Michelson Runway Announces 5 Higher-Ed Startups in Inaugural Cohort

Digital Learning

Michelson Runway Announces 5 Higher-Ed Startups in Inaugural Cohort

By Marguerite McNeal     Aug 23, 2016

Michelson Runway Announces 5 Higher-Ed Startups in Inaugural Cohort
Image Credit: Runway

Five higher-ed technology startups are soaring this week.

Michelson Runway, a San Francisco-based accelerator, announced the handful of companies that will be in its inaugural cohort. Each of the five startups focuses on technology innovation in higher education, with products that range from student coaching tools to a talent recruiting platform.

The accelerator is a partnership formed in 2015 between Pasadena, CA-based nonprofit Michelson 20MM Foundation and San Francisco incubator Runway. It aims to connect institutions, innovators and policymakers to improve academic success for underserved students.

“We’re focusing on higher-ed access and completion and transition into the workforce,” says Michelson 20MM Foundation President Phil Kim. “We approached the selection with a double-bottom line approach and looked for mission alignment.” That means in addition to measuring financial returns, Michelson Runway will be analyzing student outcomes.

Around 200 companies applied for the five spots in the 2016 cohort. Michelson Runway has invested a total of $225,000 in the companies, with each receiving a minimum of $25,000 and some getting more. As members of the cohort, they get office space and support including financial and legal services and mentorship opportunities. Here are the five companies in the 2016 cohort:

  • Lrnr: An adaptive-learning platform that uses open educational resources (OER). Educators can customize courses and monitor student progress.
  • Motimatic: A system that uses advertising technology and behavioral science to deliver highly-targeted messages that inspire individuals to achieve their goals.
  • Pragya Systems: A web application that aims to break down data silos in enterprise systems and simplify the flow of information for students, faculty, administrators, alumni and employers.
  • ReUp Education: A company that partners with colleges and universities to re-enroll students who have dropped out of college and then support them through graduation, using technology and human coaches.
  • WorkAmerica: A platform to connect employers in skilled trades with talent at community colleges, vocational schools and credentialing agencies.

Each of the companies will participate in proof-of-concept pilots, testing their products and services with the accelerator’s college and university partners, which include the University of California and California Community College systems. “Senior leadership at partner institutions is directly invested in trying or piloting some or all of the technologies we’ve invested in with our cohort,” says Joe Vasquez, manager of partnerships and strategy at Runway. “We’re learning alongside these institutions.”

Michelson Runway hired Designs for Learning, a learning assessment consultancy, to design studies to evaluate student outcomes for each of the companies.

Nitzan Pelman, co-founder and CEO of ReUp Education, says she and her co-founder applied to Michelson Runway because of the accelerator’s dedication to analyzing student success. “They have the right balance between putting in investment capital and really looking for outcomes for students in addition to ROI,” she says. “They hold those two things equally sacred.”

Pelman says she’s excited about working with other companies in the cohort, which she sees as complementary to ReUp’s counseling tools and services. Motimatic, for instance, has technology to deliver targeted, inspirational messages that could fit nicely with ReUp’s coaching strategy.

During the accelerator program, ReUp will roll out programs at three university partners this fall, reaching 25,000 students. The company will also hire three to six coaches to work with those students.

Alan Tripp, co-founder and CEO of Motimatic, says that joining the accelerator has already helped bump the company’s number of clients from two to six. In the next couple of months it will continue building its technology and adding to its library of content.

The companies will refine their businesses over the next four months and present their work in a demo day for Michelson Runway and other potential investors this fall.

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