Elliott Hauser Imagine K12 pitch

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Elliott Hauser is one of those entrepreneurs who has taken advantage of every opportunity to build and grow his startup in the Triangle and beyond.

The PhD candidate and former Python and open source software educator first pitched his idea for a collaboration platform for educators at a Triangle Startup Weekend in early 2013. He then won a spot in The Startup Factory's Fall 2013 class. Learnings there helped him decide to pivot the idea and rename the company Trinket after the embeddable open source web-based coding tool his team created to help teachers teach and students learn and practice the skills taught in the classroom (or online) without downloading a bunch of software.

Trinket example
Above is an example of a Trinket.
The unique way in which the company tackled coding education won it a spot in the prestigious San Francisco accelerator ImagineK12 last Fall, along with $100,000. And the domain expertise and coding capability attracted NC IDEA to the Trinket team. 

The grant committee also knew funding could make a big difference for the company this year. "Our grant comes at a critical stage in the company and allows them to move faster," Grant Program Manager Andrea Cook says.

The timing is critical because ImagineK12 Demo Day (Here's Hauser's pitch.) generated a lot of investor interest, Hauser says. But even after weeks in classrooms observing and introducing Trinket during ImagineK12 and steadily increasing user-ship, the company still hadn't generated the kind of viral growth Hauser wanted, and he knew he had to take a step back from fundraising to figure out why not.

"Our sweet spot is people who understand that the coding market is exploding and in five years, it will be a big ass market," Hauser told me earlier this year. He views Trinket as an extension of Scratch, the simple programming language developed at MIT to introduce kids to coding, and a bridge to Python.

"All skills on Trinket are transferrable to real development and all programs you write run outside of Trinket (on the web) which is not the case with Scratch," he says. 

Hauser's vision is to see Trinkets embedded within great content all over the web—in blogs, educational materials and curriculum—and to have educators and students paying to upgrade to a premium version that lets them make games, deploy websites or track the progress of students. 

But to get that faster growth, he needed to focus 110 percent on forming partnerships with those who do get it.

The work is already paying off. Trinket is a recommended development environment for a class of 13,000 enrolled in a Harvey Mudd College course on the online platform edX this summer. And usage has doubled since the end of December and is tracking to double again over the next semester. 

That new focus on traction versus fundraising gave direction to the NC IDEA grant application, Hauser says. He'll use the funds to advertise online and to hire someone to handle product integrations as he signs on new partners.

Fundraising in Silicon Valley will happen again at some point soon, but Hauser believes he'll have a more compelling story of growth to share when the time comes.