If you would have told me five years ago that New Orleans would be leading the way within the education technology sphere one day, I would have legitimately thought you were crazy, and placed a large bet against your insane prophesy.
Fortunately, I never placed such a bet or else today I would be eating my words, and nothing else, really, after the large financial loss.
While New Orleans has not typically been known for its high rankings within the technology, entrepreneurial, or education realms, recent advancements within all industries are putting us at forefront of education startups.
No, this is not a belated April Fools joke. I’m serious.
Because of Katrina, New Orleans was given an opportunity to reform some of the city’s most detrimental facets, including education. Today, we lead the nation in percentage of public school students enrolled in charter schools with 70%, and as a result, the number of public schools designated to have had “failing” standards has significantly dropped as well. Although not yet perfect, the standardized testing scores are also improving as well.
Another notable contribution to this development is the large concentration of Teach for America members migrating to New Orleans, further adding to the influx of some of the brightest and most ambitious college graduates in the country.
With the remarkable education reform and prominent entrepreneurial growth there is a new opportunity to create businesses that can solve problems within the education system. A new rise in technology based education entrepreneurs are creating solutions that can bridge the achievement gap in education, as well as set a new precedent for other TFA teachers who are considering starting entrepreneurial ventures as they exit the program.
One business that is at the forefront is Dash, a smart phone application that facilitates communicate between parents and teachers through a data management system.
Founded by three Teach for America teachers, Aliyah Bhatia, Grace Landrieu, and Ana Maria de Vries, Dash is the result of a pain point in managing communication with parents. The application was pitched during the TFA Entrepreneurship Cohort, a joint accelerator program between The Idea Village, Teach for America, and 4.0 schools that offers education entrepreneurs access to the tools and support necessary to execute their idea. Through the accelerator program, the team was joined by Megan McLain to take the lead in the company’s communication efforts.
One month after Dash was founded in January, the team flew up to New York City to participate in Startup Weekend EDU, an intensive event focused around building an education-based web or mobile application that could be leveraged into a credible business. Over the course of 54 hours, 130 participants comprised of educators, software programmers, designers, and business developers were each given the opportunity to pitch their idea and then build a viable application with a commercial case around it.
Even without the technology experience, Dash came in second place after pitching their idea, and were connected with 4 more individuals from around the country to join the team and take on the roles of business development, interface lead, designer, and finance lead. The following month at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, Dash pitched at The Education Challenge and came in fourth place at The Big Idea Competition, an impressive accomplishment for a company that was founded merely three months before.
Dash is currently in the process of beta testing, but is expected to be launched for both the iPhone and Android by the start of the 2012 school year with several New Orleans charter schools already interested in integrating the service into their classroom management.
The application will serve as a to-do list linked with the parents phone numbers, further eliminating the use of several different devices, documents, and programs to keep track of communication with the students’ parents. The innovative tool makes it easy for a teacher to sign up in less than 10 minutes, activate the system instantly, and import and export phone numbers.
One school already eager to start using the app is Landry, whose Principal showed interest when he was introduced to the Dash app days before New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, and showed his support to them at the week’s culminating event, The Big Idea.
The new emergence of education entrepreneurs proves that there is a correlation between the two entities that can put our city at the forefront of yet another industry while significantly create advancements in education.
Now, there’s even an app for that.
Dash is currently raising funding through their Start Some Good Campaign. Visit the campaign to learn more or make a contribution.