Canada’s first ever edition of Startup Weekend EDU concluded yesterday with newly formed startups LearningLoop, SmartyPants and Fieldr taking top honours after the 54-hour marathon event.
Aron Solomon was one of five judges at the event, and said he was most impressed with the work ethic of the participants.
“From the time people pitched on Friday afternoon, they were working seriously hard,” said Solomon, a senior advisor at MaRS Education Innovation. “The second thing that really impressed me was that throughout the weekend it became readily apparent that there were actual education startups forming.”
Startup Weekends have proved to be popular all over the world, particularly in North America. The non-profit organization is a global grassroots movement of entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures. It is the “largest community of passionate entrepreneurs with over 400 past events in 100 countries around the world.”
Montreal and Toronto both have played host to several Startup Weekends, which follow the same timeline: all participants take part in a “pitch fire” on the Friday night, form teams, and over a total of 54 hours new web startups are built. The Sunday is reserved for judging, and declaring which teams have won.
Of course this past weekend saw a twist to the story, as Toronto hosted Canada’s first Startup Weekend EDU, focused on developing startups in the education innovation space. Startup Weekend EDUs have already been successfully executed in New York, Silicon Valley and Seattle.
The past weekend saw over 100 of Toronto’s developers, designers, marketers, product managers, startup enthusiasts, students and educators present 12 startup ideas. The ideas created tackled challenges faced by those in the education space, affecting all levels of academia.
Judges (including venture capitalists, education specialists and successful entrepreneurs) graded startup ideas ranging from kid-friendly online banking to crowd-funded scholarships.
Taking first prize was LearningLoop, an online platform that allows educators and parents to share information about their child in a simple and meaningful way. Users can track observations, get insights, celebrate achievements and help education’s youngest members thrive.
LearningLoop’s Alison Gibbins said that part of the motivation for creating the startups is that communication between teachers and parents needs to improve. “Everyone on the team all had their hearts in the right places to improve education and I now feel like I’ve known them for years. This is going to change the lives of the members on our team and the lives of children,” said Gibbins. “A part of our prize is to head to Google’s accelerator program in Silicon Valley.”
LearningLoop can now take advantage of a prize valued at $20,000, including an innovation assessment grant, legal services and IP consultation, PR and events consultation, advisory support from MaRS Education Innovation advisors and more.
Claiming second and third place was SmartyPants and Fieldr. SmartyPants aims to create learning experiences for children by turning any game into an educational experience. Meanwhile Fieldr allows users to quickly discover unique, local, affordable field trip experiences that are matched to achieve your specific curriculum requirements.
As one of five judges Solomon said everyone including organizers and participants worked “extremely hard” during the entire 54 hours. While he held his fellow judges “in the highest esteem,” he was disappointed that there were no women judges. After all, it’s estimated that about 80% of educators in North America are women and at least half of all students are female. Solomon also mentioned that only one judge was a former educator or education-focused investor: himself.
“The education innovation space is a bit of a different space so I would have liked to see a more education-focused panel. But this was the first ever startup weekend EDU in Canada so there were going to be some bumps in the road,” he said.