Friday Night Lights (and Pitches)

July 19, 2011

Last Friday night saw nearly 300 Bay Area entrepreneurs, VCs and philanthropists gather for the final pitch session of The EdTech Entrepreneurs Lab, an education startup incubation program helping cultivate the next generation of education technology entrepreneurs. Since February, a cohort of 25 incredible individuals has been working through the Lab on tech-enabled solutions to the challenges facing American public education—and at this culminating event, their months of hard work were clear.

Percilla Ortega, founder of DesignED

The inaugural EdTech Entrepreneurs Lab has been an amazing opportunity for NewSchools to extend its efforts cultivating entrepreneurs in education technology. With Teach For America and the Stanford d. School, we’ve been able to concentrate on an area with incredible promise and energy, particularly clear in the Bay Area. Friday’s event showcased eight startups ranging from dailypage—a  service that applies the best aspects of social sports training applications to motivating students to read—to  Skoodio—a startup that seeks to help high school students leverage crowdsourcing techniques to have their work peer reviewed. You can learn about all of the startup companies on

The energy in the room was palpable as teams pitched their ideas before the panel of judges, including Larry Kubal (Labrador Ventures), Mitch Kapor (Kapor Capital), Dave Whorton (Tugboat Ventures), Neeru Khosla (CK-12 Foundation), Ethan Beard (Facebook), Farb Nivi (Grockit), Geoff Ralston (Imagine K12) and Miriam Rivera (ULU Ventures). These experts from technology, venture capital, philanthropy and education, gave the entrepreneurs an opportunity to hear constructive advice from leaders in the field. They walked away with insights on encouraging early prototypes and iteration, a laser focus on traction and user growth, being realistic in sizing your market opportunity, understanding your market and competition, and always aiming to build a sustainable and impactful business model. 

Winning the highest scores from the audience was Percilla Ortega, whose company DesignED proposes a hybrid learning model to improve academic outcomes for juveniles trapped in the criminal justice system. Both the judges and audience were moved by Ortega’s vision to impact this often overlooked and underserved student segment and her strategy to leverage a blended platform to get these students back on track and earn their diplomas–ultimately helping to close the achievement gap.

The runner up, Edjigsaw, led by Jenny Tsai, Jess Morgan, Cameron White and Monica Sun, is an online service intended to help match parents of school-age children with afterschool programs by analyzing a wide range of data points. Students spend 80% of their time out of school; Edjigsaw is responding to this reality and identifying a great opportunity to help improve learning experiences and access for all families.

The evening provided these budding startups a venue to hone their pitching skills, but it also brought together a critical emerging community of entrepreneurs, funders, philanthropists, technologists and educators that are on the forefront of the education technology movement. NewSchools, Teach For America and the Stanford d.School have learned a great deal from this pilot year that we’ll be able to apply to the next iteration of The Lab—and  will continue to build on the great momentum and energy as we strive to make education excellent and equitable for all children.

[View photographs from the EdTech Entrepreneurs Lab pitch session]