They came, they pitched, they presented, they won.
They are the 4 winning teams who just slogged through 54 hours non-stop over the weekend of July 17th to 19th at the recently concluded Startup Weekend Asia-America held at Block71 San Francisco. In line with the theme, the venue was chosen because of its history – a collaborative initiative between three iconic Singapore organizations – NUS Enterprise, Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL) and Singtel Innov8, as well as its mission to connect entrepreneurs from both Asia and America.
The crowd favorite is OFF/Packers, a travel platform that promises to connect local guides with travelers who are travelling to an unfamiliar place. Hoping to capitalize on the on-demand trend, OFF/Packers specializes in on-demand guides for nature and outdoor experiences.
Coming in 3rd place, Givfolio aims to solve the huge paperwork and bureaucratic burden surrounding dollar-for-dollar matching corporate donation programs through an app that manages the employee’s donations and automates the reporting on the corporate side. The brainchild of an ex-Disney employee who experienced the problem herself, Givfolio can potentially help employees and charities take full advantage of the donation budget set aside by companies.
First runner-up is Seeker, a platform built on top of LinkedIn that solves the biggest headache of recruiters – how do we know when a person is open and looking for new opportunities in their career? Through monitoring changes in a person’s LinkedIn profile, Seeker hopes to identify active and passive job seekers and provide this information to HR recruiters.
And finally, the winner of Startup Weekend Asia-America goes to Food to Fame. The team beat out 11 other teams to clinch the top prize of a Startup Exhibition Alley booth at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015 worth $1995, among other prizes worth a total of $6000. Food to Fame aims to help food brands market their products through Instagram influencers, helping influencers monetize their social value at the same time.
Team leader, Sylvia Look, was pleasantly surprised to know that her team won. The National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate currently on NUS’s Overseas College Silicon Valley (NCSV) program competed against teams with experienced working professionals, some of whom work in the Bay Area’s top tech companies.
It was a close call, as the point difference between the 3 winning teams were just fractions of a point from each other. The event certainly saw a lot of well-thought-out ideas and the coaches who attended commented on the high quality of work they saw this weekend.
While not everybody won prizes, everyone certainly got something out of the event. Some made new friends from a new country. OFF/Packers truly lived up to the spirit of the event as a multi-national team made up of members from Brazil, Switzerland, Austria and America. Connections with Venture Capital (VC) firms were made and the VCs got to know about some interesting startups. Last, but not least, everyone had fun!
TechCrunch is a platinum sponsor of Startup Weekend Asia-America. For more information on tickets to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015, click here.
With an acceptance rate of a dismal 1 percent, getting into 500 Startups’ accelerator program is definitely not easy. To put that number into perspective, Stanford’s fall 2012 acceptance rate is a more encouraging 6.6 percent.
Now, to work on a bitcoin startup and get accepted into the prestigious accelerator program, that is even more challenging.
So how did CoinPip, a bitcoin wallet service and payment solution for merchants in Asia started in January 2014, get accepted into 500 Startups Batch 11?
Back in 2010, the seeds of CoinPip were already planted when Ben Bernanke announced Quantitative Easing (QE) infinity. Anson Zeall, now founder of CoinPip, was then a successful hedge fund manager returning 35% P.A. for investors. He thought it was time for something else when he heard the news. A friend of his then introduced him to bitcoin and he jumped in.
Within a short span of 1 year, the company has expanded operations quickly into neighbouring countries – Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines and even the USA. However, not all was easy and smooth sailing. In mid 2014, the company was running out of money. Around this time, a group of startups in Singapore, together with CoinPip, started the Association of Cryptocurrency Enterprises and Startups Singapore (ACCESS). This caught the attention of Sean Percival – venture partner at 500 Startups and the road to securing their seed funding began.
The first secret is – Do something big and bold to show your belief
This coming Friday, 17th July, Anson Zeall will be sharing with participants of Startup Weekend Asia-America in person, his personal story of overcoming all obstacles to finally building a company in the Bitcoin space that spans across countries in Asia and America.
See you there!
Startup Weekend Asia-America
July 17th-19th, 2015
In the last weekend of May, more than a hundred people convened in a downtown San Francisco co-working space to create tech-based solutions to the biggest pain points they’ve experienced.
