Learning to Start An Edtech Company By Going to Kindergarten

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Like so many American parents, Jinal Jhaveri and Forum Desai figured they would learn a lot when they applied for a spot in an Oakland, CA kindergarten for their daughter. What they hadn't counted on was that their education would involve plowing through a mountain of paperwork — using pen and paper.

A year later, Jhaveri and Desai not only have a daughter happily enrolled in kindergarten but they are running SchoolMint, a fledgling edtech company whose software makes it possible for schools to let parents enroll students via the web. And even though their company is young, it is already making a big impact 3,000 miles away as families in Philadelphia started using the software in November to enroll their children in traditional public, charter or parochial schools in the city.

SchoolMint was one of 13 startups that "graduated" in January from an edtech incubator, Imagine K12. (For a run down of the other dozen edtech companies, check out this piece.) 

Over the past three years, several hundred edtech startup companies have popped up, doing everything from delivering digital curriculum via the web, to helping students research or present information or helping teachers run their classroom. A few, like SchoolMint, are trying bridging the gap between families and schools.

A compelling hallmark of SchoolMint is that the founders brought a personal understanding of the problem and rich experience in solving it.

A year ago, as Jhaveri and Desai eyed the paper forms needed to apply for kindergarten, they knew that there could be a better way.

The tech-savvy couple's San Francisco web-design firm, Log(n), had already been hired by charter schools Rocketship and Great Hearts Academy to build an online system for managing applications.

But custom-built tools can easily cost more than $100,000.

Jhaveri and Desai figured they could take their design experience — and the brains of their 45-person web development firm — and create an easy-to-use tool for any school. They expect the eventual cost for the program will be less than $5,000 per year for a school.

There have been surprisingly few alternatives. On the top of the list: infosnap in Bethesda, Md., started in 2000, also lets parents register their children for school via the web. But SchoolMint has the look and feel of contemporary consumer products.

In about a year's time, the SchoolMint team prototyped a portal site where parents can submit school applications and that schools could even use to conduct admissions lotteries. School leaders in Philadelphia, who are working on whether all parents in that city will be able to choose which schools their children will attend, signed up SchoolMint to power PhillySchoolAPP.org.

The site, which went live in November, lets parents put in their children's names for any traditional public, charter or parochial school in the Philadelphia district. (Parents can also still use paper forms if they so choose.)

"Schools shouldn't have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to create this kind of system for themselves," Jhaveri says.

And parents shouldn't worry about losing paperwork as they get their kids to school. 

Editor's Note: This story originally ran in USA Today

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