Dave Vasen has seen quite a few bright ideas in education, after working as director of strategy at Teach For America, bringing Kindle to the K-12 space at Amazon, and leading product development at AltSchool. But it wasn’t until he had a daughter that he thought something was missing.
“It’s really hard being away from your little human being all day, wherever they go—and those eight, sometimes 10 hours a day of daycare are a black box, in terms of how you can be involved in their developments,” explains Vasen, founder and CEO of Brightwheel.
Vasen started Brightwheel as a platform for sharing the activities of the preK classroom with families. Today, the San Francisco startup has raised $2.2 million in a seed round led by RRE Ventures and Eniac Ventures, with participation from CrossLink Capital, Golden Venture Partners, Red Swan Ventures, and Sherpa Ventures.
“Brightwheel enables connection both to your child and your child’s education in these early years,” says Vasen. Using the mobile platform, parents and families can see a real-time feed of photos and events during the school day, and preschools and daycares can streamline online billing of families and student check-in.
Vasen says that the preK space has needs unique from those in K-12, which Brightwheel hopes to meet. “By law, you have to check kids in and out every day when parents drop them off and pick them up,” he tells EdSurge. “On Brightwheel, parents can check a child in on a school’s iPad, by tapping their child’s face and entering a PIN.”
Since launching a pilot in fall 2015, Brightwheel has intentionally stayed small to get feedback, used by schools in over 30 states, as well as Australia, Canada, and the UK. The platform is currently free for all users, but Vasen plans to offer a premium version with a monthly fee to schools by 2016.
Vasen hopes schools will move away from the traditional, pen-and-paper methods of recording attendance and billing. “We strongly believe that moving to our system is much more secure than a ton of scattered paperwork,” he says. “We don’t sell to third parties—data belongs to schools and to families.”
On the new versions of the Brightwheel app, parents can add additional guardians to see the real-time feed and check in kids at school. “My mother and mother-and-law are begging for photos of my daughter everyday, and on the app, they get them automatically,” offers Vasen.
More updates are in the works, including an option for parents to check in their kids from their own phones. “You’ll be able to geolocate parents and know they’re actually at the school,” Vasen explains. He also plans to add resources for parents to connect with each other and build class community.
Brightwheel isn’t the only startup trying to unlock the black box of the classroom to parents. Kaymbu, FreshGrade, Remind and ParentSquare, designed for use in K-12 schools, all offer communication tools for teachers to document and share students’ activities and classwork with their parents.