That might sound like any other weekend in Silicon Valley, but this was no ordinary hackathon. This one focused on Immigration, which is deeply embedded in the fabric of Silicon Valley and yet doesn’t receive anywhere near the attention it deserves. After all, 25% of high tech companies founded between 1995 and 2005 had at least one immigrant founder, and 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by 1st or 2nd generation immigrants. This despite immigrants making up only about 10% of the US population.
Thanks to the headline-dominating successes of startups like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Uber, Silicon Valley has been flooded with new entrepreneurial tech talent from all over the world looking to change the way we share photos, send messages, and transport stuff from point A to point B. As a result, these types of problems are well on their way to being 100% solved.
On the other hand, there are many more problems on the opposite end of the spectrum that are much closer to being 0% solved, and Immigration is one of them. It’s no secret that the “user experience” of immigration is painfully broken. There are several noteworthy tech startups who are trying to do something about it, and organizations like the Mark Zuckerberg-led lobbying group FWD.us have done a lot of work on the political front trying to get comprehensive immigration reform passed through Congress. However, even as a FWD.us member, I always felt like there was more that could be done. Pushing for policy change is important, but it’s anyone’s guess as to when that will happen — it might happen in the next 2 years or the next 20, and in the meantime we should also be thinking of ways to make all aspects of the immigration experience better with the tools we have at hand.
Not only that, Silicon Valley is notoriously apathetic about politics, so we figured the best way to get techies interested in a cause like Immigration isn’t to turn them into activists, but rather to take something they love — being creative and building stuff — and direct it towards a larger goal.
Startup Weekend Immigration was our first attempt at doing that. Our goal was to begin building a community of social-minded tech folks who actually care about this issue and want to use their powers for good.
On May 29-31, we gathered together a hundred passionate technologists who wanted to spend an entire weekend hacking immigration.
We had participants who had driven and even flown in from as far away as Los Angeles, New York, and Miami for the unique opportunity to incubate their immigration startup idea over the weekend. They were aided by an all-star lineup of speakers, mentors, and judges representing the biggest movers and shakers in the “immigration tech” space. That included domain expert founders, investors, legal experts, and immigrant community leaders.
Friday May 29
Following a kickoff speaking panel about how the system became so broken and what to expect in the next few years from a political and macroeconomic standpoint, we got down to business. Nearly 30 different participants pitched ideas, which were voted on by the 150+ people in attendance and narrowed down to a shortlist of 15 or so. Participants formed teams around the remaining ideas and prepared for the weekend.
Saturday May 30
If Friday’s speaker panel was a “macro” look at immigration, Saturday morning’s was much more “micro”. We zoomed in on the personal stories of successful immigrant founders including Laks Srini, Co-founder & CTO of Zenefits; Tri Tran, Co-founder & CEO of Munchery; and Silver Keskküla, Co-founder of Teleport.
In the afternoon, we brought in a bevy of domain expert mentors to advise teams on product development, design, legal issues, and customer development to make their idea a reality.
Sunday May 31
Sunday was the moment of truth — Pitching time! Given how little “creative attention” immigration receives, I was excited to see what a small army of passionate hackers, designers, and business & policy experts could come up with. How could the latest tools and technology trends be utilized for good?
One of my worries going in to the event was that too many teams would work on ideas involving automating immigration application processes. A lot of companies are already doing great work in that area, including those who were at the event like FileRight, Clearpath, Bridge US, and Teleborder. Not only that, there are so many other neglected areas of immigration that need creative problem-solving, which we outlined in another Medium post titled Immigration Startup Ideas.
In that sense, I was pleasantly surprised by the winning teams selected by our impressive judging panel, which was made up of 2 domain expert founders in Romish Badani of Bridge US and James Richards of Teleborder, 2 investors in Edith Yeung of 500 Startups Mobile Collective and Nitin Pachisia of Unshackled, and 1 journalist in Dan Raile of PandoDaily.
Teams were evaluated based on the following 3 equally-weighted criteria: Customer Validation (1/3), Product Execution & Design (1/3), and Business Model Validation (1/3). A total of 12 teams ended up pitching on Sunday, and these were the winners.
