Techstars Takes Over Startup Weekend Education

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Startup Weekend Education is on the move again.

Today, 4.0 Schools, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that has managed Startup Weekend Education (SWEDU) events for the past year, announced it is turning the keys over to Techstars, which operates accelerator programs around the country.

The transition comes just 16 months after UP Global, which previously operated Startup Weekends across all verticals (including education), was sold to Techstars in June 2015. At the time, UP Global had an outstanding grant from the Gates Foundation to support SWEDU, but this funding could not be passed on to a for-profit entity like Techstars. In July, 4.0 Schools stepped in and assumed responsibility for running SWEDU events in the U.S.

Now, 16 SWEDU events later, 4.0 Schools is letting Techstars take the rein. “We didn’t come to this decision lightly,” the 4.0 team wrote in an email to its community today. “[We] realized that we needed to take the advice we so often give to entrepreneurs: focus on doing the things you’re best in the world at and trust others to do the same.”

Conversations leading up to this handover began in July 2016, when the team decided that “running SWEDU internally was not allowing us to support our community in the best way possible,” Cambria Skvarka, the nonprofit’s director of community and idea development, tells EdSurge in an interview.

Already, 4.0 Schools offers several educational programs. Its oldest is Essentials, a three-day introductory program that’s been run more than 50 times over the past six years. Another, Tiny Fellowship, offers those with more fleshed-out ideas with virtual mentoring and the opportunity to pilot their ideas in schools. There’s also Community Catalysts, which supports people building local education communities across the country.

These programs aligned with the goals of SWEDU, which have galvanized education entrepreneurs ever since the first event in San Francisco in August 2010. These “hackathons,” run by volunteers, wooed teachers, developers, kids and parents—anyone with ideas to improve teaching and learning. Over the course of 54 hours, participants pitched ideas, built prototypes and proposed business plans. Some teams became venture-backed companies, such as online grammar tool NoRedInk.

Despite the overlap in goals, the 4.0 Schools team decided their limited resources would be better spent on their own programs. Techstars currently runs hundreds of Startup Weekends across the world, and can devote more resources to support organizers, says John Beadle, director of Startup Weekend at Techstars. The decision to take over SWEDUs “is to bring organizers closer with our network and help them execute on these events,” he tells EdSurge.

Techstars will inherit SWEDU assets created by 4.0 Schools, including its network of contacts along with event resources such as presentation templates and pitch decks.

SWEDU has funneled aspiring education entrepreneurs to 4.0 Schools’ programs, and the nonprofit plans on maintaining this pipeline. It has set up a $75,000 fund—the amount left over from the Gates Foundation grant—that will support future SWEDU attendees who wish to participate in its programs.

Skvarka offers this of advice for prospective SWedu organizers: “What we’ve learned from the most successful SWedu events are the ones that have a lot of pre-event work, in the form of a meetup or a design-thinking workshop.” Planning ahead and reaching a diverse group of education stakeholders, she adds, is key to “igniting bright ideas that have been brewing in the community.”

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