[image via Einztein]
Last year I covered Berkery Noyes' first-ever Venture Capital Summit in Education held at Stanford, where VCs and private equity firms talked about the enormous potential in disrupting one of the world's biggest industries, one that still remains tantalizingly locked up by bureaucracies within bureaucracies. This year's edition will be held at the SoHo HQ of Scholastic, the ginormous kid's publisher, and co-sponsored by Startl, the "venture philanthropy" and educational startup incubator. Yesterday they announced the 10 early-stage companies that will be part of their showcase. These run the gamut of approaches to the challenges of better teaching and learning using technology.
There are the gamers: Muzzy Lane Software, which does immersive 3-D learning environments (like a really cool one of Boston's Chinatown), and Launchpad Toys, which makes Toontastic, "a storytelling and animation tool for the iPad" that debuted at this year's Maker Faire. There are the social networks: Everloop is for tweens and Notehall enables the sale of notes and tests, student to student (sounds a little shady!) There are iPhone/iPad based companies: Watermelon Express (test prep), Irynsoft (full course delivery, with social networking) and CCKF (an agnostic "adaptive learning" engine). Then there's the miscellaneous: Presence Telecare brings speech pathologists to work with students over video chat, and FairChoice Systems helps colleges organize their health information and deliver needed info to students on their smartphones.
These companies all seem like they're doing pretty cool things, especially Muzzy Lane and possibly Irynsoft. But for the most part—and correct me if I'm wrong here—they seem like they envision existing schools and universities as their clients, or else see themselves as a supplement for students, which doesn't exactly feel disruptive. That's what excites me about another startup that announced a public beta this week, and which I find impossible to spell: Einztein.
Their concept was to get a team of PhD experts to review what's out there in free and open course content, and to help people find the best. This is something that's really needed as it can be hard to find and evaluate what's out there. Today the site features complete courses only—2000, across 35 categories, from 100+ providers. Later this year they're rolling out a suite of social tools to enable people to learn together. By the way, it's all free, and the company's a nonprofit.