Settled is your personal assistant for complex admin processes when settling abroad.
Settled operates under the premise that getting a visa is only the beginning of an immigrant’s journey. After that, there are all kinds of strange and unfamiliar processes they have to go through like getting a driver’s license, filing taxes, opening a bank account, getting a social security card, building credit, etc. Many of these are dreaded even by native-born Americans who are fluent in English, so you can imagine how daunting it must be for someone who isn’t fluent. Settled built a one-stop user-friendly interface for these different processes so that immigrants can be more productive with their team and focus on the things that matter.
Check out Settled’s presentation slides
Estrella helps you find free or low-cost immigration help near you.
In Silicon Valley, it’s too easy to conflate “immigrants” with highly-educated, English-speaking foreigners looking to work at Google/Apple/Facebook or start their own company. In fact, the vast majority of immigrants coming to the US do so because they don’t see a viable future for themselves in their home country, and they’re willing to throw away everything they know for even a sliver of a chance at a better life.
These are the immigrants who are most vulnerable to fraud and the most sensitive to the high fees and costs of immigration, which is where Estrella (“star” in Spanish) comes in.
WindowSill is a platform for immigrant home-bakers to earn money selling baked goods, made from recipes from their home country
One of the harsh realities of immigration is that even highly skilled immigrants who used to be doctors or lawyers in their home country are often forced to give up their profession in their new country due to differing qualification systems.
WindowSill’s goal was to empower immigrants by allowing them to monetize their more transferable skills, like baking. (Why baking? Legally, it’s easier and requires less licensing than general cooking.) With WindowSill, immigrants can use their home kitchen and recipes from their home country to make money making and selling delicious baked goods.
The judges’ Honorable Mention pick CarePath also had a similar idea in mind. CarePath is a marketplace for immigrant care providers to connect with senior citizens in need of care.
Neither of these two ideas are strictly speaking “immigration startups”, but what’s great is that they are general platforms that just happen to provide the most value for immigrants. Statistically, most caregivers in the US today are in fact immigrants, and everyone loves trying exotic new foods.
Greender is “Tinder for Green Card Seekers”
Greender was a fun idea which tapped into a well-known grey area in immigration law. Getting married to a US citizen with the sole intent of obtaining a green card is a criminal act (fraud), but of course millions of legitimate, loving marriages happen between US citizens and immigrants as well. If that’s the case, why not “reduce the friction” (as they love to say in Silicon valley) and make it easier to make those legitimate matches happen?
Unlike the well-known H-1B working visa which is capped each year at a mere 85,000 visas (roughly 1/4 of the number of applicants), there is no cap for Green Cards Through Marriage and it has long been seen as the “last resort” for immigrants who can’t get a visa otherwise. Greender might seem like an idea that’s straight out of The Onion, but it also serves as an interesting social commentary on the arbitrary nature of US government’s quotas for working visas and the lopsided competition for them that results.
Check out Greender’s presentation slides
Here’s a full list of all the teams that pitched, along with their prototypes and presentation slides.
So was the event a success?
Our primary goals going into this event were threefold:
- UNIFY the fragmented immigration+tech community
- EDUCATE attendees on how/why the US immigration system became so broken, and make them aware of the most problematic and neglected areas of immigration that need attention
- BUILD meaningful new solutions utilizing creative legal/regulatory hacks and the latest tech, and open attendees’ minds to what is possible
Leading up to the event, I was mentally prepared to consider this nothing more than a fun, one-and-done thing if the reception to it was lukewarm. Events like this take a LOT of time and energy to put together, and it’s just not worth the months of planning and execution if there isn’t a deeper purpose driving your efforts.
Based on all the in-person and anonymous feedback we received though, I think we’ve tapped into something special.
We started from nothing in organizing this event. We were a team of 8 volunteers who had never met each other before, and we didn’t have any personal connections in this space. But after hundreds of cold emails (thanks Thrust.io!) and months of nose-to-the-grindstone hustling, we were able to successfully find amazing sponsors like Brad Feld who we had never met before (and still haven’t) but who cared enough about this issue to back our event, sight unseen. The leaders of immigration tech pioneers like FileRight and Clearpath found out about our event and took the time to fly in from Las Vegas and Miami, respectively, to come in and mentor the next generation of immigration startup founders. And best of all, I know for a fact that several of the teams are continuing to work on what they started at the event.
