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Building 550, Studio 2: “Design Thinking” Within Reach…

This weekend 25 aspiring education entrepreneurs convened in Building 550, Studio 2 (the beautifully industrial-designed workspace at the Stanford d.school) for the kick-off workshop of  The EdTech Entrepreneurs Lab, an initiative of NewSchools and Teach For America. Saturday’s workshop was the official launch of the Winter-Spring 2011 cohort, which represented a diverse cross-section of participants across the technology, education and business sectors. The goal of the program is ambitious: to cultivate and build a strong pipeline of education entrepreneurs who seek to create technology-driven solutions in education. After spending 9 intense hours with this group, I walked away inspired and humbled by the great discussions and hard work that came out of the day. Some highlights include:
  • Design Thinking 101-Rapid Ideation and Prototyping: The energy in the room was high as our d.school teachers-Erica Estrada and Rich Crandall kicked off the morning with a “gift giving” exercise that took the cohort through the entire design process; participants conducted speed interviews, brainstormed ideas, built a prototype and tested the product in a span of 60 minutes. One of the highlights was watching the “rapid prototyping process,” as participants scrambled to build their products out of art and craft materials such as twine, popcicle sticks, plastic cups, and scraps of  felt. Click here for photo highlights.
  • Michael Horn’s Disruptive Innovation: We were also excited to introduce our keynote speaker, Michael Horn, Executive Director of Innosight Institute and co-author of Disrupting Class. Michael walked through the theories behind “Disruptive Innovation”  and provided an overview of the education technology landscape, identifying current pain points and overall trends in online and blended learning models. Importantly, Horn spoke about student motivation and his current belief that schools are improperly integrated: instruction is typically uncoupled from activities in which students can feel success.
  • Lessons Learned from the field: The day ended with an exciting and candid discussion with three guest speakers, including Peter Pham, Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Trinity Partners, Jennifer Carolan, Associate Partner at NewSchools and Alex Bernadotte, CEO and Founder of Beyond 12.  Topics discussed include: 1) identifying key attributes of successful entrepreneurs (persistence, work ethic, resiliency and self-reflection rose to the top); 2) the current fundraising landscape for education startups (currently a somewhat dislocated landscape among foundations, venture philanthropy, angels and VCs); 3) lessons learned from an edtech startup (Beyond 12’s story); 4) the importance of sustainability and what it means to be a “double bottom line” organization; and  5) how current trends in consumer tech are impacting the edtech startup space.
Exhausted and exhilarated, I left the day thinking about how excited and honored I am to be part of this reform movement that is committed to ending education inequity. I feel as committed as ever to continuing the work we do at NewSchools and through the EdTech Lab, supporting this great group of budding entrepreneurs through their next new venture.

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