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Kauffman Labs Venture Showcase: ‘K-12’ presentations

Opening the day, Sandra Miller of Kauffman Labs, introduces the work of the 16 companies, displaying the taglines of some of them. Photo by Danny Schreiber.

Today, the 16 companies that have been working the past four months in Kauffman Labs’ Education Ventures Program are presenting their work to a panel of experts onstage and an audience at the Kauffman Conference Center.

Each founder has eight minutes to present and seven minutes to field questions and comments from the panelists. This first session featuring six companies, focuses on the K-12 education sector.

The panelists for K-12 are:

  • Wil Agatstien – Executive Director Center for Entrepreneurship University of California, Davis; Advisory Group Member, Kauffman Labs Education Ventures Porgram
  • Virginia Edwards – President Editorial Projects in Education, Editor-in-Chief of Education Week
  • Ann Willoughby – President & Chief Creative Officer, Willoughby Design Group
  • Jay Watkins – Managing Director, De Novo Ventures

Find the day’s agenda at kauffman.org/edufoundersevent and descriptions of the companies at kauffmanlabs.org/companies. Refresh this page for updates after each of the founders’ presentations.

Beth Schmidt presents Wishbone, a non-profit for connecting at-risk students to donors interested in funding after school and summer programs. Photo by Danny Schreiber.

Wishbone – Beth Schmidt

Per the Kauffman Labs website, “Wishbone.org is a new non-profit connecting at-risk high school students to donors online to fund after school and summer programs. For students, Wishbone provides access to out-of-school programs that build confidence, a skill set, and the realization that succeeding in high school is relevant to pursuing their passions. For donors, Wishbone bridges the gap within a community by connecting donors to local students who share a common interest.” A few highlights from Schmidt’s presentation:

  • Schmidt opened by posing question: Who would you be today without opportunities you had throughout childhood? Wishbone is based on the premise that providing previously inaccessible opportunities to at-risk students can change the course of those students’ lives.
  • The nuts and bolts of Wishbone: A donor can log on and search for potential students to support. Wishbone features one-minute video pitches from students who are interested in pursuing after-school and summer programs but unable to afford them. Once students’ wishes are funded, donors can follow students’ progress through blogs the students keep on the site.
  • Schmidt projected a timeline for the growth of Wishbone. It’s set to launch in October, serving 150 students in New York City and San Francisco. From 2012-14, the program will expand to all Teach For America markets. By 2015, Schmidt projects that Wishbone can reach scale.
  • “These students’ struggles are our struggles collectively and not just theirs,” Schmidt said. To hammer home that idea of helping the students being a collective effort, Schmidt has adopted “daring courage” as a mantra for Wishbone. Daring courage is an idea that applies to both students and donors. For students, it’s essential to dare to dream big and take a risk in pursuing an opportunity that might not seem possible given their circumstances. For donors, courage is needed to provide financial backing for at-risk students in an unfamiliar program.

Adam Geller of Edthena. Photo by Danny Schreiber.

Edthena – Adam Geller

Before entering into Kauffman Labs, Edthena founder Adam Geller was a ninth and eighth grade science teacher and a part of Teach For America in St. Louis. In his presentation today, Geller didn’t have a science lecture to give but a lesson on opportunity that exists in the teacher improvement training. While working in the classroom, Geller found that video was an effective means of improving his own performance. Now, he wants to take that to the web.

“Teacher improvement is central to improving the education center,” Geller said. Describing the $12 billion a year industry, Geller said there wasn’t anything that stood out in it except for one method: direct observation. But with four-million teachers in America, pairing up someone to give feedback to each of those teacher isn’t easily accomplished.

With Edthena, a collaborative educator improvement network, Geller believes teachers will receive more feedback, which will bring more efficiency to the model, and result in less money spent.

Here are more points from Geller’s talk:

  • Research shows that this type of feedback works, “but no one has tried how we are trying it,” Geller said, “which is based around a network, the network is key.”
  • “What if we could transform this,” Geller said. “What if we could use power of network to aggregate demand of teachers and match them with the best resources anywhere.”
  • After uploading the video, a teacher shares it with his or her network, and when viewing the video, the viewer can stop the video and make a comment directly in the timeline, similar to the functionality of Viddler’s commenting system.
  • Getting into the market starts with teacher preparation courses and then going into K-12 schools, with each sector getting larger, until they “flip the switch” and release “coaching-as-a-service.” From there, Geller poses the question of what this would look like if it was transferred to other markets.
  • The product is currently live and in next three months Geller will be focusing on paying costumers getting locked in – he’s currently negotiating a university contract
  • Five-person advisory board already set up

Daniel Yoo of Goalbook. Photo by Danny Schreiber.