It was a magical weekend in a lot of ways, and if you ask me, if just a single participant or team from this event ends up making a major impact in immigration in the next few years (that they might not have otherwise), I’ll consider this event to have been a success. Only time will tell if that will happen, but in the meantime, I’m more than happy to continue nurturing the sapling of a community that we saw sprout that weekend.
It’s always confused me why there aren’t more people aren’t working on a problem space like Immigration. After all, it’s a huge market full of pain points and inefficiencies which affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. And unlike the many other communities that are underrepresented in Silicon Valley, immigrants are actually overrepresented here.
So why aren’t more people trying to solve it?
This seeming incongruity made me realize that there are two kinds of startup ideas in the world: (1) Those that are inevitable and natural, and (2) Those that need to be forcibly brought into the world kicking and screaming.
Twitter is the classic example of an idea that was inevitable and natural. If Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey hadn’t built the first character-constrained online social networking service, someone else most definitely would have.
On the other hand, without the Herculean efforts of Elon Musk and his co-workers at Tesla Motors, we might still be wondering when electric cars will become a reality. Don’t believe me? In 2009, General Motors’ then-Vice Chairman was quoted as saying:
“All the geniuses here at General Motors kept saying lithium-ion technology is 10 years away, and Toyota agreed with us — and boom, along comes Tesla. So I said, ‘How come some tiny little California startup, run by guys who know nothing about the car business, can do this, and we can’t?’ That was the crowbar that helped break up the log jam.”
The world needs more “kicking and screaming” ideas. Companies like Tesla and Stripe have reminded us that it’s possible for inexperienced outsiders to tackle a space with fraught with pessimism, regulations, legal liability, and hostile incumbents, and still come out on top.
So why aren’t more people trying to solve other real-world problems?
The tech media has fooled us into believing that young billionaire startup founders are demigods with superhuman abilities. But watch interviews with Mark Zuckerberg in the earliest days of Facebook, and you’ll see someone who didn’t have all the answers and had no idea how big Facebook could become. He isn’t a demigod. He’s a “mere mortal” just like you and me who happens to be smart, dedicated, and a fast learner able to figure things out along the way.
And that’s all it takes to change the world.
Silicon Valley has become obsessed with money and mythology, but you don’t have to be. Somewhere out there is a real-world problem that needs you to solve it. You might not make billions of dollars doing so, but you could get something even better — The satisfaction of knowing you changed the fates of millions of real people’s lives for the better. How many unicorn startups can say that about themselves with a straight face?
There is a better future out there, but it won’t happen on its own and we can’t wait around for a superhero to make it for us.
It’s up to you and me to create it, and the time to do so is now.
We plan on organizing another, even better immigration hackathon soon. In fact, we’re planning on making this an annual or even twice-a-year thing. Whatever it takes for immigration innovation to truly take flight. If you’d like to learn more, follow “HackImmigration” on Facebook and Twitter for future updates. Thanks for reading 🙂
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After waiting an hour and a half in line for the Google I/O Keynote speech I managed to find a seat. I took a big bite out of the breakfast muffin I picked up on my way in when I noticed a man pointing at the empty seat next to me. My face light up and I smiled and nodded answering his implicit question. We exchanged pleasantries and he introduced himself as John Absmeier, Director of Delphi labs.
If you haven’t heard of Delphi, you will now. Delphi is an automotive supplier that builds safer, greener, and more connected automotive technology. You may have heard about the self-driving car that successfully drove from San Francisco to New York. That was Delphi, not Google, or Mercedes, nor even Tesla! We spoke in depth about the fears individuals had with self-driving cars.
“You have to understand that when Apple was set to release the first smart-phone, people were not too keen on the idea. They asked why do we even need it?” John said. The iPhone revolutionized the world. It changed how we communicated with each other, how we worked, and how we viewed our own lives. Now we can’t imagine a world without our smartphone. The entire Google Keynote rested on the theme of a mobile world. He was right, most people can’t visual the need or necessity of a new technology without it existing first.
