Since the first Startup Weekend EDU began in San Francisco in August 2010, the 54-hour hackathons have seen thousands of education enthusiasts pitch, prototype and present their ideas. A few have also continued on the path to building tools and schools.
Today, that the path will now go through a school—4.0 Schools, to be exact. Education Entrepreneurs, which has organized nearly 100 Startup Weekend EDUs and workshops around the world since July 2013, is turning its program over to 4.0 Schools, a nonprofit, education incubator based in New Orleans, LA.
The search for a successor began when Education Entrepreneurs’ director, Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, and program manager, John Baldo, found out in April 2015 that UP Global, the nonprofit that housed Education Entrepreneurs, Startup Weekends and other programs, would be acquired. The news wasn’t terribly surprising, given that UP Global was then suffering from funding cuts that forced the nonprofit to lay off one-third of its US staff.
Faced with this dire situation and uncertainty about who the buyer might be, Schumacher-Hodge and Baldo faced several choices: leave, continue running Startup Weekend EDU as an independent entity, or find a partner to inherit the program. The two decided on the last option. “4.0 Schools was our absolute first choice for this opportunity,” Baldo tells EdSurge.
UP Global’s buyer turned out to be Techstars, a for-profit entity which operates startup accelerators around the world. (Techstars shuttered its New York edtech accelerator, funded by Kaplan, earlier this year but continues to run a general incubator program in the Big Apple).
But Startup Weekend EDUs had been largely supported by a $1 million, three-year grant awarded by the Gates Foundation in July 2013, which comes with rules around what entities are allowed to spend the money. As Schumacher-Hodge wrote in a blog post following the acquisition: “Due to UP Global’s acquisition by Techstars and its transition to a for-profit entity, UP Global is no longer eligible to operate the Gates grant.”
4.0 Schools turned out to be an ideal organization to take over, says Baldo. Not only did it share Education Entrepreneur’s mission to spur communities to brainstorm and prototype ways to improve education, but it was also a Gates grantee. “The fact that 4.0 Schools operates as a non-profit and has a relationship with the Gates Foundation is terrific luck on our part.”
Schumacher-Hodge adds: “We have a long history of working together informally. 4.0 Schools has played a role [in Startup Weekend EDU events] as local sponsors, organizers and judges.”
The merger appears to be mutually beneficial given that the two organizations play an important role in the edtech industry pipeline. For aspiring entrepreneurs, Startup Weekend EDUs and 4.0 Schools may be the beginning of a funnel that turns ideas into serious businesses.
Startup Weekend EDUs have gathered as diverse of a community as possible to think about solving problems in education. There have been a few gems—and plenty of scrapped ideas—presented by the nearly 6,000 people who have participated in Startup Weekend EDUs since July 2013. In a report released this May, Education Entrepreneurs claims Startup Weekend EDU events helped spawn ideas that have become fast-growth edtech startups, including Clever, ClassDojo and NoRedInk. It also boasts that 40 percent of Imagine K12 participants trace their origins to one of its events.
For its part, 4.0 Schools says that it has helped launch 43 startups and schools, of which 32 are still active, since the program began in 2010. Several teams in its portfolio, including Brightloop and Formative, have also participated in Imagine K12. Others have started charter schools like Bricolage Academy.
Matt Candler, 4.0 Schools’ founder and CEO, declined to disclose financial details of the handover, only that “we’ve had the full support of the Gates Foundation.” 4.0 Schools should expect to inherit a sizable chunk of Startup Weekend EDU’s $1 million grant from 2013, given there’s still a year left to go. 4.0 Schools is also currently renewing its own Gates grant, and Candler says part of the discussion will focus on securing financial support to run Startup Weekend EDU events beyond 2016.
Candler knows he can’t rely on grants forever to support the events, and “respects Gates as a funder that challenges us to find sustainable business models.”
He has no plans to make dramatic changes to Startup Weekend EDU’s programming, but is looking to broaden its audience. Past events have challenged participants to pitch not just products, but also new school models and libraries. It’s a direction that Candler likes. “We’ve been focused on building solutions for teachers. But how can we further validate early stage ideas with students and parents, not just as validators, but participants themselves?”
Baldo will be joining 4.0 Schools, which currently has 10 full-time employees. He’ll be bringing along his networks and army of volunteers that have helped organize events from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) to Vijayawada (India). Schumacher-Hodge says she is stepping down but will continue to serve in an advisory capacity. She’s pleased, however, at what she expects will be the future for the group she has helped grow: “I felt like this was a marriage made in heaven.”