Why school leaders and ed tech startups should attend Pitchfest at FETC 2021

The third annual pitch event gave schools immediate access to innovative new solutions and opened up a massive network for ed tech startups

At FETC®’s third annual Pitchfest, district administrators received an immediate, quick rundown of the most innovative new solutions that could solve the various problems facing their schools—just the way they like it. Meanwhile, ed tech startups had the chance to showcase their technologies in front of the clients they serve: the education industry. This all took place at FETC’s Trailblazer Theater in the Expo Hall.

“The hardest obstacle that startups face, beyond building the tech and assembling a team, is connecting to the customers for product feedback,” CEO Kyle Steele of Learn Jelly told District Administration in a private interview. “That’s the value of FETC’s Pitchfest because it opens them up to a network that would take them years to literally do on their own.”

This year, 24 company leaders had to pitch their product or service in four minutes to a panel of four judges, one of whom was last year’s winner: Julia Rivard of Squiggle Park. As participants learned, her ed tech company went from zero customers to 1 million after last year’s Pitchfest.


Read more: Congratulations to the winner of Pitchfest!

These judges chose the top four contenders to compete in the final round, but now the finalists faced a three-minute timer. “They already got us excited about their solutions in the preliminary rounds. Now, can they prove to us that they have the team and network to solve their challenge and make it sustainable?”  said Steele, also program director at Rally Social Enterprise Accelerator and managing partner of CREDO Conduit.

Here’s a look at some of the competitors.

Security and privacy

Many of the ed tech startups addressed different facets of security challenges that most school systems face. CEO Shuang Ji of Deledao Education presented his AI-powered solution that shields students from harmful website content and social media platforms by blurring photos in real time.

“Bad content can really traumatize students,” said Ji to the audience.

Deledao also protects students from harmful videos. “Originally, there was no way to preview all the YouTube videos out there. So we created an approach that can blur out the portions of the video that are offensive and even mute the sound,” the CEO said. “When the content is no longer harmful, then the video returns to normal.”

Another solution provider revealed that while schools tackle security by building physical barriers and running drills to prepare for an incident, they could make a bigger impact by focusing on the response. “How do you get people safely behind a locked door?” said Alysse Daniels, vice president of strategic sales at CENTEGIX. “Because, honestly, every second matters.”

The solution: a Crisis Alert badge that each staffer wears around their neck. “After Parkland, every staff member should have the capability to call for help,” Daniels told the audience. When the alert is enacted, the Crisis Alert proprietary niche network identifies the location of everyone, anywhere on campus, “down to the room in a multilevel building.”

Chronic absenteeism

Chronic absenteeism was touched upon by a few competitors, including Leader.Live. Co-founders Angela Polite and Stephanie Friedman revealed that their web-based management system quantifies school culture. “After one year, schools that adopted our solution saw an uptick in attendance rates and a decrease in the number of students who were chronically absent.”

Similarly, AllHere prevents absenteeism by generating interventions. “Schools can use libraries of evidence-based strategies to model lesson plans and pedagogy, but not to intervene with students who have trouble attending, so we created a solution that will let them,” said the company’s representative.

Doing the work for you

Since administrators don’t have the time to sift through data, many companies found a way to do it for them, including AllHere. “We manage the process in real time across the district to create a common language and framework,” the AllHere rep said. The company only presents the interventions that make sense to their clients.

Similarly, a company that identifies whether students’ handwriting skills are below average does all of the heavy lifting. “Low handwriting skills lead to decreased reading, math and other cognitive skills,” revealed the pediatric occupational therapist founder of OT App Design. “Students just need to do some handwriting exercises using our screen tool and then teachers send it to us to enter into our machine learning algorithm for us to determine whether those students are below proficiency, so there’s no training necessary. We made it easy.”

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