Education stars as major player in Gainesville’s tech startup community

September 13th, 2017 Events, Funding, News, Shootout, Startups

By: Lana Nasser

A copy of this article is seen in the August Edition of the Florida Business Report

With a shared goal to change the world and improve learning strategies through technology, innovative EdTech startups emerge into Gainesville’s startup community with a bang.

EdTech startups act as bright spots, ideas worth emulating, for entrepreneurs who seek to reform the methods in which education is offered. Gainesville-based Education startups like Knack, Omninox, Immersed Games, Tao Connect and Study Edge leverage their inspirations of innovative learning techniques with apps that both engage users and increase the likelihood of academic achievement in college courses.

But, why Gainesville? Entrepreneurs in EdTech recognize Gainesville as an opportunity-hub brimming with individuals who seek to leverage expertise and passion for the benefit of providing jobs, expanding the local economy, and solving problems that transcend local issues through educational reform.

“While there’s no place like San Francisco – it has a history of success in tech, it’s a larger ecosystem of people from more diverse backgrounds – but Gainesville is starting to take shape and move in a direction that emulates tech successes in Silicon Valley,” said Samyr Qureshi, Co-Founder and CEO of Knack, a local marketplace for peer-to-peer tutoring developed in the University of Florida’s Gator Hatchery.

In addition, Gainesville is far more cost-effective to start a business than other tech-startup hubs like San Francisco.

“One of our largest benefits has been the low cost of living while still being in a progressive, culturally positive town for our team. If we moved to one of the larger markets, we’d need to have three times the salaries immediately and since our company is working on a really ambitious undertaking that requires a lot of up front development, there is just no way I could have raised the money we needed or accomplished as much as we’ve been able to had I been burning three times more cash,” said Lindsey Tropf, CEO of Immersed Games.

 

Another benefit Gainesville provides entrepreneurs is a rich community of investors, experts, and entrepreneurs who all want to learn from one another, connect with one another and see one another succeed in their business goals.

A cost-effective city that’s brimming with up-and-coming tech-related innovation centered around a renowned public university make Gainesville a hot-spot for EdTech entrepreneurs to develop their companies from business proposals to final product and product launch.

The trend toward development of education reform through technology takes traditional methods of learning and adapts them to a more tailored, relatable form that students can and want to understand.

“I’m obsessively motivated with our startup and wanting to see educational startups succeed because education is, in many ways, the root problem of the world,” said Tropf.

Figuring out more ways to scale successful, hands-on, personalized learning models is essential, and educational tech startups are enabling educators to do more with the incredible tools they are creating.

While some education-based professionals view gaming as an unnecessary accessory to learning, EdTech in the form of gaming utilizes efficient learning theory that produces results as it features hands-on, active learning that can be personalized for every student and is easy to scale across the entire world, according to Tropf.

“So really, gaming to me is one of the most practical ways you can reach all students with top tier, hands-on learning opportunities, regardless of the other resources they have available to them, and these types of experiences are what educational technology startups are enabling, which is just incredible,” Tropf said.

Immersed Games has received considerable recognition as a premier EdTech startup. The company is a Cohort 2 Alumni of the Intel Education Accelerator Program, a program aimed at helping edtech companies grow from their early stages and become transformative in their missions to change education for student success.

Gainesville startup TAO Connect, both in EdTech and MedTech, pursued their goal to improve the ease and methods in which students access affordable and effective treatment. The startup created a virtual platform designed to optimize therapy and improve patient outcomes and recently raised $1.5 million from two Angel Funds.

Education tech-startups that create new methods of tutoring the substantial student population in Gainesville have seen success in their efforts as well.

Launched in January 2016, UF alumni startup, Knack, created a peer-to-peer app that makes finding a local tutor easier by finding student tutors in the area. Available on iOS and Android, the app focuses on tutoring that gives students who are successful in a course the ability to teach other students the material and earn money in the process.

With the mission to expand to as many campuses they can without compromising their product or bandwidth, Knack is currently focussed on expanding their product to five new markets.

Knack gained recognition for their product in April 2016 when they won UF’s Business Plan Competition and received a prize of $25,000. The startup has also gained significant investment capital from large investors in Silicon Valley, education fund Bisk Ventures in Tampa, Florida, and their first investment from the TiE Tampa Bay Angel Fund, according to Qureshi.

“We’ve raised significant capital, under $10,000,000,” Qureshi said.

Study Edge, another UF-Alumni edtech startup, has helped more than 50,000 UF students with their coursework. According to UF’s Warrington Newsroom, “the concept for Study Edge is quite simple. A staff can conduct only so many in-person tutoring sessions. To reach a larger audience, Study Edge films review sessions and concept videos in its classrooms and studios. Students can access these tutoring sessions, as well as short concept videos, anytime by using Study Edge’s Facebook, iPhone/iPad and Android apps

Study edge was one of 100 companies recognized at the 2nd Annual Gator 100 Awards, which recognizes quickly-growing companies created by UF Alums. The company also won the Gainesville Area Innovation Network sponsored event, The FastPitch in 2012 and were awarded with funding. According to Ethan Fieldman, Study Edge’s President, the company successfully completed the Y-Combinator business accelerator program in summer 2012.

“As of 2017, more than three-quarters of a million students have been pushed towards higher academic achievement through Study Edge-powered online supplemental instruction” according to Fieldman.

UF-Alum Startup, Omninox, reduces the time teachers spend creating and grading assignments with innovative development and licensed content from Kaplan. According to co-founder, Yatit Thakker, Omninox provides teachers an effective way to measure students’ progress in their classroom.

“By combining quality content with in-platform analytics, teachers get unparalleled information about how their students learn,” Thakker said.

In January 2017, Omninox received funding from The Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research to further the edutech startups success in the Education sector.

Other than originating in Gainesville, these five edutech startups are also members of GAIN and have participated in the annual Shootout event in the past six years.

GAIN’s annual event, The Shootout, gives Florida entrepreneurs the chance to compete with other tech-entrepreneurs, pitch business ideas to panels of distinguished investors and experts, gain state-wide recognition and win cash prizes to advance their business plans

The seventh annual GAIN Shootout will take  place at the Holiday Inn University on November 1, 2017, from 2 – 8 p.m. The application period to participate as a competitor in The Shootout ends on September 15th, 2017. Visit http://gainnet.org/gain-7th-annual-shootout/ for more information about The Shootout and how to register.

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