Thus, entrepreneurs are the rare birds that can visualize a new world and help bring their ideas from their inner world to the real world. However, the response most entrepreneurs hear is a two-letter word, “No.” The word itself creates dismay and can oftentimes destroy the spirit within. However, John was correct in saying that just because someone says no, it does not mean you should just stop the car. You are on to something; a good leader takes the critique and keeps improving their product until you hear the golden words, “Yes.”
Let’s use self-driving cars as an example, most people have initial fears with self-driving cars, but John takes those fears seriously and works to improve the process and design of his product to qualm any negative association with his work. Keep going until those no’s became yeses. If one can see the world John imagines and endeavors toward you would be just as excited as he was. No more drunk drivers taking innocent lives. Less traffic and more time spent on leisure. Older folk and disabled individuals reacquiring the freedom of the open road, no longer held to whim of their bodies. Less accidents on the road caused by sleep deprived individuals. A safer, efficient, and happier world.
People are always going to say no, if you are truly up to the task you can push past those obstacles and lead the world with your new creations. This is how success is accomplished, and how full grown companies such as Delphi continue to innovate and push towards a better tomorrow, despite the negative setbacks. Continue with your idea, even if the road ahead is tough. No does not mean stop.
On May 29-31, we will be bringing together more than 125 hackers, designers, and hustlers from all different nationalities for the first-ever Immigration-themed Startup Weekend hackathon event, aka Startup Weekend IMMIGRATION.
The most frequent question we’ve gotten has been, “What kind of ideas will attendees work on?”
There are so many problematic areas of Immigration that could benefit from the talent and creativity of Silicon Valley. Not only that, Immigration in the US is such a minefield of complexity that it’s difficult to know much beyond your own unique situation, or that of your friends.
That’s why we’re providing this list of Immigration Startup Ideas. You definitely don’t have to work on an idea on this list – It’s mostly here to help stimulate you to think about all the different ways you can go about creating a more even playing field for immigrants. Our hope is that someone who’s been itching to work on an idea in one of these areas will consider attending our hackathon, but we’d also love for you to show up on Friday and surprise us with an idea we haven’t even thought of.
We’ve divided the list of potential ideas into 4 “life stages” of immigration, which closely mirror that of a startup. After all, immigrants and founders have more in common than you might think – Both refuse to accept the status quo, both are taking a risk that most other people aren’t willing (or able) to take, and both are ready to sacrifice everything to make their dream a reality.
Here is the list (we’ll add to it over time) of some areas we’re particularly interested in:
Aspiring immigrants overseas who are preparing to relocate to a new country in the near future
- Make Immigration Unnecessary : Thanks to the Internet and the evolution of the knowledge economy, it’s now more possible than ever to achieve “The American Dream” without actually being in America. (e.g. Teleport, REMOTE by 37 Signals, Blueseed)
- Pre-networking : Allow immigrants to build new personal and professional networks even before they arrive in their new country. Why should they have to wait until they’re physically there, to start getting to know people?
- Green Card Marriage : For “mixed nationality” couples, getting married is nowhere as celebratory as it should be, because of the US government’s high burden of proof regarding the authenticity of one’s marriage, in order for one’s spouse to get a green card. How could this process be made easier and more transparent, both for couples and for the government?
People who are currently in the process of immigrating and/or adjusting to their new country
- Redesign Old Processes : Immigration law and immigration applications are arguably more complex and nebulous than filing taxes. Simplify the complicated immigration process through great product design (e.g. Bridge US, Teleborder, U.S. Digital Service, FileRight, Clearpath)
- Assimiliation : Adjusting to a new geography, language, culture, and industry (even “high-skilled” immigrants often have to change occupations) is no easy task.
- “Immigrant Concierge” : Guide immigrants through unfamiliar new hurdles that most citizens take for granted i.e. taxes, insurance, healthcare, pension, 401k, driving license, etc.
- Access : Easier access to high-quality networks, resources, and information for underprivileged immigrants.
