Real Pain Points, Real Solutions: Oakland Startup Weekend Education

February 25, 2014

and Anne Soto


“Build Community. Start Companies. No Talk. All Action.” – Startup Weekend Motto

When we met Nina Portugal two weeks ago at a Teach For America information session about Oakland’s first-ever Startup Weekend EDU, she described the specific struggles of her long-term English learner students at Castlemont High School in Oakland.  Nina was on the fence about pitching her idea in front of hundreds of strangers, but eventually joined the other 32 brave souls who pitched ideas to improve education.  Little did Nina expect that over the course of just 54 hours, her team, Rock Your Voice, would create a product she could put to use on Monday morning in her classroom.  Nina now has a voice transcription tool to better assess her students’ language and literacy skills.

This is just one of many inspirational examples of ideas going from concept to execution this past weekend at SWEDU Oakland.  Entrepreneurs, designers, developers, and educators from across Oakland, the Bay Area and the country formed teams like Rock Your Voice, to produce new ventures.  A few teams took on the SWEDU Oakland Special Challenge and built solutions to increase family engagement in Oakland schools.     

This weekend represents exactly the type of innovation NewSchools Venture Fund’s Oakland Fund and Seed Fund, co-collaborators on this event, are trying to stimulate: “educator-approved” solutions that have the power to change the face of education for low-income students.

We look forward to witnessing how the ideas launched this weekend develop and hope Nina’s story inspires others to build real solutions that solve real pain points for educators, students, and parents.

Written by Shauntel Poulson and Anne Soto, Startup Weekend EDU Oakland Organizers


  • 1st Place, People’s Choice, and Clever Prize – Rock Your Voice: English Learner software for creating a connection between oral language proficiency and written literacy skills
  • 2nd Place – Catch: platform to help parents engage with their students on their studies through games
  • 3rd Place – DesignED: professional development workshops and online content to bring design thinking to schools and teachers
  • Oakland Special Prize – Talking Points: SMS platform to enhance parent-student communication 

Other Participants:

  • Design Success: personal assistant development program for district leaders and managers
  • Engage ‘em: web solution for getting students to converse in group lesson setting
  • E-games: creating educational parodies of the most popular games, harnessing student engagement through gaming
  • Funbox: subscription-based boxes full of fun science activities
  • Math Wrench: blended learning for math students to build conceptual understanding
  • Pathfinder: mentoring platform connecting students to networks within local communities and corporations
  • PeerNow: platform to connect students on demand with local peer mentors
  • Reading with Relevance: culturally relevant literature aligned to ELA standards
  • Robox: low-cost robot toolkit in a box for cost effective, hands on STEM instruction
  • Spellzite: online, engaging Words Their Way
  • Student Voices: polling for students with administrator/teacher accountability attached