Startup Weekend EDU has never been run by an educator. But now, a former teacher has taken the reins, and she’s brought a substantial classroom tactic with her: setting that Big Hairy Audacious Goal for her students (in this case, the SWEDU team) to achieve.
Director Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, a former middle school teacher and co-founder of Tioki (which was originally conceived at SWEDU), is clear about her goals for the organization’s expansion. In this entrepreneurial classroom of sorts, her hope is to nearly double the number of Startup Weekend EDU events from 14 in 2013 to 26 by the end of 2014--and continue to grow that number.
However, whether SWEDU can sustainably handle the quick scaling remains to be seen. No pressure, right?
After former SWEDU head Khalid Smith left in December 2012 to pursue his own startup, the director post went unmanned for nearly eight months. “Khalid built the buzz behind it,” Schumacher-Hodge says, “and after he left, the fire started to dwindle.” But this Friday through Sunday, Startup Weekend EDU travels to Seattle and San Francisco under Schumacher-Hodge’s leadership.
These events mark the start of what Schumacher-Hodge hopes will be a new sort of SWEDU: a catalyst not just for pitching wild ideas, but for solving problems in the education space with (believe it or not) entrepreneurs and educators involved in that process.
“There is definitely a huge discrepancy between who's building products, and who the products are for. We want to include educators in the process,” she explains.
But we’re not talking any small catalyst; the call for scaling is significant, especially given that “dim fire” of the last eight months. Schumacher-Hodge imagines that these events will likely reach six continents (Antarctica, we know you don’t want to miss out) and move beyond the typical 60-80 participants typical of SWEDU events. In fact, the New York SWEDU scheduled for January 31 next year is already reporting an expected turnout of 400 attendees--and it isn’t even December yet.
Goal-wise, these are strong numbers and admirable themes to shoot for. Implementation-wise, the potential seems questionable. How can one scale a program so quickly that is (1) still in its relative infancy, and (2) requires a fair amount of manpower and money to run?
Schumacher-Hodge’s strategy is twofold.
First, SWEDU will continue to be spearheaded and run by local volunteers under the guidance of Regional Managers, ensuring that hiring costs don’t run high. “A lot of events come organically… people are curious about the space,” Schumacher-Hodge says, leading to large numbers of volunteer eager to sign up or propose a SWEDU event.
Next, Schumacher-Hodge plans to host activities other than SWEDU’s typical events to engage a broader audience. She hopes to launch meetups and bootcamps for developers to learn about the specifics of a K-12 environment. Further down the line, she may even host an annual SWEDU Summit to bring together past entrepreneurs who have launched products following SWEDU events.
“We want to make sure we’re marketing this correctly to educators. For initial focus, we’re focused on educating the teachers themselves,” Schumacher-Hodge explains. “However, we’re also educating the designers and developers.”
And in terms of cash and support, having friends in high places always helps. Cases in point: SWEDU receives a large chunk of funding from the Gates Foundation, while on the partnership side, NewSchools Venture Fund will help run SWEDU in Oakland on February 21.
SWEDU’s scaling fate and potential for success remains to be seen, especially because the team has not systematically tracked the progress of products and companies developed at its events. (“We will be tracking going forward,” Schumacher-Hodge says). But one thing is for sure, she says. At the end of the day, the most important aspect of her role isn’t to increase the numbers; it’s to bring all potential ed-space stakeholders into the same room to collaborate on K-12 and higher education solutions.
“People have to start talking to each other,” Schumacher-Hodge stresses. “I'm going to bring people together to rethink school systems.”
Interested in becoming a part of the action? Be sure to stay on top of Schumacher-Hodge’s blog updates, as the Startup Weekend EDU site is currently being built and is not set to launch until the end of December. Or, check out the current list of future SWEDU events below!
Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to reflect recent developments with UP Global, Startup Weekend, and Startup Weekend EDU.