“Color is the new black,” said Nick Lum, co-founder of Beeline Reader. And cobalt blue lights decked the halls and main stage at GSVlabs, where he was one of 10 entrepreneurs who pitched at Intel Education Accelerator’s inaugural demo day.
There were companies pitching products to solve well-known problems around math, coding and literacy. But other tools, such as a wireless measurement sensor and a device that turns any surface into a musical instrument—offered a reminder that learning happens everywhere (especially outside the classroom).
“We believe 21st century skills are needed not just across Silicon Valley,” Intel’s Education Vice President and General Manager, John Galvin effused during the introductory remarks, “but in industries around the world.”
Here’s a “look inside” the first cohort:
BeeLine Reader is a digital reading technology that uses color to accelerate reading speed and literacy acquisition (by up to 20 percent, the company claims). While co-founders Nick Lum and Andrew Cantino developed the product to help people who spend lots of time reading on electronic screens, they also discovered it could help people with dyslexia and other reading disabilities.
How Does It Work? BeeLine Reader uses a color gradient to guide a reader’s eye across text more efficiently. Users install the BeeLine reader plugin on their device browser, and the tool automatically converts text to include the gradient. The aim is to improve readers’ reading pace and understanding of the text.
Who’s Using It? BeeLine says that its plugin is used 16 million times a month by users in 120 countries. The company recently signed a multi-year contract to integrate its tools into the California public library system.
Business Model? BeeLine charges individual users $10 per year for unlimited, ad-free use of its tool. In the future, the company plans to focus on B2B sales, licensing its tool to app developers and other content platforms.
Competition? Spritz offers a speed reading tool that works by showing one word at a time, on the same screen position, at various speeds.
GotIt! is an app that middle- and high-school students can use to ask for on-demand homework help on math and chemistry subjects.
How Does It Work? Using the GotIt! iOS app, any student can snap a photo of a homework problem. The picture is shared with a community of tutors who can bid to fulfill the request. Through the app, the tutor can communicate with the student and walk through steps to solve the problem. The company boasts that students can get help within 10 seconds.
Who’s Using It? The company estimates 5,000 questions are answered every day, and claims 50,000 monthly active users.
Business Model? To submit questions, students need to spend “credits” that they can purchase through the app.
Co-founders Steven Broadbent and Damian Martinez believe that in-person tutoring is too expensive, but they also think YouTube tutorials are impersonal and sometimes shoddy. With Griti, they believe they can bridge the personalization of live tutoring with the accessibility of YouTube videos.
How Does It Work? Griti offers course-specific video tutorials to college students. Former students who have already taken a class—and have performed well—can record tutoring videos (and get paid for doing so) for future students to watch. Some students can watch videos specific to the course at their university.
Who’s Using It? Griti has over 11,000 student users across 14 universities. The company also also claim students are flocking, with 150 new signups and 1,000 video sessions per day.
Business Model? While some video content on Griti is available for free, students must pay $3 for access more in-depth videos in each course. The company claims that 23 percent of all free users convert to paid users at some point.
While doing their PhD at Stanford, the PocketLab team became frustrated with the labs, the expensive equipment and how science needed to occur in a room that was so separate from the real world. In response they created PocketLab, an affordable, portable tool to connect science to the real world.
How Does It Work? PocketLab’s hardware device is a wireless sensor which measures acceleration, force, angular velocity, magnetic field, pressure, altitude, and temperature. PocketLab connects with a single button to a smartphone, tablet, or Chromebook and instantly streams and records measurement data. The team is in the process of building tools that allow where users to create graphs, and integrate data with other software.
Who’s Using It? PocketLab is currently used by students and teachers from middle school through college. So far the team has sold about 2,000 units to educators and “Makers” in 43 countries.
Business Model? The PocketLab sensor costs $98; the app is free. In the future there will be additional paid services around data integration and visualization.
Electronic instruments are expensive, so the barrier to entry with making music is high. So why not “make the world your instrument?” asks ToneTree CEO, Brian Cook. His team of engineers and musicians developed Birch, a device that can be connected to a computer or phone which projects a grid on any surface that users can play like a keyboard.
How Does It Work? ToneTree’s Birch is a device that connects to a phone or computer and projects a laser grid onto a horizontal surface. The app generates different instrument sounds as users strike the different squares of the grid.
Who’s Using It? The company says there is a $7 billion market of “creative enthusiasts” who pursue creative endeavors in their free time. Cook says he’s demoed the Birch for the Black Eyed Peas—and they’ve been invited back.
Business Model? ToneTree’s Kickstarter campaign will launch in April 2016. Each device is expected to cost $149.99.
Competition? Drawdio allows users to draw musical instruments on paper and play them with their fingers.
Who’s Using It? Vidcode claims 90,000 users across 125 countries. The product is also being implemented in 315 schools in Argentina, and by organizations including the Girl Scouts, KIPP San Francisco and New York Public Libraries.
Business Model? Vidcode offers a freemium model, where introductory courses are available for no cost. For advanced lessons, pricing ranges from $10 to $20 per student, according to the number of licenses purchased.
Children pick up words most effectively when they are reading and writing about subjects they actually care about, says founder and CEO Babar Haig. The Danish company has created a tool where students can write and get feedback from teachers and parents, and get published. “Interest-based learning,” says Haig, is key to rethinking how children acquire literacy skills.
How Does It Work? On WriteReader, students can create a picture book by snapping and uploading a photo, and write an accompanying sentence. Teachers and/or parents can see what students have created and offer feedback. These works can be published and shared with others in the WriteReader community.
Who’s Using It? WriteReader has users in more than 4,000 classrooms across 40 countries. The company claims 110,000 users—and one million books created.
Business Model? There is a free version of WriteReader iOS app available that lets users create a limited number of books. The $4.99 app removes this limitation. Haig says the tool is currently available for teachers to use in classrooms for free, but will likely charge $4 per student per year in the future. The company has also already raised $800,000 from the largest publisher in Denmark.
Competition? Storybook also offers an educator-friendly tool that encourages students to write and publish.
WordsU co-founder Allan Zhang came to the US as an ESL student, and wanted to improve the experience of learning English. After working in investment banking for three years, he enlisted his colleague Sam Mendelson to achieve this goal. It seemed to work—at least well enough to prepare him to pitch onstage.
How Does It Work? Students install the WordsU keyboard on their phone. While typing, the app prompts users to replace words in their text with more advanced synonyms (“Hello, Emma” becomes “Salutations, Emma.”) The keyboard interfaces with any app on the phone where writing is involved, including text messages and tools like Facebook Messenger and WeChat. Users can purchase different “personas” or packs of words, including one for SAT prep, one for English idioms and a fun pack for words and phrases popular in the 1980’s.
Who’s Using It? More than 30,000 users have sent over 750,000 messages using WordsU, according to the company.
Business Model? WordsU charges users for “vocabulary packs” of synonyms.
Competition? A slew of companies, from traditional review services like Princeton Review and Kaplan to more established test prep companies like Magoosh, also offer tools and services for vocabulary test prep.