A Teacher Walks Into a Demo Day

Review | Events

A Teacher Walks Into a Demo Day

A teacher's thoughts on startups from the first Kaplan Edtech Accelerator

By Marisa Busch     Sep 11, 2013

A Teacher Walks Into a Demo Day

This past February, Kaplan, Inc. announced the launch of the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, powered by Techstars. Based in NYC, the three-month program provides companies with funding, mentorship, co-working space and a solid network to support them in building a successful education company.

Today, the accelerator held it’s inaugural class demo day (think graduation meets show-and-tell) at New York City’s IAC headquarters, featuring ten new technology companies focused on education. Here are the ten presenting companies, which fall into three categories:

I was seated next to VentureBeat reporter Devindra Hardawar, who offers concise descriptions of the startups here. But while most of the audience members were viewing the pitches for business models and growth rates, I was looking for something else: which ones would I actually use?

The accelerator targeted companies building solutions for formal and informal learning, which meant that only a handful of the ten tools were designed specifically for the classroom. Here are the ones that are most relevant to my practice.

Tools Designed with Teachers in Mind

As an instructional coach, I work with K-8 teachers in classrooms across New York City, so I’m always on the lookout for tools that will strengthen pedagogical practices and support efficiency for my teachers, and for companies that hold the whole child at the center of their mission.

  • Newsela: Newsela’s seeks to personalize literacy by providing high quality nonfiction texts at multiple levels of text complexity. As a literacy coach, it is so challenging to find quality informational texts and once I find them, differentiating them manually is incredibly time consuming. Newsela is trying to solve that problem. The news articles are high quality and one click allows a teacher to modify a text to multiple levels.
  • Mathify: Mathify, formerly called Playpower Labs, partners with textbook publishers to reinvent and gamify math curriculum with engagement and interest as the focus. It's currently in private beta but teachers can participate by clicking here and submitting their email. Some of Mathify’s games are also available on Fraction Planet.
  • ModernGuild: This company is tackling career readiness for high school and college students through online courses and mentoring. High school guidance counselors and teachers looking to support students in career readiness will find this useful.

    During ModernGuild’s pitch, the speaker invited a student and ModernGuild alumni, Sam Zuckert, to introduce CEO Adrien Fraise. Zuckert's introduction was confident and engaging, which was a stark difference when compared to his awkward elevator pitch with his ModernGuild career mentor earlier in the year, which was filmed and shared. It's clear that Zuckert's confidence with public speaking has evolved with the program.
  • Ranku: Ranku has created a simple-to-use rating system for online degrees. High school guidance counselors and teachers looking to guide students throughout the college search and application process. Not to mention, many of the teachers I work with consider going back to school, but the time commitment poses as an obstacle. Often, they decide to look at online degrees, but figuring out which one is the most affordable and the best quality is a daunting process. Ranku aims to make that easier.

It is exciting to take part in events where companies get to showcase their hard work, and it was certainly an honor to be among the first educators to see these tools. I look forward to following their progress after they wrap their time in the accelerator.

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