GoalbookDaniel Yoo

Per the Kauffman Labs site, “Goalbook by enome inc. is a collaboration platform for teachers, parents, and students centered around the achievement of individual student learning goals. As education becomes more personalized and delivered through teams of specialists, the challenges of collaboration and tracking achievement will continue to grow. Goalbook leverages social networking technology to help educators address these challenges.” A few highlights from Yoo’s presentation:

  • Yoo established that the current system for special education is broken. Despite the fact that 20 percent of the $500 billion U.S. education budget in K-12 is spent educating students with disabilities, the administrative process oftentimes gets in the way of the actual education of students. “We’re really, really good at making these paper documents and making sure they have everything they need on them,” Yoo said. But merely mastering the art of complying to the letter of the law shouldn’t be the focus of the educational process.
  • Special education students establish educational programs with specific learning goals. But why after so much spending and legislation aren’t we at the point of helping students meet learning goals? Basically, teachers are overwhelmed by the volume of those goals. There’s only so much time in the day to meet one-on-one with students, and with 15 or 20 students pursuing 10 goals apiece, teachers tend to lose track of them.
  • To help eliminate that problem, Yoo created Goalbook, which helps teachers collectively track individual students and their progress on meeting goals. Current solutions to the problem include Wikis and Google Docs, but those aren’t made for special education, Yoo said, and they’re too general to work.
  • How Goalbook works: using Goalbook’s site, a teacher inputs a student’s goal. When a student meets a goal, the teacher shares news of that with other adults involved in the students’ support network. This will lead not only to the dissemination of essential information about student development but also a boost in morale for adults interested in the students progress.
  • Yoo said Goalbook would be monetized through the introduction of premium features, for which a handful of educators have expressed to him a willingness to pay.
  • A beta version of Goalbook will be released in the fall. Yoo said five Bay Area school districts are in talks to do paid pilots.

Melissa Pickering of iCreate to Educate. Photo by Danny Schreiber.

iCreate to EducateMelissa Pickering

Former Disney imagineer Melissa Pickering took the stage to present iCreate to Educate, a software product that like her work at Disney will allow students to use their depths of their creativity to help others learn a lesson or story. The product, a simplified video editing tool, has students use tangible arts and crafts to create a stop-motion video on a computer that they’ll then present to their class. Throughout her presentation, Pickering peppered in a few of the short videos created by the students, one showing something as complex as the way the heart pumps blood.

In the opening of her presentation, Pickering posed the question: “How do we educate the innovators of our future?” She said she sees iCreate as a part of this and in the next year has a goal to enter into the classrooms of 20% of U.S. school. At its current one-year mark, she was able to report that iCreate has recorded 33,000 downloads on one of its free software options, which she entered into a partnership with Klutz, a Scholastic-owned company, to release.

At the end of her talk, Pickering shared another ambitious goal for iCreate: “We want to establish the LEGO of the 21st century.”

Here are more points from Pickering’s presentation:

  • Referring to her model, she asked: “How can we leverage student creativity so they have a hand in the lesson?”
  • The product hits student’s critical thinking, creativity and collaboration skills
  • Freemium subscription model – they have secured $50,000 in revenue in year one
  • One year goal: $10 million and 20% of U.S schools. Two primary reason Pickering believes they can succeed: online distribution and strategic patrneships.
  • Over next six months will continue to build out team and get a seed round
  • Three-person advisory team

Jason Young, center, and Matt Garmur, left, of Mindblown labs. Photo by Danny Schreiber.

Mindblown LabsJason Young and Matt Garmur

Per the Kauffman Labs site, “Mindblown Labs inspires kids to learn and empowers them to transform that learning into life skills. Our first offering is a mobile-based virtual economy for teens. In the Mindblown economy, teens will role-play life in their 20s, balancing the fantasies of their future selves against all the financial demands that come along with being an adult.

“Think Farmville meets Mint.com. We use long-standing game design principles to give teens a platform in which to explore and practice their skills. As they move up in the game, kids will master the trade-offs that underlie all of our lives without realizing they’re learning.” Highlights from Garmur and Young’s presentation:

