Community

Milken-Penn GSE Competition Roundup

By Katrina Stevens     May 7, 2013

Milken-Penn GSE Competition Roundup

Women dominated at this year’s Milken-Penn GSE Business Plan Competition summit in Philadelphia.

Forstarters, the event was the first one led by executive director ofacademic innovation, Barbara “Bobbi” Kurshan, formerly the executivedirector of nonprofit Curriki. Kurshan knows what entrepreneurswant--funds and networking support--but is aiming  to provide thosecarrots in an atmosphere that stresses the importance of academicresearch.

OnWednesday morning, Kurshan planned to unveil what she calls an“Education Design Studio Fund” (EDSF) program, a sort of edtechincubator and investment fund that is built on collaboration betweenPenn GSE, several corporate supporters and a host of venturecapitalists. The EDSF plans to soon start accepting applications for acohort slated to begin August 1.

And then there was this year’s competition:10 companies, eight of which were led by women, competed for $145,000in seven prizes. Those prizes, which will be awarded later on Wednesday,will be worth between $10,000 and $25,000 apiece, making theMilken-Penn competition the richest competition for edtech startups. (Check out specific prize categories here.)  

Eachfinalist had about 15 minutes to present and answer Q&A, a welcomechange of pace from the 3-minute “elevator” pitches that often dominatesuch events.

Crowded Spaces

Many finalists are trying to break into increasingly crowded spaces. For example, the judges immediately asked Scrible how it differentiated itself from competitors like Evernote, EasyBib and Citelighter(a Day 2 panelist). Scrible’s Victor Karkar contended that hisservice’s annotation features and execution distinguish the product fromothers.

Edfolio,a startup that aims to have a beta out in a few weeks, directs jobcandidates to recommended courses to fill in skill gaps for the jobsthey want and then connects them to potential employers--anothercrowded, albeit needed, service offering. 

Gingkotree,which launched its beta in October 2012, allows instructors to buildonline curriculum from any resource--either OER or not--complete withautomated copyright clearance and digital sourcing. 

Keep ‘em in School

Two finalists tackled attrition in different ways: Persistence Plus “nudges” students to do what it takes to get through school (think WeightWatchers meets your homework). AspirEDUtakes an approach like online risk credit analysis, crunching throughdata on online students to create a red-green-yellow light signal onwhich students aren’t meeting expectations so counselors can reach outquickly. AspirEDU’s main challenge may be how to prevent other companiesfrom simply adding a similar algorithm to existing products.

Narrow Pain Points, Pragmatic Solutions

In a panel discussion, RenaissanceLearning founder, Jack Lynch,argued that successful edtech companies focus on a narrow pain pointand provide a pragmatic solution. Similarly ImagineK12 founder GeoffRalston advocates founders focusing on something they care aboutpassionately and then building. Autism Expressedappears to fit these descriptions. Michelle Keone has developed a trulyunique program that teaches social media literacy to students withautism, helping them learn to use digital tools. Autism Expressed’scurriculum could easily be adjusted to help ELL students learn similarskills, she proposed. 

When Marjan Ghara invited her two BiblioNasium“cofounders,” her two elementary school children, on stage with her,Ghara’s son explained that when he gets more Biblio prizes than hisfriends, he can brag about how many books he’s read. BiblioNasium,which has been a hit with librarians, appears to be filling a particularneed for a COPPA-compliant, safe space to crowdsource readingrecommendations for K8.

If awarded funds, BYKids plans to develop curriculum around the four student-created filmsthey’ve produced over the past five years. BYkids want to bring aglobal perspective to American classrooms through videos produced bychildren in other parts of the world.

Raising Money for College and Training

Raise Labs,a company that got its start in the ImagineK12 accelerator, has raised$30 million that it aims to award in micro-scholarships to studentsthroughout their high school years to both motivate them to get throughschool and to help them pay for college. UpSkill Capitalis launching a pilot in India where they will lend workers relativelysmall amounts of money for job training that will increase theirearnings six fold within six months.

Where Are We Headed?

Dialogueabout where education is headed--and the role research should play--wasbrisk. (EdSurge’s Betsy Corcoran moderated the event.) 