- Relationships : It can be extremely difficult for immigrants to make friends and even a romantic partner given language and cultural barriers.
People who are already here, call the US home, and want to stay, but aren’t able to do so
- Founders : Because of the extremely restricted nature of working visas (e.g. H-1B), entrepreneurial immigrants who want to start a company, create new jobs, and help grow the economy aren’t even able do so (e.g. Unshackled)
- Students : The US issues roughly 500,000 F-1 student visas per year, and yet the H-1B working visa cap is set at a mere 65,000 per year. The US is educating immigrants and then losing out on all their future gains and contributions.
- Forced to Leave : Unfortunately, many people who want to stay here will end up being forced to leave the country due to visa issues. In that case, how could a discouraged-but-not-defeated immigrant more easily evaluate their alternate international options besides their home country? (e.g. for tech hubs there’s Startup-Up Chile, Canada’s Start-up Visa, Startup Lithuania, etc.)
Immigrants (and descendents of immigrants) who have “made it” and want to pay it forward to other immigrants
- Strength in Numbers : The immigrant community is extremely fragmented. How can immigrants of all nationalities find common ground and consolidate their influence so they can’t be ignored by politicians?
- Urgency : Generally speaking, immigration reform is not a top priority for most politicians or for the average citizen/resident. What can be done to help people become more informed and care more about this issue? (e.g. FWD.us)
If you’d like to help solve some of these longstanding problems, join us on Friday May 29th at Galvanize SF and let’s bring back the American Dream, together.
Use the promo code “ISI” on the Eventbrite page to get 50% off the early bird price.
In May, EdWeek named Shauntel Poulson as one of the Nine People Who Will Shape Education in the Next 10 Years. We are proud to have Shauntel as a member of our Startup Education community as a Startup Weekend Education Oakland organizer and previously as a judge for the Startup Weekend Education San Francisco event.
Personalized learning models combine new technology with ongoing assessment, data use, and changes in how teachers use time and structure the school day, in order to create dramatically more personalized learning experiences for students. Shauntel Poulson is helping to shape this transition. As a principal with NewSchools Venture Fund (for which my Bellwether colleagues recently led a successful CEOsearch), Polson identifies and makes investments in technology companies and models that are at the cutting edge of developing new personalized learning models with the goal of dramatically improving outcomes for schools and students. A native of Denver, Poulson, 31, earned her degree in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as an engineer with Proctor & Gamble before earning masters degrees from Stanford in both business and education. She lives in Oakland, Calif.
What do you do as a principal with NewSchools Venture Fund? What types of portfolio investments do you focus on? What are you looking for in potential investments?
As a Principal at NewSchools I source potential investments, conduct due diligence, and provide management assistance for the Seed Fund. The Seed Fund makes investments in early-stage education technology companies that have the potential to transform K-12 teaching and learning. Currently we have a focus on classroom infrastructure, school infrastructure, digital content, special populations, and college, career and community.
I am looking for highly scalable solutions that will ultimately improve outcomes for students, especially those from underserved backgrounds. The founding team is critically important and I look for passion, scrappiness, and multi-disciplinary expertise in business, education, and technology. The venture must be solving a real pain point and have a unique technology, business model or approach. The venture’s market should be sizeable and growing and there should be evidence of success from early adopters or paying customers. Since we are a seed stage investor, I also look for financial sustainability and evaluate capital efficiency and the ability for the venture to attract follow-on funding.
How do you expect technology and personalized learning to impact education over the next 5-10 years?
I expect technology will continue to drive the shift from one-size-fits-all instruction to personalized instruction where curriculum is tailored to students’ individual needs and interests. The disaggregation of content will lead to more granular lessons that come in a variety of forms like games and from a variety of sources besides publishers. These lessons will be delivered through teachers equipped with tools to better assess students’ capabilities in real-time. Lessons will also be delivered through online platforms that adapt based on a student’s learning trajectory. Learning will happen anytime, anywhere and students will explore their own interests and passions through relevant, engaging material that stretches their thinking and prepares them for the workforce.
What are some of the potential opportunities?