  • As a nation, we are currently getting an ‘F in financial literacy, Garmur said. He cited a number of alarming statistics, including the fact that 95 percent of students graduate high school financially illiterate.
  • People recognize this is a problem and are working hard to solve it. However, Garmur said, there’s a fundamental flaw in the solutions available today: “Current methods think of financial literacy as knowledge to be gained rather than skills you practice over time.” He likened the way we’re currently teaching financial literacy — as knowledge to be attained through videos and other such educational materials — to teaching drivers education the same way. He posed the question: would you give a 16-year-old car keys after showing them a video?
  • Mindblown Labs’ solution is to develop financial management skills through the use of mobile gaming.
  • Young offered a step-by-step description of the mobile game Mindblown Economy, which would allow students to create a character and, in choose-your-own-adventure fashion, make everyday financial decisions and deal with their ramifications.
  • Young said what separates Mindblown Economy from other avenues for teaching financial literacy is the level to which it engages its users. “We start off,” he said, “by capturing the imagination of our players.”
  • Young said the basic game would be free but that his game could generate revenue in three ways: selling in-game sponsorships to banks and other interested financial institutions, allowing parents and institutions to purchase subscriptions for an upgraded gaming experience and enabling users to make in-game purchases.
  • The timeline: Mindblown Economy is still in the early stages of product development and design, with an Alpha version scheduled for August release. Garmur and Young are is aiming to release a Beta version by fall and raise a first round of angel funding in 2012.

Jerry Haung and Michael Qin of ChilRoad. Photo by Danny Schreiber.

ChildRoad – Jerry Haung and Michael Qin

When it’s all boiled down, the founders of ChildRoad, Jerry Huang and Michael Qin, believe in a simple principal: “reading is important.” As parents themselves, they’re seeing a shift in the way their children consumer literature and the tools that are available to them. With those facts in mind, and their strong backgrounds at Google and Unisys, respectively, they’ve created ChildRoad, a web and mobile digital library of books accessed through a subscription.

Described by them as the Netflix of the children’s book world, ChildRoad currently has 1,500 story titles within 500 digital books that can be browsed by users through age, series, type, value and length categories. When the book is read, the screen lights up with subtle animation and just as iBooks has the smooth animated page flip so too does ChildRoad. ChildRoad also features the classic wooden bookshelf like iBook. Unlike iBook and other competitors, however, ChildRoad believes its competitive advantage in the $6.5 billion young adult book market rests in its subscription model versus the pay-per-book model.

Here are more points from ChildRoads presentation:

  • Today, they have 2,000 registered users, with 250 of them paying customers (50 of those online and 200 in schools). They’ve seen a 95% renewal rate.
  • They said they’re paying a lot of attention to user experience as well as making it available anywhere anytime, which the mobile app allows for when using.
  • They look to rest on four pillars: core interactive digital book batch conversion (patent-pending), mobile access, propriety information and social integration
  • Customers are family and schools with children 4-12 years of age
  • They said distribution is their #1 issue in execution
  • In 2020, they hope to have one-million books in 40 languages

Sandy Khaund of Irynsoft. Photo by Danny Schreiber.

Irynsoft – Sandy Khaund

Per the Kauffman Labs site, “Irynsoft, a mobile software company in the California Bay Area, has built a software platform to turn inexpensive Android tablets into powerful educational tools, creating a superior alternative for students to the iPad at less than half the price. Irynsoft tablets are restricted to approved educational content, remotely manageable by adults, and capable of offline operation—features critical to keeping students focused and productive while maintaining the trust of parents and educators. This is an affordable alternative for cash-strapped parents and school districts to increase access to educational resources, including a wealth of free open education resources. By enabling access at affordable prices, Irynsoft can build a bridge across the digital divide.” Highlights from Khaund’s presentation: 

  • Khaund was struck by Salman Khan’s work on the Khan Academy. Students, Khaund decided, could do the bulk of their learning independently, from home, using computers, tablets and mobile devices. The problem, however, is that the cost of such devices stands in the way of students in low-income homes having those same educational opportunities.
  • Irynsoft currently has four products in app store and two in Android market. Khaund saw the broken educational system and knew he had the power to help fix it. “What can I do about this problem?” he wondered. “Given the success I’ve had with my other products, how can I be a part of it?”
  • Khaund’s solution to that problem was a device that is: 1.) Dedicated to educational content; 2.) Remotely configurable by teachers and parents; 3.) Built to function even for students with no internet access at home by using a passive pre-emptive download system that automatically downloads new content whenever the device senses a wifi network.
  • Khaund would accomplish those aims for $199, using the Virtuoso, an inexpensive tablet with Android OS and Irynsoft software. Khaund said that $199 price tag includes a margin of $40 and would only go down over time.
  • Khaund closed by recalling another technology that succeeded and affected great change not because it was drastically different from any previous offering but because it was far more easily accessible: Henry Ford’s Model T. “There were cars before the Model T,” Khaund said, “but what Henry Ford did was make an affordable alternative that people could actually believe in having.” Khaund is looking to do the same — and bridge the digital divide — with Irynsoft.