Cultivating Education Inventors and Entrepreneurs for Startl

Giving designers, creators, hackers, coders, and builders the support and mentoring they need to develop new tools for the education market.

Startl is a social venture backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates, John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur, William and Flora Hewlett, Lumina, and W.K. Kellogg foundations that serves as an accelerator for education-related technologies. It helps fund and mentor innovators, supporting entrepreneurs in turning potential breakthrough ideas into viable solutions. The nonprofit group has assembled a set of key partners to create a vibrant environment of innovation around high-quality digital learning products and services. Along with DreamIT Ventures helping to accelerate promising ideas to market, and Berkery Noyes identifying seed partners and potential funding, IDEO is helping to guide young designers in discovering what it means to design for effective learning, and to employ a rigorous and highly creative user-centered product design and development process.

IDEO is the lead partner in the development of Design Boost, Startl’s weeklong boot camp for emerging entrepreneurs, and supports Startl’s 12-week summer Accelerator program with audits and design reviews.

The first Design Boost, held in New York in March 2010 with exclusive funding from the Pearson Foundation, focused on mobile applications that would excite and engage kids in meaningful learning. Startl chose this category to fill a market void — the dearth of high-quality mobile apps for education — and to help start-ups seize this massive opportunity to make a difference. IDEO put together the schedule, training materials, and work sessions for the weeklong immersion program, which gave new entrepreneurs hands-on experience in a full-fledged design and development process. Topics included everything from behavioral archaeology and storyboarding to product pitching and prototyping.

Nine participating teams worked with peers and mentors, including IDEO designers, VCs, and learning experts, on turning their creative ideas into effective, marketable educational tools for the Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, and Symbian platforms. At the end of the week, they presented their products to a panel of judges. Their R&D topics included: EcoExplorer, a product that which helps users solve environmental mysteries with real-world sensor data; Laser Recall, a brain fitness app based on visual and auditory memory exercises; Tag!, a user-adapted and social networking mobile device application that is both a game and educational tool; and EduK8, a social communication platform for sharing educational content and experiences.

“It’s clear to us at Startl that if we are going to succeed in moving the education technology market from institutional-centered to learner-centered products, we need a talent pool that understands how to design for the end user,” said Diana Rhoten, founder and managing director, Startl. “The Boost was a perfect first step in that direction. The practical experience of applying human-centered design was profound for each of our teams and the immediate impact on their products was remarkable.”

Startl and IDEO plan to continue collaborating and working with select entrepreneurs on their educational enterprises. A second Design Boost workshop, funded again by the Pearson Foundation, is in the works for fall 2010.

Project date: 2010

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