3. Provide better information to encourage smart demand: Create useful information tools to inform and strengthen both early and mainstream demand.

4. Reward productivity improvements: Redefine the culture of public education so that people and organizations are able to identify, obtain and be rewarded for improved outcomes and productivity.

If you found this piece interesting or useful, I recommend checking out the previous two publications as well.

This paper is the third in a series of publications from the Innovation for the Public Good: A Case Study of US Education project, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. This project analyzes key aspects of an emerging ecosystem for innovation in public education in the US, highlighting recent efforts to fuel and steer more innovation, and framing the challenges that lie ahead for the public, private, and philanthropic sectors. The first two papers Steering Capital: Optimizing Financial Support for Innovation in Public Education and Supporting and Scaling Change: Lessons from the First Round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) Program, were released earlier this year.

Conferences/Events Entrepreneurship

Great overview of Mega Startup Weekend

Great overview of Mega Startup Weekend


A visit to Blackbox Mansion

As a follow up to Startup Weekend, this evening I attended a casual networking event at Blackbox Mansion, hosted by Bjoern Lasse. Blackbox is one of the hottest seed accelerators in the valley and this evening’s event was a great continuation of conversations around the newest startups on the scene. Over the past few days I’ve also learned about the Startup Genome Project, which is a research based process for benchmarking startups and identifying which stage they are at to understand how best they should grow/move forward to be successful. While it’s potentially enlightening to have a classification system to help see patterns and trends (especially given the proliferation of startups over the past several years) it is also a bit controversial to use this labeling system. I see startups as living organizations, continuously evolving and adjusting to their environments, so I bet they move back and forth between different stages throughout their growth process.

Given that “More than 90% of startups fail, due primarily to self-destruction rather than competition,” my take is that more data is better to help determine and prevent those self-destructive tendencies. Overall, TONS of great information and cool infographics on their site- check it out and maybe you can learn more about your startup.

Bjoren Lasse also has an interesting blog post from Oct 2010 discussing some of his thoughts on traditional vs. disruptive technologies around education. He ends with a key point stating, “if you want to empower and accelerate this process then you need to anticipate a completely new education ecosystem and value chain.”

I’m anxious for us to discover this new education ecosystem…

Conferences/Events Entrepreneurship

Mega Startup Weekend=Amazing!

3 days. 3 verticals (Education, Healthcare, Gaming). 300+ people.

It was an intense experience, cramming hours of brainstorming, researching, designing, networking and pitching into one packed weekend. I started out on one team building a product initiating offline sessions for people to teach what they know and love (very similar to SkillShare and TeachStreet) and then decided to break off with one team member and focus on Startup-U, and online university for entrepreneurs. By Sunday at 5pm 16 education teams pitched their new businesses and we were all impressed by the winning team for the education vertical, ClassParrot,  who built a robust iphone app (with an awesome logo and design) providing a safe way for students/teachers to text.

I highly recommend this event for anyone interested in meeting like-minded folks excited about entrepreneurship; brainstorming and creating a new business in an accelerated environment. Next Startup Weekend Education will be held October 14 in San Francisco.

Overall, it was great to see all the energy and entrepreneurship around tools and services to improve education. One of those entrepreneurs is Roby John, founder of Tap to Learn, a company building apps to help kids learn math, grammar and chemistry who was one of the lucky few chosen to have office hours at TechCrunch Disrupt with Paul Graham and Harj Taggar. During Mega Startup Weekend, Roby’s team built a tool to help parents sort through the 75,000+ ed apps and find apps most appropriate for their child’s age/learning needs. Good luck to them and all the edtech entrepreneurs out there!

Conferences/Events Entrepreneurship

Startup Weekend EDU version

I’m getting ready to attend my first Startup Weekend event tomorrow and find myself excited and nervous… really just not sure what to expect. I’m sure that intrigue is a bit of what makes the events so appealing! This mega Startup Weekend is expecting ~300 attendees passionately focused on 3 verticals: Education, Healthcare and Gaming.

I’m especially excited to hear that Startup Weekend has partnered with Grockit and the Kauffman Foundation to created a dedicated EDU vertical at their events.

I’m looking forward to meeting a bunch of people who are as excited and optimistic about EdTech as I am and will be sure to provide an update next week. If you’re attending, see you there!