Evenas ImagineK12 cofounder Geoff Ralston has seen a surge in capital foredtech, for example, he isn’t certain how long it will last. Connections Education cofounder, Mickey Revenaugh, who was beamed intothe Philadelphia conference from her spot on stage at the ongoing San Francisco SIIA conference,argued that the real fragility in the ecosystem is less about edtechand really about how fragile our schools are both individually andcollectively.

TorchLytle, former Trenton Public Schools superintendent and current facultyat Penn GSE, believes we’re in the process of “de-schooling schooling,”moving away from traditional diplomas and degrees towards a set ofbadges that represent competencies.

Lord David Puttnam, Chancellor ofthe UK Open University, who also beamed in via a video conference linkfrom the UK, described how he feels the education world is at asignificant inflection point. He pointed to the skyrocketing usage ofBritain’s TES, a site where teachers are sharing and seeking lessons. (TES is affiliated in the US with ShareMyLesson.)Some 84% of UK teachers downloaded resources from TES last year, hesaid. And just last year, teachers (from the UK and elsewhere) used 130million TES resources, he added.

ADDENDUM: 

At the conclusion of the Milken-UPenn business plan competition, $145K was awarded in prize money to entrepreneurs. Here's who got what:

  • Raise Labs (Preston Silverman and George Kirkland/San Francisco, Imagine K12 alumni) won the Milken Family Foundation First Prize ($25,000), the Startl Prize for Open Educational Resources ($25,000) and the K12 Prize for Online Learning in Grades K-12 ($25,000).
  • Persistence Plus (Jill Frankfort and Dr. Kenny Salim/Boston) won both the Milken Family Foundation Second Prize ($15,000) as well as the American Public University System Prize for Innovation in Online Education ($25,000).
  • Autism Expressed (Michele McKeone/Philadelphia) garnered the Educational Services of America Prize for Innovation in the Fields of Special Education and At-Risk Students ($20,000)
  • BiblioNasium (Marjan Ghara and Adele Schwartz/New York) earned the Erudient Education Prize for Innovation in Borderless Education ($10,000)

Two of the judges also said they would contribute $10,000 to sponsor Indian students served by UpSkill Capital.




Community

Milken-Penn GSE Competition Roundup

By Katrina Stevens     May 7, 2013

Milken-Penn GSE Competition Roundup

Women dominated at this year’s Milken-Penn GSE Business Plan Competition summit in Philadelphia.

Forstarters, the event was the first one led by executive director ofacademic innovation, Barbara “Bobbi” Kurshan, formerly the executivedirector of nonprofit Curriki. Kurshan knows what entrepreneurswant--funds and networking support--but is aiming  to provide thosecarrots in an atmosphere that stresses the importance of academicresearch.

OnWednesday morning, Kurshan planned to unveil what she calls an“Education Design Studio Fund” (EDSF) program, a sort of edtechincubator and investment fund that is built on collaboration betweenPenn GSE, several corporate supporters and a host of venturecapitalists. The EDSF plans to soon start accepting applications for acohort slated to begin August 1.

And then there was this year’s competition:10 companies, eight of which were led by women, competed for $145,000in seven prizes. Those prizes, which will be awarded later on Wednesday,will be worth between $10,000 and $25,000 apiece, making theMilken-Penn competition the richest competition for edtech startups. (Check out specific prize categories here.)  

Eachfinalist had about 15 minutes to present and answer Q&A, a welcomechange of pace from the 3-minute “elevator” pitches that often dominatesuch events.

Crowded Spaces

Many finalists are trying to break into increasingly crowded spaces. For example, the judges immediately asked Scrible how it differentiated itself from competitors like Evernote, EasyBib and Citelighter(a Day 2 panelist). Scrible’s Victor Karkar contended that hisservice’s annotation features and execution distinguish the product fromothers.

Edfolio,a startup that aims to have a beta out in a few weeks, directs jobcandidates to recommended courses to fill in skill gaps for the jobsthey want and then connects them to potential employers--anothercrowded, albeit needed, service offering. 

Gingkotree,which launched its beta in October 2012, allows instructors to buildonline curriculum from any resource--either OER or not--complete withautomated copyright clearance and digital sourcing. 

