What Happens When 70 Entrepreneurs Gather in Austin to Innovate on Education?

To say that the first ever Startup Weekend Education event to be held in Austin was a smashing success would be a total understatement. The energy from participants, the support from the community and the high caliber of execution of ideas on the part of all of the teams involved really sets the bar high for our first go at a SWEdu event in Austin. Setting the bar high, of course, is a really good thing. We’ve come to expect nothing less from the edtech community here in Austin, and the students who count on us deserve our collective efforts. That said, let’s recap this first awesome weekend of pitching ideas, forming teams, consuming lots of caffeine, working through the night, drinking some more caffeine, practicing said pitches again, and again, and again and of course, presenting those pitches to our rather impressive panel of judges.

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Brian Lukoff, Program Director of Learning Catalytics for Pearson.


To kick things off, Brian Lukoff, Program Director for Learning Catalytics at Pearson, spoke to our group about his experience in education and the process of creating a startup. He shared some extremely valuable insights with our soon-to-be startups, including:

  • Find the right people – make sure that you “click”
  • Eat your own dog food and iterate often (in other words, be your own customer)
  • Don’t forget your educational (not business) goal
  • And last, but certainly not least, don’t leave Austin

After our opening speaker, participants pitched their initial ideas that would provide the framework for the whole weekend. We had over 30 participants pitch an idea, but only 12 of them made the final cut. It’s said that the initial idea becomes only a small part of the eventual team and startup, and this weekend certainly proved that to be true. Teams formed around 10 of these ideas, and before the weekend was finished, only nine teams remained. Nine OUTSTANDING teams, that is.  Here’s a look at some of the teams in action:

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Jake Nathan, our youngest participant at 16, pitches his idea that would eventually become “FeedBack Now.”

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After hours of hard work overnight and during the morning Saturday, coaches arrived on Saturday afternoon to offer tips and advice to help steer teams in the right direction. We had representative from various sectors relevant to our startups, including developers, marketing professionals, designers, and of course, educators. The teams, working nearly non-stop, continued to develop logos, websites, mobile apps and back-end services in order to present working models of their proposed solutions to the challenges they sought to tackle.

Photos courtesy Holp Photography.

Photos courtesy Holp Photography.

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Scott Lipton, left, talks with Ryan Lynch, right.

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By Sunday, teams ratcheted up their efforts toward the final phase of the weekend: judging. Our judges represented some of the most prominent organizations in Austin from education-specific companies to investment firms, with nearly everything in between. To put some more context around our esteemed judging panel, Charles Thornburgh, Founder and CEO of Civitas Learning, is listed on “16 People Changing the Landscape of Online Education Forever” by Find Education Online. Nancy Giordano, another star of our judging panel, is the founder of TEDxAustin, among her many accomplishments. Clearly, our participant teams had to bring their A-game in order to impress our judges. When all was said and done, the judges were more than impressed with the assembled talent and collective hard work.  Here are some of the highlights of the final pitches:

Gavin kicks things off before teams deliver pitches.

Gavin kicks things off before teams deliver pitches.

Judges consider all of the pitches before tallying scores.

Judges consider all of the pitches before tallying scores.

Clifford Chiu helped drive conversations from the judges to participants.

Clifford Chiu helped drive conversations from the judges to participants.

Alyssa presents with her team.

Alyssa presents with her team.

Photos courtesy of Holp Photography.

Photos courtesy of Holp Photography.

Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography.

Catherine Greenlaw weighs in during team pitches.

Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography.

Charles Thornburgh, Civitas Learning.

Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography.

Christa Clark of 401Kids presents their startup.

Photos courtesy of Holp Photography. Photos courtesy of Holp Photography.

Judges deliberated in the “secret conference room” at the Capital Factory (don’t even think about asking us to divulge the secret location…):

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Ultimately,  three teams were selected to represent our first event as the front-runners, but all of the teams should be commended. Here’s a run down of winners, participants and prizes, courtesy of Ed Valdez of Technorati (see his piece here):

  1. 401 Kids: With 7 out of 10 college students graduating with debt (over $1 trillion of collective debt in the US) and more states requiring financial literacy in order to graduate high school, this service teaches the financial seeds of success to students who range from six to thirteen years old.
  2. OnBoard: This service allows HigherEd educators and students to connect with non-profit companies who need marketing/communications projects completed at a cost that is significantly lower than market rate while enabling students to receive course credit for their completed projects by solving real-world problems.
  3. BookAround: A gamification platform that enables students to upload 20-second videos that are book reviews/commentaries that they share with their peers to motivate them to read more and have fun in the process.

Other team participants included Evalumate, Curriculine, Language Links, Digit.com, Hogwarts Education and Feedback Now, the latter of which has a 16-year-old Jake Nathan as “co-founder” of a team that built a mobile app to help students ask questions in class in an anonymous way without having to feel “stupid” or uncomfortable (see video, courtesy of KXAN-TV).

Thanks to the donations of several sponsors, 401 Kids, the overall winner, will receive:

  • $1000 hosting credit from Rackspace;
  • One-year subscription to Foundersuite;
  • A Playlab demo space at the Thinkery (Children’s Museum in Austin);
  • $1200 off of an immersive course from Makersquare;
  • A team demo at EdTech Austin; and
  • Invitation to join the Capital Factory (last, but not least).

Special thanks to all of our sponsors and organizers for making this weekend possible! First, thanks to Mike Holp of Holp Photography. Check him out here, and be sure to book him for your next event! We’d especially like to thank our gold and platinum sponsors Capital FactoryMakerSquare and Pearson who helped make this event possible! See all of our sponsors, coaches and judges here: http://austinedu.startupweekend.org/

We’ve got a few great events in the works for the upcoming months before SXSWEdu. We may even have time to squeeze in another Startup Weekend Education, so stay tuned, y’all!




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