"This is the best time in the history of man to be in education."
These are the powerful words of Pete Rau
, shared with the 2015 Triangle Startup Weekend EDU audience during his speech at last Friday's kickoff event.
Rau is the director of technology for Cary-based learning innovator Thinking Maps
, as well as former president and co-founder of multimedia educational flashcard maker BrainFlips
An education entrepreneur himself, Rau encouraged the audience to pursue their ideas. He explained that major innovations have yet to be made in the field.
“The environment now is ripe for change,” Rau said, “It is undergoing transformation as we speak.”
More than 130 people, including 26 educators, gathered in NC State’s Hunt Library over the course of the 54-hour event to brainstorm and put the early pieces of new education-oriented startups together. Education is becoming a focus of this region’s startup community because of the strength of our universities and a collective desire to improve results for elementary through high school students in North Carolina. Several Triangle startups have also plunged into the national EdTech scene by joining accelerators ImagineK12 in San Francisco and Techstars Kaplan EdTech Accelerator in New York.
The industry also presents a growing opportunity nationally and globally. According to the Software and Information Industry Association, global spending on education technology grew 5 percent last year to $8.4 billion. And 2014 was a record year (~$2 billion) for investment in education technology companies, according to three different organizations.
Jason Parker, who organized the annual event with Archana Gowda, encouraged the crowd to continue pursuing their startup ideas regardless of the results of the weekend.
“I’m a big believer that when we blend all these different people together we get incredible results. It’s the power of the mesh; meshing these ideas and experiences,” Parker said.
Following the kickoff and pitch voting on Friday night, participants divided into thirteen teams. Those were narrowed down to nine teams by the time the entrepreneurs stood before their peers Sunday night and pitched the following ideas:
Math InFusion: Matches kids in need of math tutoring with teachers well trained in the Common Core State Standards using online video.
Village: Inspired by the idea that “it takes a village” to raise a child, Village provides parents with ways to supplement at home the education their child is getting in the classroom
PNEWT: Prepares high school students for the future by allowing them to explore fields of study before committing to a career path.
My Support Village: Provides a platform for parents and teachers to consolidate their communication about their students' needs.
ExperienceEDU: Promotes the intersection of classroom learning with professional outcomes by infusing core curriculums with materials from local businesses.
EduLaunch: A Kickstarter for education, EduLaunch is the only educational crowdfunding platform for teachers, administrators, or students themselves, to “fuel futures.” Four of six projects on the site have already met their goals, raising more than $1,000 to provide books and laptops to needy students, a printer to a teacher's classroom and funding to a school teaching autistic students.
TriKey: Creating innovative educational games that tie into class curriculums.
BUZZ Drivers: In order to combat issues that traditionally arise on school buses, BUZZ Drivers take a high-tech approach to provide a positive environment for kids on the way to school.
a+Bay: A platform to offer kids incentives to get higher grades.
The overall winner of the event, MathInFusion, also took home the title for “Best Business Model”.
My Support Village won the title for “Education Impact”, and BUZZ won an honorable mention for the same category. EduLaunch went on to win the “Design” category as well as taking “Crowd Favorite”. Village won the award for “Customer Validation”.
So what is next for these startups?
Through Triangle Startup Weekend's link with UP Global, Math InFusion gets an interview with the investment team at ImagineK12, a startup incubator focused on education technology. The team, led by NC State College of Education professor and math educator Jere Confrey, will also have the opportunity to consult with the New Orleans nonprofit education startup incubator 4.0 Schools and local law firm Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton.
Though Confrey has been teaching math for several decades, she was able to see math and education in a different light during the weekend event.
“Taking an entrepreneurial perspective forces you to refocus your work and to try to understand the value of the concept you’re working on,” Confrey said.
As for crowd favorite EduLaunch, team member and recent UNC Chapel Hill graduate Ally Rodriguez is uncertain if the team will continue on with its project despite its early traction.
“A lot of us, sadly, work full time, but if someone from the team wanted to pursue EduLaunch, I would support them the best I could,” Rodriguez said.
With so many new working relationships formed this weekend, it is likely that the Triangle will see some of these entrepreneurs make a name for themselves in the upcoming years. The educators at this event left more inspired than ever, and it will be exciting to see their passion shape the future of classrooms in the Triangle, and potentially around the world.