Imagine K12 Unveils Fourth Cohort

Imagine K12 Unveils Fourth Cohort

Henry Lien

Imagine K12’s fourth demo day was, coincidentally, also its second birthday. To celebrate the Terrible (Terrific!) Twos, nine startups presented to a room of over a hundred investors and entrepreneurs. (By show of hands, it appeared that 30% were first-timers at the event.)

Tim Brady, co-founder and partner, kicked things off with three outstanding trends in the past six months:

  • Despite the “unabated” growth of MOOCs, many infrastructure issues concerning online instruction still remain. And with Coursera now offering PD classes for K-12 educators, we're starting to see innovations from higher-ed trickle down.
  • iPads still dominate, with Apple boasting 8 million devices in classrooms at last count. But Android platforms are expected to outsell iPads in 2013.
  • Rise of distribution platforms that make it easier to deliver and access content.

His partner-in-crime, Geoff Ralston, gave us the latest count on how IK12 companies have fared:

  • Across its 39 companies, 15% of the 70+ founders are women. Nine companies are founded abroad.
  • Over 25 million teachers and students around the world are using tools built by Imagine K12 companies.
  • Imagine K12 companies have raised over $30 million in capital.

Here's a rundown of the nine startups now unleashed into the wild world of the edtech marketplace:

Plickers: Mobile clickers are all the rage, but they presume one thing: that students will either have mobile devices, or the schools will actually allow them in use. Enter former teacher, Nolan Amy, with a simple, low-tech solution. Give students a physical card with a unique QR code, with each of the four sides representing a different response (A-B-C-D). When the teacher prompts the class with a question, students raise their card in front of a class camera (which can be a webcam or mobile device) that records the responses onto a teacher dashboard. It’s “data collection solved for every classroom that only has one device,” says Amy. He is currently offering the app for free, with the data analytics for $50 per year per class.

Padlet: Founder Nitesh Goel has a bold vision: to become “the easiest way to put stuff on the Web.” Its elegance lies in its simplicity: drag and drop anything from your desktop or the Web onto a blank canvas--text, video, images. Teachers, students--anyone, really--can contribute and collaborate on the same space. Goel claims already over 300K monthly active users across 197 countries, and over 1 million padlets created for education. “When something that is so simple has so much growth, it means it is solving a fundamental problem.” Padlet has premium features for $50 a year, which will include vanity URLs, larger file uploads, and privacy controls.

MommaZoo: Busy moms have tough time keeping up with school activities for their kids, even though they're the volunteering and fundraising arm of every school. So developer Matthieu Riou and ex-US naval officer Catheryne Nicholson, a mother of two, built MommaZoo--a mobile-based social network connecting busy moms. On MommaZoo, moms and teachers can share messages and photos, post updates for classes and groups, and create sign-up lists for volunteering. The product focuses on classroom-specific features and mobile experience to compete with services like SignUpGenius and VolunteerSpot. "Schools want money or volunteering from moms," Nicholson says, "and moms care about what's happening in schools." Currently, half of the registered users visit the site every day. MommaZoo plans to monetize through mobile ads and recommendations of local services such as music lessons for kids.

ReadSpin: Reading proficiency is a key indicator of a student's success, and many American middle and high schools struggle with it. ReadSpin co-founders Habib Moody and Tyler Borek believe that students are tired of reading stale content, which can also be expensive for parents and schools. With ReadSpin, they aim to turn students into better readers by providing fresh and enticing reading materials online. Students first pick their interests (like sports and movies), and ReadSpin crawls the web to find articles that fit their taste. They can annotate the article and answer questions such as identifying main ideas. Then students move onto the next article based on ReadSpin's custom recommendation algorithm, much like Pandora. All of the students' performances are recorded on a secure dashboard, accessible by teachers and parents. Soon to launch publicly, ReadSpin initially plans to target special needs students. co-founders Arnaud Breton and Clement Delangue are giving MOOC-ers a hand by bringing a little context to the chaos of taking notes while watching video. The product automatically syncs a user's note taking with a video's timeline and stores these notes on Google Drive where they can be shared. Later, the user can click on his notes and the video will jump to the point in the timeline when the notes were typed. Developed in just seven weeks, the product touts itself as the "fastest growing note taking app." connects to all major MOOC and online video platforms.

TinkerTags: We first got a chance to talk to Mo Akade and Michael Duong at the 2012 Stanford LDT Expo, where they showed us an early iteration of TinkerTags--light up shoes that users could program using a Scratch-like interface. The product has since evolved into a 2" x 2" matrix of LED lights that kids can clip onto their clothes, backpacks, or wear as necklaces. The team has also created a platform where users can code together at the same time and share tags with other. Social, tangible code, with lights? It's the kind of L.A. Gear shoes-on-steroids concept that we would have loved as kids.

Showbie aims to become “the missing link in the paperless classroom.” With 8M iPads in schools and counting, the slick iOS app is an assignment manager of sorts that allows teachers to assign and provide feedback (via an in-app markup tool) on student works created through other iPad productivity apps. The big idea is to eliminate the hassle that comes with submitting digital assignments via email or cloud storage. To-date, Showbie boasts 60K users in 3500 1:1 iPad classrooms. A free individual teacher account supports an unlimited number of classes and students, 100 active assignments, and file sizes up to 100MB.

121Writing (pronounced 1-to-1 writing) allows educators to provide feedback on writing assignments via audio recording. Simply highlight a text selection, hit record, and leave feedback. Students can come behind and listen at their leisure. Even better -- tag the highlighted text with any number of keywords (think: ‘spelling’ or perhaps ‘CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.8’) that can then be tracked in a mastery-based rubric. The research-grounded design is impressive; whether or not teachers change their pen-stroking ways remains to be seen. One promising application for the self-proclaimed “Google Analytics for writing” is in language learning where writing can be especially difficult.

Accredible provides a portfolio management tool to build a set of trustworthy credentials from MOOCs, open educational resources, and other digital achievements. With the addition of 98M college students expected over the next 12 years, Accredible hopes to provide a recruitment portal for talented students and adults who lack access to traditional brick-and-mortar institutions like colleges and vocational schools. The ‘credible’ in Accredible is based upon three key features: 1) a robust identity verification tool, 2) the ability to upload specific MOOC assignments or personal projects, and 3) reputation building through endorsements from coursemates and MOOC professors.

EdSurge's Kris Hattori, Leonard Medlock, and Shu Uesugi contributed the company profiles.

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