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Education Startups Unveiled at Kauffman Labs

Mark Marich

Twenty-three entrepreneurs spent four months immersed in an intensive, hands-on program designed to catalyze the creation of high-growth companies to generate thousands of jobs with dramatic economic benefits in the education sector. Selected from more than 1,000 applicants, these entrepreneurs and their sixteen business concepts represent some of the very best education startups today.

Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation Education Ventures program hosted these 23 aspiring entrepreneurs--a broad cross section of Americans including former Merrill Lynch and Google employees, professors, community organizers, visual artists, school officials, and Wharton business school graduates--enabling them to immerse themselves in an intensive, hands-on curriculum designed to catalyze the development of their businesses. The Education Ventures program offered participants individualized training and entrepreneurship education, coaching on a variety of business and marketing skills, guidance in connecting with financiers, and a prorated annual salary of $70,000 that enabled them to pursue their projects full-time.

Watch their presentations.

Selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants, the Education Ventures entrepreneurs' 16 business concepts represent some of the very best education startups today. Three of the entrepreneurs were recently named among nine finalists competing for $50,000 in startup funds in the Milken PennGSE Education Business Plan Competition, while one Kauffman Labs participant was selected for the Imagine K-12 education incubator, inspired by Y Combinator, and another team was chosen for Good Company Ventures' Social Impact Incubator.

Alexandre Scialom, one of the entrepreneurs in the program, was named the first prize winner in the 2011 Milken PennGSE Education Business Plan Competition, as well as  the winner of the Hewlett Foundation's Startl Prize for Open Educational Resources. The two awards include a total cash prize of $50,000 in funding to support Scialom's new company, The Coursebook. The award-winning enterprise aims to connect lifelong learners with online and offline educational opportunities. As the 'Yelp of education,' the service makes it easy to discover college courses and other learning resources based on interests, peers and location.

"Kauffman Labs is more than an ecosystem. It is a powerful network of founders who are intent on making a difference in their respective marketplaces. I am struck by the founders' commitment to not only satisfying a customer need, but also their commitment to one another. Their passion is contagious, but their commitment is inspiring," said Ted Zoller, president of Kauffman Labs. "We've seen this group of 23 founders seek advice from one another, share intelligence and trade skill sets across companies in a type of 'cross-pollination' that is akin to the feedback they would normally receive in their advisory boards. The Labs program showcases the power of a peer group of entrepreneurs who support each other and foster community to help each other navigate the evolution of their respective startups, positioning them to breakout to become the next market-makers in their industry. These firms will change the world."

Examples of the Education Ventures projects featured today include:

  • ChildRoad, a company that uses a Netflix-inspired business model to revolutionize how children and parents worldwide access children's books by providing an online digital library in several languages.
  • Irynsoft, a mobile software company in the California Bay Area that has built a software platform to turn inexpensive Android tablets into powerful educational tools, creating a superior alternative to the iPad at less than half the price.
  • Wishbone.org, a non-profit that connects at-risk high school students to donors online who can help fund after-school and summer programs. 
  • MindBlown Labs, a next-generation web and mobile platform that combines aspects of social gaming with hands-on money management experience to provide financial literacy instruction for students aged ten through eighteen.

The Education Ventures program is one of the initiatives of Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation intended to study first-hand how startups gain traction while also providing a collaborative atmosphere that contributes to the evolution of the businesses.

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