Startup Weekend EDU Returns to San Francisco

Startup Weekend EDU was back in San Francisco this weekend. Although there have been several other Startup Weekend EDUs, this was the first official event of the organization's newly launched education vertical.

I've written about Startup Weekend several times before, but for those unfamiliar with the event, here's the pitch: it is a weekend-long event in which entrepreneurs, designers, and developers come together to build companies. On Friday night, people pitch their ideas. Folks vote on their favorites; teams are created, and then people spend the next few days validating their ideas and building a minimum viable product, which they pitch before a panel of judges on Sunday night. It's an incredible hands-on learning experience for everyone involved -- a real crash course in team- and product-building.

Startup Weekend EDU, as the name suggests focuses these efforts into building education startups. But one of the big challenges that the newly formed vertical faces is securing the involvement of educators. Khalid Smith, the education leader for Startup Weekend EDU, made a terrific point this weekend: Startup Weekend EDU is itself a startup. And as such, it's learning and A-B testing along the way.

A couple of this weekend's "tests," if you will:
  • Discounted prices for teachers to attend.
  • Outreach to TFA to promote the event to its network.
  • Special "teacher-approved" stickers during the initial voting process, so that those ideas that were, well, "teacher-approved" were highlighted. Teachers were also asked to share their rationale for why they liked these particular projects.
  • Mitch Kapor (creator of Lotus 1-2-3, co-founder of EFF, the first chair of the Mozilla Foundation, and social impact investor) gave a keynote on Friday night, giving those present a good overview about the opportunities and the challenges of building education startups
All these things made a big difference, I'd say, in helping get the event off to a solid start on Friday night. But by this evening, it was pretty clear that other elements played a role making this a successful event too. I heard lots of feedback that the ideas this time around were "more mature" and that the participants were "more serious." Indeed as one of the judges noted, all 10 of the ideas that were pitched this evening had ideas that could be, with work, viable businesses. Certainly this event had a fairly good representation of teachers present; but lots of folks in attendance, whether currently educators or not, seemed to be really familiar with and/or committed to the education space.

Here are the startups that were built over the course of the last 54 hours:

Oo.llu: tracks the reading habits of students and aggregates book reviews from teachers and parents.

DailyRead: an online social newspaper for kids (FINALIST)

PBL: a tool to support project-based-learning for adult learners

Athletepreneur: a website with educational content to help high school, college, and professional athletes learn about entrepreneurship, finance and career development

LearnSandbox: a tutoring service to help connect young "tech-savvy" people with older, "tech beginners"

Stacks: a "mixtape," of sorts, for educational content (FINALIST)

I'm in the Band!: e-learning meets karaoke -- teaching through music (FINALIST)

Qeyno: "careerspotting" for kids -- focuses on helping girls learn about and prepare for STEM careers

Alumnus: an alumni network (fundraising-oriented) for public high schools and community colleges (WINNER)

SupMyBook: a site to help correlate online multimedia resources to specific sections in textbooks

Startup Weekend EDU is off to Washington DC next weekend. Hope to see you there.


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