Imagine All the Startups Pitching at Demo Day


Imagine All the Startups Pitching at Demo Day

By Tony Wan, Mary Jo Madda (Columnist), Marguerite McNeal and Blake Montgomery     Jan 14, 2016

Imagine All the Startups Pitching at Demo Day

As every student succeeds, so, too, shall companies and their investors. That’s the message delivered by Imagine K12 co-founders, Tim Brady and Geoff Ralston, at the seventh demo day for the edtech accelerator.

Now in its fifth year, Imagine K12 has graduated 81 companies across seven cohorts. Eighty-percent of them are still alive and kicking, shared Ralston, and together they have raised more than $200 million in venture capital.

Of the many changes in schools and classrooms over the years, said Brady, perhaps the most significant development in education took place on Capitol Hill with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. “Effective professional development of our teachers remains a central theme,” he said, and “the law embraces computer science as a core subject.”

Of the ten companies that demoed, one was tackling the professional development problem (Kickup), and two offered tools for coding. Five hailed from outside the US, including India, Israel and Greece. Notably absent was any mention of the words “Common Core” and “freemium model”—which many companies in previous cohorts greatly emphasized.

For the 100-plus investors in the room, Ralston issued a rallying cry: “I believe that edtech is going to be at the center of an extraordinary tech battleground, and that fortunes are going to be made.” With more than 13 million devices sold into K-12 in 2014, technology habits of a lifetime are being forged in elementary school,” he said. “I don’t think this is a battle that you as investors should choose to sit out.”

Which of these ten companies would you go to battle with?

Scantrons can only grade multiple-choice question tests. For other formats, teachers often have to do it themselves, spending on average eight hours per week. Thanks to handwriting recognition technology, says it can offer a “Scantron for handwritten answers.”

How Does It Work? Teachers first create a class roster, which will create unique QR codes for each student. For any assignment, teachers create an answer sheet that is scanned and then uploaded onto the platform. Then they print out worksheets and distribute them to each student. When completed, each worksheet is scanned and the results are shown on an assignment dashboard.

Who’s Using It? The company says it currently has 10 teachers beta-testing the product.

Business Model? The company did not share concrete pricing plans. It says it’s tackling a $1.8 billion market in the US—if all 60 million students paid $30 per year.

Competition? Other startups offering tools to streamline the grading process include Classroom IQ (another Imagine K12 alum) Crowdmark, Gradeable, Gradescope and Scribesense. Xerox once claimed it had the technology to build printers with handwriting recognition technology.

Twitter handle? N/A


Assigning open-ended questions to a STEM class of hundreds might seem like a death wish for the professor. But the founders of Sense don’t want large classes to be stuck with multiple choice questions ad nauseum. They created the company to make open-ended assignments a scalable alternative to teaching assistants for courses with high enrollment.

How Does It Work? Sense is a hybrid human-machine intelligence solution that helps teachers grade open-ended assignments more efficiently. Computers detect patterns in student submissions and break answers down into five to 10 solution types. Teachers provide feedback to each kind of answer, rather than each individual submission.

Who’s Using It? Sense has launched pilot programs for computer science courses at higher education institutions including MIT, Harvard, NYU, Mt. Sinnai, Stanford, Peking University in Beijing and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

Business Model? Founder and CEO Ronen Tal-Botzer says there are two primary groups of users: schools, which will pay $25 per student per course, and students outside of partner institutions who will use pre-loaded assignments to get feedback on their work.

Competition? Knewton automates personalized learning instruction for teachers. Turnitin is a plagiarism-prevention service that provides feedback to students on their use of source material.

Twitter Handle? N/A


Some skills just can’t be measured by a test score. SesameHQ offers a “central repository where teachers can visually see what students can do,” according to CEO Ian Tao.

How Does It Work? SesameHQ offers a platform that lets teachers set learning standards and allows students to upload digital artifacts (videos, assignments) to demonstrate how they are progressing. Teachers can see these assets in each student’s digital portfolio and assess how well the learner has performed.

Who’s Using It? SesameHQ is used by roughly 14,000 K-12 students in the U.S. The company says it is focusing first on students in two- and four-year colleges, along with vocational programs for hands-on skills (such as cooking and nursing).

Business Model? The company charges $40 per student in higher-ed institutions, and $10 per student in K-12. It claims 14,000 teachers on Sesame and paying school customers.

Competition? ApprenNet recently acquired Handsfree Learning, a mobile, video-based learning platform designed for hands-on skills. Digital portfolio tools include Pathbrite and Seelio.

Twitter Handle? @sesamehq

Sown to Grow

Nearly half of students don’t think they have the power to determine their own grades, say Rupa Gupta and Dennis Li, cofounders of Sown to Grow. They created the company to give students more ownership over their learning.

How Does It Work? Sown to Grow is a student-owned scorebook that allows teachers to design learning activities using tools including Khan Academy, ThatQuiz and Exit Ticket. Students set goals for their work, enter their scores and reflect on performance.

Who’s Using It? Twenty-five schools and districts across the U.S., including the San Jose Unified School District, are currently using Sown to Grow, with 2,400 active students.

