Want Better Education Tools? A Look Inside Camelback Ventures' Diverse...

column | Incubators

Want Better Education Tools? A Look Inside Camelback Ventures' Diverse Pipeline of Entrepreneurs

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Aug 17, 2016

Want Better Education Tools? A Look Inside Camelback Ventures' Diverse Pipeline of Entrepreneurs
Members of Camelback's second cohort, Jim Shelton (top lefthand corner), and Demo Day visitors lean in for a selfie.

Back in 2013, University of California, Berkeley economists Ross Levine and Rona Rubenstein analyzed the common traits of entrepreneurs in a 2013 paper. The results? They found that most entrepreneurs were white and male. But in a space as diverse as public education, where K-12 students are 50 percent female and students of color comprise a larger percentage of the population than white students, there’s a fundamental disconnect between creators and users. The statistics around entrepreneurs creating the tools and the statistics around public school students consuming the tools don’t match up. And higher education isn’t too different.

Enter Camelback Ventures, a three-year old “incubator” specifically designed to brew entrepreneurial talent amongst women and people of color—geared predominantly towards entrepreneurs in education.

“Entrepreneurship is not just about pitch sessions and networking, but about providing equity,” said attorney-turned-entrepreneur and Camelback founder Aaron Walker. His remarks opened the New Orleans-based incubator’s second demo day on August 4 in Oakland, CA. During the event, the ten entrepreneurs from Camelback’s second class took to the mic to present their startups, many of which sought to support and empower underserved groups such as special education students, male teachers of color, and black millennials.

While the excitement of the event was palpable, Shauntel Poulson, a Reach Capital co-founder who was in attendance, did shed a dose of reality on the night: it’s going to take more than a Demo Day to bring more entrepreneurs of color into the spotlight.

“You need proof points and classroom success stories from entrepreneurs of those backgrounds,” she told EdSurge. “They also need investors that are going to take that step in supporting them.”

Jim Shelton, the head of the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, was also in attendance and expressed a similar sentiment, adding that most of the investment institutions out there “are not controlled by people of color.” However, he pointed to some diamonds in the rough, referencing Stacey Childress and NewSchools Venture Fund as an investing body that works to support female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color.

"In entrepreneurship, Digital Undivided recently reported that black women, on average, receive $36,000 from VCs, while white men with prior failed startups received $1.3 million," founder Aaron Walker says, adding, "I fundamentally believe that genius is equally distributed, but access is not. What ultimately keeps people out of 'Big Entrepreneurship' is access to capital, connections and coaching."

Despite the aforementioned roadblocks, the ten Camelback entrepreneurs appeared more than ready to take the world by storm, with products and initiatives targeting three spaces: empowerment and awareness, improving K-12 education, and supporting students inhigher education.

Empowerment and Awareness

BLOC is an online platform that connecting black millennials to one another through events, a jobs board, and other resources. For example, black college students or recent grads can peruse a list of job/internship opportunities, or meet one another (and potential employers) at a #HireMe Bootcamp.

Brothers Empower 2 Teach was founded by teacher Larry Irvin, Jr. to inspire more men of color to become educators. "It is imperative that black men start to invest in the education of black men,” he said during his Aug. 4 pitch. One way the organization seeks to achieve this is through the BE2T Fellowship, a three-year fellowship for undergrads that involves paid work studies tutoring children after school.

Tiny Docs is a collection of short, animated films used to educate kids and parents about health issues and medical procedures. Founder Sunny Williams reports that he and his team also plan to add games to the platform, and that he hopes to sell the platform to hospitals and doctors, who can use Tiny Docs to connect with their patients.

VOW: Village of Wisdom is an initiative that endeavors to “protect black genius” by empowering families of color, founder William Jackson says. The initiative includes four parts, including providing families with cultural events and field trips, identifying opportunities tailored to black youth interests, creating environments that increase the amount of conversations that parents and students are having about race.

Improving K-12 Education

The Graide Network connects middle and high school teachers with graders to help provide feedback on student work. The graders, or “teaching assistants,” are selected and trained to offer “granular, personalized, high-level feedback” for students, reports CRO Liz Nell. Nell also shares that 90% of teachers reported they were “highly likely” to recommend Graide Network to a colleague, according to initial survey findings.

Learning by Design is a yet-to-be-launched charter school in Los Angeles that combines personalized learning, project-based learning, democratic-style learning, and making. Founder Charla Austin-Harris founded the school after recognizing that “there’s not only an achievement gap, but also an innovation gap” between white students and students of color.

LiftEd is an app that enables special education teachers, therapists, and behavior specialists to measure Pre-K to 12th grade SPED students’ performances on academic and behavioral learning goals, using “Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)” to track these performances. The app has yet to be launched, but interested parties can sign up here to be notified when it does.

Yoga Foster is a community to create and learn mindfulness, breathing techniques, and movement curriculum. The website includes a collection of yoga-related resources for K-12 schools and information about how teachers can apply for grants to fund mindfulness programming. Schools and/or educators that are interested in learning more can sign up for a program webinar.

Supporting College Applicants and Students

Admit.me is a platform for college applicants looking to get advice from experts, college alumni and current students. When it comes to college counseling in public high schools, “most people have to fight for only two hours [of counseling] over four years,” says founder Eric Allen. Hence, Admit.me hopes to offer those students an alternative. Admit.me was a finalist in the 2016 Launch competition at SXSWedu.

Supergleu is a career-focused community where college students share opportunities with each other. Ahead of their mobile app release, they're rolling out a podcast series highlighting insights into the recruiting process and student stories. "The future of recruiting is conversation,” says CEO Bryan Lattimore."

Disclosure: Reach Capital is an investor in EdSurge.

Mary Jo Madda (@MJMadda) is Senior Editor at EdSurge, as well as a former STEM middle school teacher and administrator. In 2016, Mary Jo was named to the Forbes "30 Under 30" list in education.

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