Twin Cities Startup Weekend Education Event a Hit

Co-Authored by Chris Hesselbein and Mary Ryerse
When it comes to understanding the true nature of the immense challenges facing our educational system, who is more informed than the teachers who face these obstacles with their home-grown solutions on a daily basis? Unfortunately, teachers are often so taxed by the immediate needs of their own students that they rarely have the time or resources to bring their solutions to scale. Software developers and designers, on the other hand, have incredible talent for creating digital solutions. However, they, like all artists, need a worthwhile project to ignite their passion. What if these two groups could join forces? This is exactly the premise proposed by Twin Cities Startup Weekend EDU #TCswedu).
Startup Weekends. Startup Weekends “are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers, and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products, and launch startups!” What makes the EDU edition so special is that it brings educators and parents into the mix with one common goal, the betterment of education. On May 2nd, over 85 dedicated professionals joined together at host and sponsor University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management to do just that.
Pitch. The weekend started off with a “Pitch Fire” session in which anyone with an idea had just sixty seconds to sell it. The pitches included topics such as parent-teacher conferences, organic chemistry, digital content overlays, gamification, expert mentorship, and early childhood literacy. The ideas were voted upon by everyone in the room, giving special recognition to educators’ expert opinions. From there, a frantic recruiting process erupted resulting in startup teams, all of eight of which rallied around ideas pitched by teachers and parents.
Build. Over the next two days, teams researched their target markets, crafted code, and designed their products and branding. Local and international giant, and one of several SWEDU sponsors, 3M provided a Collaboration Kit with colorful Post-it Products, idea starters and other essentials to help stimulate thinking and interaction. This was a taxing yet invigorating process in which many ideas wilted away so that the best could thrive.
Launch. At the end of the 48 hour frenzy, teams had five minutes to present their products to a panel of judges, Shark Tank Style. The all star panel included Tod Brekhus (Capstone Digital), Jay Haugen (Farmington School District), Lois Josefson (TiE Minnesota, EduTech Showcase), Don Smithmier (GoKart Labs), Josh Susher (ECMC Group). Presentations were evaluated in four aspects: market validation, product execution, user experience design, and potential educational impact.

  • Taking first place, DocentEdu (@DocentEDU) layers learning onto web content. Teachers can overlay questions, comments, discussion threads and more over third party digital content. Led by Matt Nupen(@mattnupen) and Karin Hogen(@karinhogen), this team has already made their product available for trial at
  • In second place, Cyclo6 led by Julia Winter(@OChemPrep) turns critical practice for organic chemistry into a simple yet engaging puzzle game that allows for personalized practice and feedback.
  • LoopEDUin and iReadaBook (@iReadaBook) tied for third place. LoopEDUin set out to create a tool for increasing the flexibility and effectiveness of parent-teacher conferences. This online scheduling and video conferencing system was initiated by Stephanie Alford, a parent who pitched her idea at the last minute! iReadaBook was spearheaded by Michael Rex Schumaker, an active parent who is on a quest to provide a platform for students, parents and teachers to engage in discussion around, and assess comprehension of, student independent reading.

Although these four were the finalists, every team held merit for changing the face of education and was encouraged to pursue their ideas. Organizers of the event include Christopher Nyren (@cnyren) and Steven Wellvang (@stevenwellvang) of Educelerate, along with Kristin Daniels(@kadaniels), and Justin Moen(@justinmoen). The UpGlobal facilitator of the event was Seijen Takamura(@seij). Lead sponsors included ECMC and the University of Minnesota. This is yet another example that the Twin Cities have gone far beyond Wobegon.
HesselbeinChris Hesselbein (@ChrisHesselbein) is an Technology Integration Consultant, a Speaker, a Writer, but foremost, he is an educator. With seven years of teaching experience in a middle school classroom, he understands that learners come first. Excellent pedagogy and valid research are at the heart of his writing and professional development offerings. Chris is pushing for not only structural changes in our educational system, but more importantly, cultural changes. He hopes to bring context to current trends in educational technology through big-picture thinking and the theoretical frameworks that guide his work

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