Business Model? While current users have implemented the product for free, Li says the company will eventually offer a premium product.

Competition? There’s plenty of companies in the education data-warehousing and dashboard business, including Schoolzilla, BrightBytes and Mileposts.

Twitter handle? @sowntogrow


It’s a catch-22: companies struggle to recruit employees with the right talent, and job-seekers fail to gain skills without direct experience. Binny Mathews and Omair Aasim founded DeZyre to solve this “experience gap” and help professionals get job-ready.

How Does It Work? DeZyre is a live interactive platform where students learn job skills from industry experts and companies. Courses include certifications in Hadoop, data science in Python and R programming, and Salesforce. The company says student performance data can also serve as a recruitment tool.

Who’s Using It? DeZyre has partnered with IBM to create three courses. Over the past 18 months, 2,500 students have taken classes, with 120 students using it per month and an 80 percent completion rate. The company is also in talks with Yahoo!, McKinsey and Amazon to create more programs.

Business Model? Students pay $500 per course, which involves 45 hours of live interaction. The company says 40 percent goes toward operations and the remaining 60 percent is profit.

Competition? Adult learners are brushing up their skills for free or paying for verified certifications using sites like Coursera, edX, Treehouse and Alison.

Twitter handle? @dezyreonline


How Does It Work? Rumie sells a 24 gigabyte tablet loaded with free, open source K12 curricular materials. If connected to the Internet, the tablet can also access LearningCloud, a free repository of content curated by volunteers.

Who’s Using It? Founder Tariq Fancy claims to have reached 20,000 in 18 countries. The curriculum began as STEM content in English, but, with the help of volunteers, has expanded to other languages. Fancy said the nonprofit is experimenting with pre-loading content on other devices.

Business Model? Rumie’s signature tablet costs $50, and the company employs what Fancy calls the “100 percent model,” in which large, institutional donors cover the overhead costs, and individual donors give money to pay for tablet distribution. Fancy said the company raised a $1 million seed round in 2013.

Competition? Remember One Laptop Per Child?

Twitter Handle? @RumieInitiative


How does it work? Codevolve makes an in-browser coding environment designed for students developing their coding skills. Codevolve serves as a lesson creation platform for schools and allows coding education providers to operate distribute their lessons through its interface. To help with mistakes, the platform features a hint and correction bot.

Business Model? Codevolve receives funding entirely from partnerships, of which it currently has five, including one with Cengage Learning. Founder Saul Costa said the partnerships have netted Codevolve $200,000 in contracts.

Who’s Using It? Codevolve claims to have more than three thousand users, mostly high school and college students, and be adding 15,000 in the coming semester. The company focuses on students in high school and college.

Competition? Trinket, CodeHS, Codecademy,

Twitter Handle? @codevolve


How Does It Work? Allcancode makes Run Marco, an adventure game based in block coding. To teach students the concept of sequences, a foundational concept in computer science, players instruct Marco to run, climb ladders and crawl through caves with actions laid out as blocks. After playing the game, Allcancode asks students to apply the lessons they learned by building their own games.

Who’s Using It? The founder Kostas Karolemeas claims that the company has gained 217,000 users in three months. Allcancode aims at students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Business Model? Schools can subscribe to the game at a rate of $9 per student per year (though Karolemeas said that may change), and users at home can access the first level for free and purchase subsequent levels.

Competition? Scratch, arguably the most common programming language for kids.

Twitter Handle? @allcancode


How Does It Work? Kickup is a professional development tool that serves as a data analytics platform, helping users know where teachers are succeeding and struggling in their practice. Kickup pulls in data from teacher surveys, observations and other forms of “PD data” to synthesize feedback and report on teacher impact over time.

Who’s Using It? The platform is currently aimed at district administrators who are responsible for professional development. The platform currently serves 315 schools, predominantly in the California area but also with users in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kansas.

Business Model? Kickup is an SaaS model, where districts pay a per student or per teacher subscription fee. The company plans to raise a $1-2M seed round in early 2016, and has raised $670K of that so far.

Competition? Truenorthlogic, Bloomboard, Edthena

Twitter Handle? N/A

Swing Education

How Does It Work? Swing Education is designed to address the market of finding substitute teachers. On the platform, subs and schools alike can sign up, and Swing will conduct background checks and screening. The platform also provides a scheduling interface and facilitates contractor payments for subs. On school days where classes are missing teachers, administrators ping the app to request a substitute.

Who’s Using It? Schools use the platform to find substitute teachers, while subs use it to select schools where they’d be comfortable working. Swing reports to have had 50% week-over-week user growth in the last three months.

Business Model? The company charges a 20% fee each time a Swing substitute gets paid by a school. However, the platform costs nothing for subs or schools to sign up. The company identifies this market as a $4.6B opportunity (a number that grows when one adds the potential for substitute administrators, custodial personnel, afterschool help, and test proctors). The platform also generates data, which Swing may use for business purposes in the future.

Competition? Enriched Schools

Twitter Handle? N/A

Disclosure: Imagine K12 is an investor in EdSurge

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