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Five Promising Education Startups to Watch in 2012

Keep your eyes on these startups. Photo: Marie Linner, flickr user GORE-TEX® Products

With the new year under way, we thought this would be a good time to highlight some promising education startups.

General Assembly, a community of entrepreneurs, and Startl, a learning technology accelerator, hosted demos and Q&A with five education startups in a packed room of roughly 130 people earlier this week. The session was the seventh in the Digital Learning Series held at General Assembly in New York City.

Startups Codecademy, EasyBib, tutorspree, littleBits and Study Edge presented. Here’s the rundown of the companies in the order they presented and why you should pay attention:

Codecademy, Zach Sims
Codecademy teaches non-techies how to code in javascript with an uber-simple interface in snack-sized chunks. Sims said Codecademy started with teaching javascript because it was the low-hanging fruit and easy to implement inside the browser environment.

Codecademy recently launched Code Year, a one year program in 2012 to capture the New Year’s resolution crowd resolving to nerdify. It’s creating a huge boost to their already massive email list. So far, nearly 170,000 people will receive a lesson each day in their email. Since we all know how most New Year’s resolutions work out, we’ll check on retention rates later this year.

Why You Should Pay Attention:
For their next act, Sims said, “We’re building a platform so people can build their own curriculum.” This could prove useful for teachers and professors that want to leverage the Codecademy groove. In fact, they already have their first user generated course written by one of their investors at Union Square Ventures.

We think this platform can translate well for STEM teachers that want to initiate a new generation of programmers.

Codecademy is adding engineers to broaden from javascript to Ruby and Python in the near future.

EasyBib, Neal Taparia and Darshan Somashekar

Taparia and Someshekar started EasyBib because compiling bibliographies for school papers was such a pain. Their product aims to take the guess work out of how to reference research materials like websites versus books.

Technically, EasyBib is not a startup. Work began 10 years ago, but Taparia said they only recently realized the potential of their platform and went full time last year.

The EasyBib team says their mission is to teach information literacy. We see this as an effective tool to teach students to identify credible sources.

EasyBib’s business model is selling the product to schools. So far, customers include NYU, Ohio State and Emory.

Why You Should Pay Attention:
They already helped 30 million students produce over 450 million citations said Taparia. And they continue to grow 30-40 percent each year.

An interesting fruit of their product is the social effect. Students can research to find new related sources other users have generated with what Taparia called their beta “social research engine.”


tutorspree, Aaron Harris

We recently covered tutorspree, so we we’ll report what’s new here.

Tutorspree is focused on cornering the market on tutors. Harris wrote to us via email, “The first step has to be to create the best base of tutors around. The technology layered on top is just a tool used by tutors and students.” So we found it very interesting that in addition to the thousands of tutors they have captured already, Harris said tutorspree has a wait list of over 8,000 tutors who want in.

Another interesting number Harris provided is tutorspree tutors on average charge $40 an hour. Based on tutorspree estimates, school teachers earn $20 an hour. Tutorspree recently released a report based on data collected from 2011.

Why You Should Pay Attention:
Part of the brave new world of education is how technology extends access to students who couldn’t otherwise afford tutors or an education. Bharani Rajakumar of Learnbop.com, an education data analytics startup, asked Harris how tutorspree will help make learning more accessible to people.
Harris said they eventually plan to work with nonprofits and the government. “The plan is to provide a product for them to track performance,” said Harris. “The government spends $700 million tutoring low income students and right now nobody has any idea how they are doing.

We’re curious to see how tutorspree will help provide assessment, considering their existing review metrics of tutors are rather subjective. Harris did say they are constantly changing the questions they use to elicit reviews.


littleBits, Ayah Bdeir and Paul Rothman

littleBits (re)intro from ayah bdeir on Vimeo.

LittleBits designs and makes little smart circuit boards that connect with magnets. Each circuit board contains its own logic for modules like: light sensors, LED arrays, pressure sensors, fans, buzzers, knobs and switches. It’s Lego meets electrical engineering.

The slightly larger than postage stamp-sized modules snap together with a satisfying click when aligned correctly. LittleBits has designed it so the magnets repel each other when little engineers push the wrong sides together. MOMA liked the design so much they snagged a set for their own collection.

LittleBits was born in 2008 out of Bdeir’s frustration with soldering and intricate work needed to build engineered components. Bdeir, a certified engineering geek (read: masters from MIT Media Lab), wanted to make an easy way for people to play engineer.

The company launched their first production run of 250 starter sets in September 2011 said Bdeir. Now they’re half way into production of an order for 3,000.

For kids, we know play is the best kind of learning. Just what STEM education needs: a little bit of “geeky fun.” Bdeir said littleBits has plans to provide a platform for classes to teach electronics in schools.

Why You Should Pay Attention:
“We’re having informal discussions with teachers and afterschool teachers to have curriculum to incorporate for the platform,” said Bdeir.

LittleBits will be at the New York Hall of Science for teachers in the NY area this month. Bdeir hopes to put lessons teachers generate online, and more people can add to them. An interesting point Bdeir made is littleBits has experienced equal interest from boys and girls.

In a software driven education startup space, it’s refreshing to see something kids (and even adults) can touch and tinker around with.

In the meantime, the project is all open source. Bdeir said, “I’m a strong believer [in open source] to be able to have people build on each other and build smarter things.”


Study Edge, Ethan Fieldman

This is a company flying under the radar. We’re going to devote an entire post to Study Edge, so stay tuned. But in the meantime, let’s just say Study Edge is Khan Academy except in a sustainable (and profitable says Fieldman) business delivered via Facebook.

Why You Should Pay Attention:
Study Edge doesn’t have 30,000,000 viewers like Khan Academy. But guess what, each of Study Edge’s thousands of college students pay a monthly subscription fee ranging from $25 to $75 each month. What’s exciting is that Study Edge’s model is a mechanism to reward superstar teachers. Fieldman’s team plans to expand capacity beyond their initial market, where they’ve been “perfecting” the product.

Here’s a sample lesson:

Embedly Powered

 
What startups are on your must-watch list of education enablers? Let us know in the comments!

arrow4 Responses

  1. 35 mos, 3 wks ago

    Hey guys, thanks for this post. Always good to see new things emerging. You might also want to check out iversity.

    We offers a cloud-based higher education course-management platform. However, unlike Blackboard or Moodle, our approach is bottom up: anyone can sign up for free.

    it is similar to what Coursekit is doing, but it is conceived as an open collaboration network for the academic sector – it merges an online workspace with a social network.

    Check it out at: http://www.iversity.org
    Looking forward to your feedback!

    Hannes

  2. Jason Fabbri
    35 mos, 2 wks ago

    Check outyou 19Pencils.com. We’re striving to make it easy for teachers of all grades to discover, manage and share online resources.

    Easy to use interface, auto thumbnailing of sites and a class web Page to present it all to students.

    Jason
    http://www.19Pencils.com

  3. 35 mos, 1 wk ago

    amazed it doesn’t make this list. Talk of the education startup world at the moment.

  4. Wired Academic
    35 mos, 1 wk ago

    Hi James, this is by no means an exhaustive list. We’re not sure which edu startup you’re referring to?

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