SXSW 2013: 8 ed tech startups to watch in Austin

This year’s SXSW Interactive Festival will feature new toys for everyone in the classroom, from dynamic multimedia presentation aids to a personal on-campus event organizing tool. Entrepreneurs eager to transform the academic experience for students and teachers alike will make their case for their startups this weekend, March 8-12. Here are our picks for the top 8 education startups to keep an eye on.

It’s not new for instructors to leave heavy textbooks behind in lieu of their paper-free counterparts, such as digital journal articles, photos and even exams. The Ginkgotree Web app’s purpose is to make that process quicker, easier, cheaper and more customizable. Instructors can choose course material from any textbook or online resource they’d like, from a single passage to an entire volume. Then, through Ginkgotree, teachers can compile their chosen material into personalized virtual syllabi, which students can access on the device of their choice. There’s no worry about copyright infringement; Ginkgotree curricula materials come with automated copyright clearance.

Ginkgotree is one of 12 fledgling companies handpicked to present at SXSW’s startup pitching competition, Hatch.

While the founder of the eLimu app does seek to make Kenyan elementary school students more tech literate, its main purpose is a bit more ambitious: to inspire young people to want to learn. This tablet-based app uses multimedia such as videos, music, cartoons, and interactive games to teach the Kenyan national curriculum materials in an engaging way. To sweeten the pot even more, eLimu’s lessons extend beyond basic math and reading… they also teach social responsibility through principles of environmentalism and human rights.

eLimu’s founder, Nivi Mukherjee, will appear at SXSW as an Africa Diaspora Fellow. The fellowship’s purpose is to strengthen bonds between Kenyan entrepreneurs and Austin’s top-of-the-line tech community.

What do traditional African storytelling methods and social media platforms like Twitter have in common? The minds behind the Kenyan-based Kuyu Project thinks the association is strong. The project aims to harp on that point while teaching African youth to use social media to enact change in their local communities -- by forming relationships locally and internationally, collaborating on group projects, or creating anything from art to educational material. The Kuyu Project teaches principles of citizen journalism, digital literacy, and even “hacktivism” (hacking for activist purposes).

The Kuyu Project’s founder, Simeon Oriko, is also an Africa Diaspora Fellow, chosen to foster relationships between Kenyan entrepreneurs and the Austin tech community.

Class On the Net is about as straightforward as the name sounds, but it’s a service that could be a lifesaver for shy students, absent students—or students who have that professor that never really answers questions in class. Class-specific chat rooms and discussion boards allow students to clarify unresolved questions from the day’s lectures. There’s even a nifty group study session feature which allows for video chat sessions, file sharing and a “live” whiteboard.

Class on the Net competed in SXSW’s Student Startup Madness tournament. They were one of 32 semi-finalists.

If the first four startups give students a helping hand inside the classroom, Campus Bubble is the ultimate organizational tool for when class is dismissed. Part billboard, part file-sharing software, part personal calendar, Campus Bubble allows users to receive event updates from the clubs, Greek organizations, departments, and activist causes they care about (their “bubble,” if you will). Beyond public events, you can use Campus Bubble to organize more individualized happenings, like your class schedule. As opposed to questionably effective methods like flyering and chalking, Campus Bubble can be a centralized hub to find out what’s happening in the groups you care about (no inbox-clogging or Facebook account necessary).

Campus Bubble also competed in the Student Startup Madness tournament as a semi-finalist.

Using the tagline “four-dimensional storytelling,” Meograph can help teachers and students alike quickly put together dynamic multimedia presentations. Meograph goes beyond text, photo, music and video to incorporate a timeline element, infographics, easy narration recording tools and Google Maps. Beyond teaching, Meograph could have important implications for journalists who want to find new ways to tell their stories.

Meograph is a finalist in the SXSW Accelerator competition. They were chosen as one of the top contenders in the battle for best News Technology.

Another twist on bland Powerpoint presentations, Present.me allows users to make a video with dual screens: a slideshow on one and a video of you explaining (or teaching) on the other. The service prides itself on ease of use, so users can pop in video, audio, PDFs, text, or whatever else they’d like to include in their slideshow directly into the Present.me interface. As an added bonus, Present.me is cloud-based, so no taking up space on your hard drive with huge presentation files. Tablet users can view Present.me presentations without downloading any extra software (mobile coming soon).

This UK-based company is also a finalist in the SXSW Accelerator competition, in the Social Technologies category.

This site isn’t touted as an education tool, but its potential uses in classrooms may be understated. Click With Me Now is a web-based “co-browsing” application that allows an Internet user in Florida to watch a person’s web activity in California (with their knowledge, of course). The service does not require users to sign up or pay. Professors who teach online classes could use the service to teach students proper online research methods, for example. 

Click With Me Now is another SXSW Accelerator finalist in the Social Technologies category.


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Filed Under: Higher Ed K12 Technology Online Learning