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Imagine K12 Demo Day: 11 Rising Startups

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"The future of our education system and the future of the country are inextricably tied," said Imagine K12 co-founder Tim Brady. He said transformation is "not a matter of if, only how" and #ik12 plans to be part of "ushering in the how, keeping student outcome front and center."

Brady recapped the 2012 breakout trend, Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and a growing trend of younger teachers--the percentage under 30 has doubled in last seven years that can't imagine pre-Internet life and can't imagine not using Internet to make themselves better. Brady suggested both trends point to consumer-like adoption behavior from teachers and learners that are allowing startups to skip the dreaded district slog (i.e., the long slow difficult sales cycle with school district customers).

Geoff Ralston, another co-founder and former Yahoo executive, said "It was time to bring together Silicon Valley culture--hacking--with edtech." Ralston noted that of last two Imagine K12 cohorts "70 percent have received seed funding and 90 percent are still active." He noted five of the 20 with big traction: EduCreations, Tap to Learn, Hapara, Socrative, and ClassDojo.

Startups: The 2012 Imagine K12 companies include the following.

1. Edcanvas: Amy Lin spent three years on the Office team at Microsoft, now she's out to redefine presentations. She figures that teachers spend almost 40 percent of their day presenting and those that use PowerPoint aren't harnessing the power of the web. Amy, who drove her edcanvas presentation from her iPhone, wants to make it easier for teachers to create, present, and share knowledge.

2. "Schools more connected, but there's lots of R rated content out there." Vinay Mahadik and his partner Bharath Madhusudan, both with McAfee experience, set out to fix the problem with a cloud based, easy to use, inexpensive, K-12 focused web filtering solution. They are excited about growth in 1:1 access in this country and are confident their international sales will be even higher.

3.Chalk: U.S. schools attempt to collect about 220 million permission slips annually and handle billions of forms. "We get rid of paperwork," said Qian, a Chalk co-founder. Chalk allows a teacher to select a group, create a form, and collect electronic signatures--a teacher's assistant that can save a lot of time. Quin concluded with the goal statement for Imagine K12 participation, "We have a great product, we have traction, and we're raising a seed round."

4. CodeHS: Jeremy Keeshan? taught computer science at Stanford. There he learned that only five percent of U.S. high schools offer AP Computer Science. Last year only 22,000 students took AP CS while 400,000 took AP History. Jeremy plans to wants to change that solving the human capital problem with computer science curriculum in a box. For about $100 per student, CodeHS will deliver short video, a coding platform, and online help. Compared to the 'learn-to-build-a-website-in-a-week' courses, CodeHS will focus on real programming skills.

5. Noredink: veteran English teacher Jeff Scheur wants kids to learn grammar. He thinks "Social media has made the grammar problem worse." His solution builds on student interests to create a personalized curriculum of tutorials. It's not multiple choice, it's live sentence manipulation backed by full data collection. Scheur won $75,000 at Education Nation, has great traction, paying customers, and completed a seed round (including Learn Capital, where I'm a partner).

6. DSK: David Renteln observed that for most students, studying sucks. Drop Some Knowledge (DSK) is his effort to make studying mobile, social, competitive, and fun. DSK enables content generation from multiple sources and will use advertisements to monitize the test prep platform.

7. Smartercookie: "For most teachers, professional development is infrequent, lecture style, with no follow up," but Tess from smartercookie thinks, "video coaching can change that." The startup allows teachers to record a lesson, upload it, and share with coach who provides time-stamped feedback.

8. DigitWhiz: veteran math coach and HP engineer Kasey Brown knows why so many kids struggle with math, "The are missing foundational skills." DigitWhiz is her effort to get kids back on track. The iPad math game has been downloaded 4000 times with half of the users coming from Title 1 schools.

9. StudyRoom: Half of MOOC students drop in a week and about 95 percent fail to complete. Emerson, Zach, Pindi, and Amadeus set out to change the odds for success by creating communities for online classes that are, "social, effective, and fun."

10. Raise: there's a lot of scholarship money out there but most is awarded late or after high school. Raise wants to reinvent scholarships by allowing students to accumulate scholarships sooner based on attendance, improvement, service--any variables donors choose. Raise makes it easy to crowdsource DIY scholarships.

11. Tioki: Brian Martinez wants to create the LinkedIn for teachers--an online professional network for educators. Mitch Kapor and 500 Startups think he's on to something, so do 4000 educators.

The 11 companies hope to thrive "where lean startup meets K-12," as co-founder Alan Louie explained, "and the adoption models look like consumer web."

Imagine K12 has landed on a formula: solve a problem, build a beta, get some traction from high fidelity users, build a good deck, polish the pitch, and raise a seed round. This is less about marketing and more about "finding market fit," said former Google executive Louie, "And we're so thrilled to see that it's working."

Jessie Arora of TeacherSquare.org noted the healthy diversity of the 11 teams in terms of age, race and experience. I noted that Alan, Geoff and Tim are having fun and seem to be providing great advice to folks that want to build a business and make a difference.

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