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Launch Edu Highlights: A Startup that Fills the LEGO Gap for Girls, and iPad Games That Track Preschool Learning

on Monday, Jul. 1st

Though it’s administered on a much smaller scale than its parent Launch Festival, the Launch Education and Kids Conference should be credited for its impressive fidelity to the star power and engaging curation that mark the larger conference.

Founder Jason Calcanis is the parent of a young daughter, which partly explains his interest in the kids and education startup space. More germane, as evinced by the impressive lineup of companies and investors, there’s plenty of money to be made here, and troubling gaps in public schools that would be well served by some of the tech innovation bubbling up in this sector.

Reporter Christina So from our sister site Youth Radio joined Turnstyle News to check out last month’s 2nd annual Launch Edu at the Microsoft Silicon Valley Conference Center, and helped review our favorite sessions dedicated to learning, kids, and startups:

Nishat: The first event we attended at Launch Edu was Jason Calcanis’ “Fireside Chat” with Lynda Weinman of the software education site Lynda.com. Neither one of us knew that much about Lynda.com before Launch, but there were a couple of really interesting aspects of their story and strategy that are worth highlighting. I was interested to hear how the Lynda.com team came up with its monthly membership rate (which they haven’t raised in the 18 some odd years since the site’s inception). As Weinman recalled, during a staff meeting, one of the employees who was a part-time student at a community college at the time said that he would question any amount over $25. Accordingly, Weinman said they thought, “We can always raise the price; let’s start there.” However, she said they haven’t raised the price since because it’s been so successful – more than 300,000 people are signed up (and still paying $25 a month).

There was a lot of discussion about Lynda.com’s competitors in the online education space, but I thought Weinman was pretty placid, even collegial, towards those competitors, expressing absolute confidence in Lynda.com’s paid, high-quality teaching model, saying, “Free is the majority of what’s out there. It may be slowing us down but we’re going at a wonderful clip – the people who use Lynda.com think very highly of it, and that’s what’s important to us.”

Most of our time at the conference was spent watching ed startups pitch their products to a panel of judges. There were a lot of really cool ones — in fact, in the first round, the judges had trouble picking a favorite. I think my favorite of the day was Roominate, which was built by two women from Stanford, a mechanical engineer, and an electronic engineer. It’s a DIY, wired, dollhouse building kit — but as co-founder Alice Brooks explained in her presentation, it’s being used by girls (and boys!) to build all manner of structures, not just dollhouses. Christina, any thoughts about it? Any other favorites you’d like to highlight?

Christina: I thought Roominate was pretty cool too! It allows young girls to be introduced to building with their imagination and gives them a small taste of what STEM careers were going to be like, if they do decide to pursue them in the future. Furthermore, it opens up a whole new market for entrepreneurs! It’s true that the majority of building games such as LEGOS, Bionicles, etc. are meant for boys and no building games has been built for girls yet. In the long run, I believe games like Roominate, which will give young girls an early introduction to STEM fields, will even the ratio of men to women in STEM careers.

Another favorite of mine was the Kidaptive app for pre-schoolers. Even though I believe that the target age range of the app may not be right for the app, the game in itself is quite amazing. The results that come from using the app have big implications for parents and teachers alike, possibly lessening the emotional and financial burden that usually occurs during a child’s early years. Like the Kidaptive presenter said, most parents and teachers have no way of knowing the skill level or interest of the children at that age. Color-blindness and other learning disabilities are usually hard to identify when children are young, especially since the children have yet to learn how to communicate these problems to their parents or teachers. Kidapative would allow teachers and parents to adjust and mitigate the problem while it’s still in its early stage. Plus, there’s great animation.

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