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6 Ways Festival Startups Are Tackling Education Challenges

Education is a global challenge that every society is struggling to improve. With record levels of unemployment in many economies, people are trying to figure out how to improve student scores and prepare them for jobs that are available today and the jobs of the future.

The Challenge Festival is bringing the 16 education startups we met around the world with potential solutions to this multifaceted challenge. From online learning platforms to teaching tools, from professional development to language learning, the solutions are as interesting and complex as the problem itself.

Let’s dive into six of the trends we saw across the 16 startups:

1. They’re taking advantage of interactive & video learning.

Our very first regional winner, Educanon, kicked things off by pitching its online learning environment for interactive video lessons. Their platform allows teachers to upload videos or lessons, intersperse test questions throughout the video, and then provide the teacher a full report to bring into the classroom the next day of how many students watched the video, , how long it took them, and who understood the content.  Austin winner Aceable is accomplishing similar things with its platform for required education courses. Aceable recreates what used to be dull, classroom education—driver’s ed, for example—as dynamic mobile experiences more suited to a younger generation of learners. Similarly, Youtopia is gamifying student engagement. By reimagining student goals as points and badges, Youtopia’s innovative platform incentivizes students to become more engaged—and lets educators automatically track that engagement.

2. They’re making classrooms easier to manage.

Kids and teachers everywhere struggle with organizing all the different things happening in the classroom—and these startups are helping them keep track of grades, assignments, due dates, and learning. SmartestK12 lets teachers manage assignments and assessments online, which allows them to determine immediate, actionable results for each student. Similarly, Brightloopis a tool for teachers—designed by a former teacher—to capture student insights and soft skills improvement. CEO Molly Levitt built on her own classroom experience when she developed this tool that allows teachers to turn their daily observations about students into personalized student instruction. SquirrelThat offers similar note-taking features, letting users—teachers and students alike, in this case—capture their learning or observations on any device and save it for later use.

3. They’re aiming high—and very young.

The startups we found are starting with the youngest generation of learners, upending the traditional “classroom” model. Before kids even get to school, they can learn to read with Write to Read, a new app for children as young as three years old. With this app and a little help from an adult, children will be able to create books and thereby improve their skills in both writing and reading at the same time. Even though the founders are from Denmark, already pilot schools in California are raving about this product. Similarly, iMedia FM is creating a web-based, English-language program for Chinese children ages 4 to 11. Their platform includes integrated lessons, exercises, games, assessments and reports. Been keeping up with the latest news on Common Core standards? UClass is a Common-Core-lesson marketplace that allows teachers to share tools and lesson plans that have worked in their classrooms.  On UClass, both teachers and textbook companies sell their vetted resources in bite-sized formats so other teachers can mix and match what works for their particular students.

4. They’re revolutionizing higher ed.

One story that consistently makes headlines is the disruption of higher education—at least in the brick-and-mortar sense. How do colleges and universities ensure that they’re staying competitive in the fast-paced world of online and mobile education? Startups want to help. In Denver, we met CampuScene, an online platform which allows students and parents to filter target universities based on something other than pretty photos or enrollment statistics – it matches students based on interests and career goals.

But what if a student gets to campus and decides she wants to study abroad? WeStudyIn is the answer. Cofounder Sasha Olenina built this peer-to-peer platform that facilitates study abroad experiences at top universities around the world so students can easily view programs, compare cost, and see feedback from former participants.  Of course, college isn’t all fun and games, so we found promise in RockYourPaper’s platform, which allows students to search over 1 million research articles from 1,600 Open Access platforms and university digital libraries. Plus, it helps the student writers publish and share their research work with great peer review features—simplifying an outdated and stuffy process. Sounds great, how do students pay for all this education? EduKar offers crowdfunding students’ education, including financial support and various other services to complement student training.

5. They’re matching skills to jobs.

Education doesn’t stop at graduation. During our Challenge Cup tour, we found many startups that are solving the education gap in the professional community. In London, for example,Fluency pitched a learning platform that helps young people develop skills, gain real-world experience and get access to work opportunities. Pathgather is also seizing the opportunity to connect the workforce around professional and personal development. This NYC-based company allows employees to discover, recommend and review the best learning content, track their learning progress and share learning paths with coworkers.

6. They’re making foreign languages less foreign.

In an increasingly globalized world, speaking more than just one language is becoming required learning and we saw startups in almost every city trying to make learning a language easier and more fun. takes a new approach to digital language learning with a free, cross-platform solution that combines an online dictionary with a personalized flashcard system. It also recommends fun everyday written and video content that evolves with your language learning.

The future of each country will be determined by its education system. If we help these entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses, we’ll be securing bright futures—for learners of all ages.

Be sure to join us for the Challenge Festival to find out which education startup will make it to the finals. Register for your badge today!

Melissa Steffan Headshot

Melissa Steffan

Melissa is the former assistant editor for 1776, where she worked on the media team to create compelling, idea-driven content and reporting. A Seattle native, she graduated from Seattle Pacific…