Edtech Startups Pitch at LAUNCH Event

Edtech Startups Pitch at LAUNCH Event

LAUNCH Education & Kids: Early-stage and stealth edtech companies took the stage on Tuesday and today (Wednesday) at Microsoft's Mountain View campus for the inaugural LAUNCH Education & Kids, organized by Jason Calacanis (who started LAUNCH events back in February 2011). You can see the live blogging site here or follow the tweets (#launchedu). Investors, educators, startups--the perfect storm--were in attendance, taking copious notes, checking out demo booths, and chatting one another up over bottomless cups of coffee and wine. Marshall Tuck, CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, talked about how his group, which manages 22 of LA's toughest schools (serving 16,000 students), has a five-year contract to "dramatically" improve those schools--and believes edtech has a key role.

Most pitches followed a familiar format: a 5-6 minute presentation with slides, demos and a hearty round of grilling by judges and a front row of children. (Seems like the trendy thing is to begin with photos of cute children accompanied by a heartwarming story about how the product solves their hypothetical woes.) LAUNCH also nudged the teams to share a "lesson learned." Among them: "Cute" works, both for kids and adults. And if you want to test a product on teens, let them use it--then pull it away sooner than they think you will. If they protest, you know your product is compelling.

The banter between the judges, presenters, and Jason oscillated at times between purely technical details and raucous jokes--often resembling a late night talk show. Winners will be announced today. Among Tuesday's favorites were "stealth" companies, slipping into the spotlight for the first time. These included PlayTell (tech for sharing reading with a distant friend using an iPad), AlwaysPrepped (a unified "dashboard" that lets teachers merge data from independent applications), Penyo Pal (for teaching kids to speak Mandarin), and LearnStreet (for learning how to program code). Teachers in the audience swooned over Always Prep, even though the judges worried it was a generation ahead of its time. More detail and a final tally next week!

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