Teach for America showed Janice Smith the need for teachers to learn from each other. Groundwork Labs helped the first-time entrepreneur develop a product to help that learning happen, and test the concept with teachers and administrators.
And her next move – participation in high-profile Silicon Valley accelerator Imagine K12 – will offer introductions to venture capitalists and education technology experts who Smith believes can help get her startup Mission 100 Percent into schools around the nation.
“We’re obviously not staying there – we are really passionate about being a Durham-based company,” she says. “But we recognize that Silicon Valley is where a lot of money, resources and companies are. Being out there for three months will be an opportunity to network the crap out of San Francisco.
Smith is the second Triangle edtech startup founder this year to join a national accelerator – Raleigh-based Karl Rectanus of Lea(R)n is in New York this summer at TechStars’ Kaplan EdTech Accelerator.
Smith’s Mission 100 Percent uses video to let teachers, administrators and students share best practices and ignite conversation around improving education in the U.S. Its big mission is to help 100 percent of students and teachers reach their goals. ExitEvent’s profiled Smith and detailed her plans for the site after it went live in June.
Smith entered Groundwork Labs earlier this year to help define the problem she hoped to solve and determine a solution and a business model to monetize it. She learned about sales and marketing and acquiring customers.
Many Groundwork companies go on to participate in accelerator programs that offer funding in return for a small stake in the company – Mission 100 Percent will be the eighth graduate to do so says, Groundwork executive director John Austin.
So why Imagine K12?
Envisioned as the “Y Combinator of Education”, the three-year-old program is among the highest-regarded startup accelerators for education-oriented startup companies and, like Mission 100 Percent, is targeted to companies innovating in K-12 education.
Founded by two serial entrepreneurs (one a Y Combinator partner) and a former Google executive, the program has funded more than 50 companies – nearly three quarters of graduates have raised a total of $60 million. More than 10 million students and a million teachers are now using Imagine K12-accelerated products like BloomBoard, a teacher evaluation tool, BrainNook, developer of math and english games for elementary students and CodeHS, a computer science education platform.
Another interesting stat – 90 percent of Imagine K12 companies are based in Silicon Valley. Smith’s will stand out as a non-Valley based startup.
Smith was drawn to the program’s connections – there are teachers-in-residence, a network of Imagine K12 graduates, mentors, a demo day and an educator day. She also needed the money – $20,000 up front in return for a 6 percent stake and $80,000 as a convertible note awarded upon completion. Joining her in Redwood City is her newly-appointed chief technology officer, Thomas Nickles, who leaves a role as information technology officer at Counter Culture Coffee to join the startup.
According to Smith, he comes from a family of educators and is compelled by the startup world. One of their key goals will be determining priorities for technology development so the platform can scale nationally.
Groundwork’s Austin wasn’t surprised to learn that Smith was accepted into the program. She’s a ball of energy who’s knowledgable about her industry, confident in her abilities but willing to admit what she doesn’t know and ask for help.
“There is no doubt in my mind that she is going to be successful in this endeavor,” he says. “The only question that both she and I and Imagine K12 have, is how big can this be?”
We’ll find out before the year is out. Smith will move to California in time for a Sept. 3 kickoff. ExitEvent plans to check in on her progress along the way.