Erin Klem  | April 28, 2014

Five Challenge Cup Education Finalists That Made the Grade

I know it makes me sound incredibly ancient, but when I was in school, teachers used blackboards and chalk to communicate ideas to students. I took a class in 7th grade where we learned to type…on actual typewriters. My first computer class involved a Commodore 64 and revolved around how to treat a floppy disk (do not bend or put near anything magnetic).

I’m pretty sure none of the 16 Challenge Cup competitors in the education category are using Commodores or floppy disks.

To recap: A team from Washington D.C. incubator, 1776, traveled to 16 cities around the world to find the best startups in the most regulated industries, including education, health care, smart cities and energy. Sixty-four winning startups from those 16 competitions will converge on Washington D.C. the week of May 12-17 to participate in the Challenge Festival and compete to win the Challenge Cup championship title and $650,000 in prizes. (Still confused or want more details? Check out this video)

It’s going to be pretty insane. And is along for the ride.

To kick off our Challenge Festival coverage, let’s look back at some of the smartest kids in the room – five of the winners from the education category.

  1. He was the guy in the bright yellow wiener dog shirt that kicked off this whole Challenge Cup pitch competition thing. The very first Challenge Cup pitch person was none other than eduCanon founder Ben Levy. He must have made a good first impression because eduCanon, an online learning platform to build and share interactive video lessons, won the education category at the Washington D.C. Challenge Cup event.
  2., a Tel Aviv Challenge Cup winner, is a free tool that lets you learn a language while surfing the web. The approach, cofounder and CEO Jan Ihmels told 1776, “is to provide context for learners and engage them in real-world content that naturally exposes them to all aspects of the language, much like how children master grammar perfectly without any explicit instruction.” Once available only as a Chrome extension, the team behind launched an app in April.
  3. Are you looking for a social learning environment that motivates and accelerates your personal development? Look no further than, New York Challenge Cup winner Pathgather, a new user-centric entrant into the social LMS (learning management system) space. Right now, Pathgather is focused on corporate learning—not surprising since they’ve partnered with QualComm. But the future for this “Kayak for online learning,” is wide open, says Pathgather co-founder Eric Duffy. “The scale of the opportunity in the long run is enormous. I could see it for populations that have never had access before—period.”
  4. The intriguingly named Squirrelthat is an app that allows people to capture learning notes in a neat context very quickly. Willie Maritz pitched the South African-based startup—which he describes to 1776 as a sort of Evernote meets ed tech—at the Cape Town Challenge Cup stop, and notes that mobile is breaking down educational borders in Africa. “[P]ractically everybody has a phone—and not just a basic phone. Almost everybody has a smartphone. We also have fairly good Internet connectivity across Africa, which means that basically everybody has access to all the base content in the world. So I think for the first time, Africa has no excuse for being behind—in terms of access to information and learning content—and mobile learning is really the vehicle to access that.
  5. Danish startup and Challenge Cup Berlin finalist WriteReader was created by school teacher Janus Madsen and is based on Madsen’s more than 15 years of classroom experience. The development of the iPad app, which allows children as young as three to create their own books and learn to read and write in the process, was co-financed by the Danish Ministry of Science and Technology, and was nominated as ”innovation of the year 2013” by the Danish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education. “We launched our iPad app in February of 2013, and the feedback has just been so great. We have parents and teachers writing to us each week telling us how big a difference the app is making for their kids…That is the most satisfactory feeling,” cofounder Babar Baig told 1776.

All 16 education finalists will be participating in the Education Semifinals on Monday, May 12 here in Washington D.C. See a bracket of all the competitors here