In the heart of Boston’s Innovation District, seven startups shared how they plan to innovate education, making their case for capital in front of more than 200 investors, mentors, friends and fellow entrepreneurs at the inaugural LearnLaunchX Demo Day.
“This is the sector that needs innovation and is underinvested,” said Eileen Rudden, partner and co-founder of what’s become the city’s first ed tech accelerator.
Fellow Co-Founder Jean Hammond used statistics to support Rudden’s statement. Although investments in education technology have tripled over the last decade, the momentum is just beginning to grow. By 2018, Hammond estimates the ed tech market will hit $168 billion dollars, skyrocketing from the $58.5 billion it hovered around in 2012.
“We’re expecting to see a lot of change in this industry,” said Hammond to a packed crowd seated in Fort Point’s newly-erected, yet still under construction District Hall.
Hammond added that 96 percent of teachers claim ed tech increases students’ engagement in learning. Fifty-seven percent of students echoed that, with ed tech, they could be in control and work at their own pace.
To Governor Deval Patrick, who swung by Wednesday’s event, the impact is clear. Rudden noted “edupreneurs” hit on two of Patrick’s important initiatives: improving student achievement and creating another high-growth economic cluster in Massachusetts.
“Our digital technology sector holds enormous promise in better preparing our students for the 21st century global economy,” said Patrick in a statement. “I thank the entrepreneurs for their commitment to creating opportunity for all of our students.”
Over the last 14 weeks, the seven selected startups underwent a mentoring and business development program. Each team was awarded $18,000 in seed funding, as well as six months’ worth of office space.
“Now it’s all about execution,” said fellow LearnLaunchX Co-Founder Vinit Nijhawan following the startups’ presentations.
However, Rudden sounded optimistic and was certain that ed tech is Boston’s next big thing.
“Why couldn’t this be the next robotics cluster?” she asked.
Seven of the teams capable of making up that cluster who presented yesterday include:
Gradeable — Developed by a team from MIT and Harvard, Gradeable is an assessment and feedback tool that helps teachers give students smarter, faster feedback and reduces their overall workload. With Gradeable, paper-based assessments can be converted into digital information that can provide real-time insight on student growth. After spending 200 hours with 100 teachers, the startup successfully signed on its first paying customer and is looking to raise $500,000 to scale to 10,000 teachers within 18 months. Founder Parul Singh noted 25 percent of the fundraising goal has already been committed.
eduCanon — eduCanon has created easy-to-use video tools that help teachers create more engaging video instruction. Instructors can easily add interactivity to any video, and students are able to rewind, review material and work at their own pace. Founder Ben Levy said the goal is to attract 100,000 users by the end of 2014, which includes 50 paying schools. To achieve that, the team is looking to raise $300,000.
Empow Studios — Empow is the blend of science, technology, engineering, arts and math, more aptly-known by the acronym STEAM. Whether through after-school, summer or holiday programs, Empow helps motivate youth to discover and build their talents through robotics, video game design and more. The team’s first studio opened in Lexington this fall, and the mission is to grow to three to four studios by the end of 2014, all with the potential help of anywhere between $250,000 and $300,000.
Intellify Learning — Founded by Chris Vento, former CTO of Blackboard, WebCT and Cengage, Intellify Learning provides a standards-based instrumentation framework for online course developers and schools, curriculum and learning designers, as well as ed tech application developers. The team is working closely with IMS Global to create this “Learning Intelligence platform-as-a-service,” and has already started generating revenue through pilot programs.
Cognii — Deemed the “‘Siri’ for Education,” Cognii’s natural language processing technology allows for automatic assessment of student’s essay answers. What’s more, Cognii helps online education providers create personalized learning environments by providing not just a score, but also customized feedback that can engage students in an active learning process and improve their knowledge retention. Cognii’s solution is currently available through an API, and the team is looking to raise $1.3 million to serve five customers over the next 15 months.
Countdown — Countdown serves as a planning tool for creating Common Core-aligned instruction. Through the platform, teachers and districts can map standards by day across the school year, link curricular resources, share calendars, manage changes and create a record of what is taught. After running a pilot this summer, the team landed its first sale in New York. Now, they are seeking at least $200,000 in financing to on board more than 30 school districts by 2015.
Listen Edition — Led by former WBUR reporter Monica Brady-Myerov, Listen Edition helps teachers engage and educate through public radio. The startup has created a proprietary curriculum around public radio that incorporates lesson plans and homework assignments that all align with Common Core State Standards. Two schools have already purchased Listen Edition, and Brady-Myerov says they’re looking to reach more with the help of $500,000.
Applications for the second LearnLaunchX class will open up on October 15.