Keep ‘em in School

Two finalists tackled attrition in different ways: Persistence Plus “nudges” students to do what it takes to get through school (think WeightWatchers meets your homework). AspirEDUtakes an approach like online risk credit analysis, crunching throughdata on online students to create a red-green-yellow light signal onwhich students aren’t meeting expectations so counselors can reach outquickly. AspirEDU’s main challenge may be how to prevent other companiesfrom simply adding a similar algorithm to existing products.

Narrow Pain Points, Pragmatic Solutions

In a panel discussion, RenaissanceLearning founder, Jack Lynch,argued that successful edtech companies focus on a narrow pain pointand provide a pragmatic solution. Similarly ImagineK12 founder GeoffRalston advocates founders focusing on something they care aboutpassionately and then building. Autism Expressedappears to fit these descriptions. Michelle Keone has developed a trulyunique program that teaches social media literacy to students withautism, helping them learn to use digital tools. Autism Expressed’scurriculum could easily be adjusted to help ELL students learn similarskills, she proposed. 

When Marjan Ghara invited her two BiblioNasium“cofounders,” her two elementary school children, on stage with her,Ghara’s son explained that when he gets more Biblio prizes than hisfriends, he can brag about how many books he’s read. BiblioNasium,which has been a hit with librarians, appears to be filling a particularneed for a COPPA-compliant, safe space to crowdsource readingrecommendations for K8.

If awarded funds, BYKids plans to develop curriculum around the four student-created filmsthey’ve produced over the past five years. BYkids want to bring aglobal perspective to American classrooms through videos produced bychildren in other parts of the world.

Raising Money for College and Training

Raise Labs,a company that got its start in the ImagineK12 accelerator, has raised$30 million that it aims to award in micro-scholarships to studentsthroughout their high school years to both motivate them to get throughschool and to help them pay for college. UpSkill Capitalis launching a pilot in India where they will lend workers relativelysmall amounts of money for job training that will increase theirearnings six fold within six months.

Where Are We Headed?

Dialogueabout where education is headed--and the role research should play--wasbrisk. (EdSurge’s Betsy Corcoran moderated the event.) 

Evenas ImagineK12 cofounder Geoff Ralston has seen a surge in capital foredtech, for example, he isn’t certain how long it will last. Connections Education cofounder, Mickey Revenaugh, who was beamed intothe Philadelphia conference from her spot on stage at the ongoing San Francisco SIIA conference,argued that the real fragility in the ecosystem is less about edtechand really about how fragile our schools are both individually andcollectively.

TorchLytle, former Trenton Public Schools superintendent and current facultyat Penn GSE, believes we’re in the process of “de-schooling schooling,”moving away from traditional diplomas and degrees towards a set ofbadges that represent competencies.

Lord David Puttnam, Chancellor ofthe UK Open University, who also beamed in via a video conference linkfrom the UK, described how he feels the education world is at asignificant inflection point. He pointed to the skyrocketing usage ofBritain’s TES, a site where teachers are sharing and seeking lessons. (TES is affiliated in the US with ShareMyLesson.)Some 84% of UK teachers downloaded resources from TES last year, hesaid. And just last year, teachers (from the UK and elsewhere) used 130million TES resources, he added.

ADDENDUM: 

At the conclusion of the Milken-UPenn business plan competition, $145K was awarded in prize money to entrepreneurs. Here's who got what:

  • Raise Labs (Preston Silverman and George Kirkland/San Francisco, Imagine K12 alumni) won the Milken Family Foundation First Prize ($25,000), the Startl Prize for Open Educational Resources ($25,000) and the K12 Prize for Online Learning in Grades K-12 ($25,000).
  • Persistence Plus (Jill Frankfort and Dr. Kenny Salim/Boston) won both the Milken Family Foundation Second Prize ($15,000) as well as the American Public University System Prize for Innovation in Online Education ($25,000).
  • Autism Expressed (Michele McKeone/Philadelphia) garnered the Educational Services of America Prize for Innovation in the Fields of Special Education and At-Risk Students ($20,000)
  • BiblioNasium (Marjan Ghara and Adele Schwartz/New York) earned the Erudient Education Prize for Innovation in Borderless Education ($10,000)

Two of the judges also said they would contribute $10,000 to sponsor Indian students served by UpSkill Capital.




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