Putting the ‘ed’ in edtech

Tim Brady welcoming the Educator Day crowd

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been to some great events that are really trying to introduce and amplify the educator voice into the edtech startup scene. This past Friday, Imagine K12 hosted its Educator Day event which attracted an even larger crowd ( ~100 people) than the last batch with an even stronger presence of teachers from traditional public schools. I believe this type of event is more important for both the educators and the entrepreneurs than the typical investor-focused demo days and I hope to see more opportunities for these groups to interact and share feedback during the program.

Last weekend, Startup Weekend Edu hosted an event at Kno in Santa Clara which drew a large educator alumni crowd, mainly from the TFA network. Katrina Stevens, co-founder of LessonCast which came out of one of the first Startup Weekend EDU events, was guest blogging all weekend trying to capture the diversity of energy and ideas between the teams.  The success of the event was largely due to the efforts of Nihal ElRayess, a Teach-For-America alum who pushed hard to make sure the were a significant number of educators in the room, and even hosted a competition among TFA alumni where the winner was offered a free trip and participation in the 54-hour event.

Impressive teams. High energy. Cool ideas. However, even with the efforts to engage educators the representation was mainly TFA alumni, so very few ‘educator’ attendees were actually current teachers, in classrooms right now. I had some great conversations with several other mentors on why that is and if there is anything we can do about it. My take is that teacher time is so very precious that it is really difficult to ask them to give up 54 hours of it, even for an event as energizing as Startup Weekend. I think we need to create and promote other opportunities that encourage educators to engage with the edtech community in a more casual and less time-intensive ways. If you have any suggestions for simple ways to bridge these communities, I’d love to hear them!

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Grockit is Rockin’ it

Lots of exciting news surrounding Grockit over the past few days, starting with the successful closure of a 4th round of funding ($7M series D) with New Schools Venture Fund joining as one of the new investors.

As mentioned in a previous post, Grockit’s founder, Farb Nivi, is inspiring other edupreneurs by partnering with the Gates Foundation to host several Startup Weekend EDU events across the globe. Grockit hosted their 2nd event at their SF Headquarters this past weekend and I was fortunate enough to attend and experience some of Farb’s energy and passion for edtech first hand.

Another benefit of mentoring yesterday is that I got a personal product demo of Grockit Answers that launched today and is definitely worth checking out. This smart Q&A system augments online video content by creating a connected and social way to have discussions around particular content. Designed by Grockit’s Chief Learning Architect, Ari Bader-Natal, he has considered thoughtful features for educators such as private discussion groups and moderator privileges to control the direction of the conversations. I’m definitely going to use this for my work with Khan Academy.

The evening ended with incredibly strong pitches from all teams. Congratulations to Alumn.us, the winners of the #SFEDU event and shout out to the other finalists- I’m with the Band (learning through music, and their team was made up of several Stanford LDT grad students :), DailyRead and Stacks. As a mentor, I had a chance to speak with several of the teams as they polished their pitches and am always impressed by the energy that people bring even late Sunday after a weekend of brainstorming, building and pitching.

The Grockit team did a fantastic job with the event and are taking the show on the road to DC next month followed by several other major international cities after that. If you want to get involved or help organize a Startup Weekend in SF or around the globe, contact the Startup Weekend team at events@startupweekend.org.

Great overview of Mega Startup Weekend

Great overview of Mega Startup Weekend

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!

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!