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'Big Ideas Fest' Tackles Money Matters and Startup Ideas

For the second set of presentations Monday afternoon here at the Big Ideas Fest in Half Moon Bay, Calif., the emphasis was on identifying more efficent ways to use financial resources to help students and encouraging education entrepreneurs to create products and services that solve real problems.

Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, the president of Say Yes to Education, spoke about the mission of that organization, which aims to improve educational outcomes for economically disadvantaged youth. To that end, Say Yes to Education has developed a strategy for bringing together different players in education—from state and local government leaders and higher education officials to teacher union representatives and classroom educators—to make sure tuition scholarships get into the hands of students who need them the most.

Part of the problem with government programs, said Schmitt-Carey, is that they often impose mandates and regulations on organizations rather than working with them to figure out the best use of resources. Say Yes to Education's model incorporates feedback from local organizations to best address their needs, she said. And part of that is convincing people that school improvement is married to economic development, she said, which drew applause from the audience.

Next, Khalid Smith, an education leader at Startup Weekend gave some insight into the development of Startup Weekend Education, which brings together education entrepreneurs for a weekend to design ideas and products to solve problems in education. Smith spoke about the evolution of the event, which began by targeting ed-tech entrepreneurs but has since expanded to include educators as well. Those educators have become a crucial part of the weekend, said Smith, since they are the ones who have the deep, meaningful knowledge about the problems that students and teachers face. The educators who participate often turn into coaches and mentors for the designers and developers who attend the event. For more information about education startups, be sure to follow Education Week's Industry and Innovation channel, and my colleague Jason Tomassini's blog Marketplace K-12.

Breaking down barriers between groups of people who normally do not mix is a theme at this year's Big Ideas Fest. In both Schmitt-Carey and Smith's organizations, breaking down those silos and encouraging a wide range of education players to sit down at the table to craft solutions to problems was a critical reason for their overall success. Recognizing that education does not occur in a vacuum and is tied to many facets of society is also reflected in the attendees here at the conference, including community college leaders, education entrepreneurs, K-12 educators, and Silicon Valley tech experts.

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