As the world is becoming increasingly interconnected, there are more opportunities for students to learn from others around the world. Technology can facilitate more peer-to-peer collaboration where students become the experts and learn by teaching. The “protégé effect” suggests that students will work harder, reason better, and ultimately understand more by learning to teach someone else than they will when learning for themselves.
Another opportunity is to leverage technology to better engage parents in their children’s education. Right now school is a “black box” and technology platforms could improve teacher-parent communication and provide information and resources to help parents better support their children.
What are some of the challenges or pitfalls?
Too often classroom tools are not designed with teachers in mind and teachers don’t have sufficient support to implement new tools. We recently partnered with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation to pair entrepreneurs with teachers so that teachers can get direct support and entrepreneurs can think through classroom implementation and design teacher friendly products. EdSurge is also bringing together teachers and entrepreneurs in local Summit events where teachers demo products and provide immediate feedback.
Another challenge is measuring the ROI of education technology investments. One of our portfolio companies, BrightBytes, is helping schools better understand how technology is linked to student outcomes and is giving school leaders the tools to make data-based decisions about technology integration.
Why/how did you come to work in education?
Education was always a priority in my household growing up. My mother came from a low-income background and overcame countless barriers to obtain her doctorate and become a professor. She instilled in me a drive for academic achievement that would enable me to build a strong educational foundation.
I know not all children have been afforded the same opportunities as me or have had someone to instill in them a love for learning and a sense of empowerment. As a way to give back, I mentored and tutored students all throughout college and was a facilitator of an afterschool program while working in Cincinnati. It was in this role that I began to see first hand the disparities in education and the dire consequences of a flawed school system. I saw my students’ talent and potential going to waste, their spirits defeated, and their dreams shattered all because of where they lived.
Deep down I knew education was my calling and I decided to leave my job in Corporate America to pursue a career in education so that I could take a more active role in effecting change.
Before you joined NewSchools Venture Fund, you were an engineer. How does your background as an engineer impact your work or the way you view the education landscape? What advice would you give to others in the STEM fields who are interested in getting involved in education?
Engineers by definition are problem solvers and education has many complex problems to solve. I realize there is no silver bullet to improving the education system and that it requires a holistic approach of improving the different levers like curriculum, infrastructure, teachers, and leadership. I am also an innovator at heart and like trying new approaches and thinking beyond the constraints of the current education system.
I would encourage others in STEM fields to explore the variety of ways to use their skills in education, and to especially consider teaching as we are in dire need of more STEM talent in the classroom. One of NewSchools’ grantees, ElevatED, is working on recruiting college STEM majors into teaching as a way to meet the goal of increasing the number of excellent STEM teachers by 100k over the next decade.
There are also many ways for STEM professionals to get involved in education on a volunteer basis. We just funded a company called Nepris that enables STEM professionals to virtually connect to a classroom and discuss their work, provide project mentoring, and answer students’ questions.
My one piece of advice to STEM professionals considering education is to take the time to get grounded in the sector by learning about the existing structures, spending time in classrooms and talking to educators.
Who are some of your heroes/mentors/people you respect whose examples shape your work?
I have a deep respect for all teachers who work tirelessly to educate students and I am especially thankful for my high school chemistry teacher who sparked my interest in chemistry and inspired me to pursue a career in chemical engineering. I also admire the passionate, committed education entrepreneurs I work with everyday who show me that the powerful ideas of a few can impact the lives of millions.
My manager and mentor Jennifer Carolan is a pioneer in the field of edtech investing and brings an important perspective as a former educator. She continually teaches me how to evaluate potential investments and how to best support our companies. I also look to other edtech investors like Mitch Kapor who grounds the conversation in social impact for underrepresented communities and Matt Greenfield who reminds me to ask myself “does the world need this company?”
What do you hope to be doing 5-10 years from now? What do you hope to have accomplished?
In 5-10 years I hope to still be working on impacting the lives of students either as an investor or as an operator in education technology. I hope to have helped create an education ecosystem where students of all backgrounds get a quality education and reach self-actualization.
What interests do you have outside of work?
I stay active by doing boot camp, hiking, hip-hop dancing and running around the lake near my house. I also enjoy traveling and teaching a class of 4-5 year olds at my church. I love watching football and am an avid Denver Broncos fan.