Over 140 of Toronto’s brightest converged on The Working Group’s offices this past weekend for Canada’s inaugural Startup Weekend EDU. Though Chris Eben and Holly Knowlman, partner and marketing manager at The Working Group respectively, and fellow organizers, Joe Wilson, Heather Simmonds, Arati Sharma, and Sunil Sharma have organized multiple previous Startup Weekend events, this was the first time the community spent 54 hours tackling the challenges faced by those in the education space, many of which are similar to problems faced by educators south of the Canadian border: communicating with parents for whom English is not the first language, increasing parent engagement, identifying skills learned outside a traditional classroom, student debt and student access to higher education funding. (Click here for a complete list of the teams.)
The winning team, LearningLoop, built an online platform that allows educators and parents to share information and photos of students. Learning Loop nailed its customer validation when they ran a Sunday morning popup daycare program with three early education experts teaching eleven youngsters while simultaneously running a focus group inside with the parents. Founder Alison Gibbins, shared that she “hustled to get the right people on our team and it worked! Everyone on the team all had their hearts in the right places to improve education and I now feel like I’ve known them for years."
Parents: would you like pictures of your young child engaged at school sent to your phone? The judges thought you would and awarded services and support worth over $20,000.
The second place team, SmartyPants, created an app that locks specific gaming apps and can only be unlocked by students answering skill-testing questions. Want to play Angry Birds? Answer these math problems first before you can unlock the app. The team is considering allowing students to bank minutes throughout the day to earn minutes to play their chosen games later. How many of you have seen a small child reach for a parent’s mobile device to play games as soon as they enter the home?
The third place team, Fieldr, allows users to discover unique, local, affordable field trip experiences that are matched to achieve their specific curriculum requirements. As education continues to connect student learning with the outside world, we may see students taking more field trips beyond the tradition trip to the museum. In addition to suggesting novel field trip ideas, Fieldr also takes much of the time consuming burden associated with field trip planning off the overflowing plates of teachers.
One of the handful of high school students, David Wang, eloquently expressed the experiential nature of Startup Weekend when he shared with the group that he learned to “fail fast” over the weekend. Friday night he was excited that his pitch inspired the formation of a team; by Saturday afternoon, it became clear that his idea to incentivize MOOC participants was not being validated by customers. In fact, the opposite was true. Though the team disbanded, David didn’t give up. He started thinking through how to test his next idea. Clearly an entrepreneur in the making!
Other members of Wang’s team created Legos for Logos in their remaining time. Need your company logo rendered in Legos? Need your brand bricked? Contact Jonathan Buccella and Michael Cengarle--they already have several orders! They might not impact education, but they did entertain the audience.