eduCanon, a Washington-based edtech startup that provides teachers with a platform to turn videos into interactive lessons, won the first price in the education category at the 1776 Challenge Cup, taking home $100k.
It was a good week for Benjamin Levy and his team as the startup also won the $15k MacGraw-Hill Education prize at the Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition.
$115k used to be a decent seed round in edtech not that long ago, so I asked Benjamin if he could share some impressions and takeaways from the competitions, whether it is worth the effort to compete and if there are other rewards and benefits besides the cash prizes.
KW: How much preparation went into participating in the competitions? Can a small team still work on product and growth during this time? How did you manage it?
BL: That’s a great question and a very legitimate concern of ours. We have not been seeking investment since graduating from LearnLaunchX (the edtech accelerator in Boston from which we built and launched our product in September) and the reason is that we feel raising distracts from building a great product with great traction; a small team cannot manage both. We’ve dedicated all of our time and effort to understanding and growing our teacher base and building a sustainable revenue model. These competitions have allowed us to share, refine and develop our vision for eduCanon in the relatively nascent field of educational interactive video and they’ve done so at key moments and milestones of our development. The first 1776 Challenge Cup pitch competition was in October, a month after we’d launched our product. It provided a sounding board to an unheard of idea and our win brought validation and confidence to our team. These most recent wins, coming weeks before the end of the school year, have tested and validated our strategy going forward and product development over the coming 3 months.
KW: All in all, do you think it is generally worth to join such competitions. Are there takeaways besides the money for those who don’t win?
BL: I think it’s important to note that competitions and raising in general are separate from our relationships with teachers; we don’t see a big bump in our usage because we’ve been validated by an external party; teachers use eduCanon because it meets their needs. That said, we have a big vision for eduCanon’s impact on education and being able to receive the funding needed for our next steps will help us maintain our leading position in the field. And there are takeaways from the broader community that is brought together through these competitions, especially when they focus on a category like education. I had the pleasure of talking with Edward Metz, the program manager at the US Dept. of Ed. working on funding small businesses, we talked with fellow start up competitors from around the world and have already begun developing integrations and partnerships into our platform, and connected with leaders at Pearson and McGraw-Hill–relationships that could accelerate eduCanon’s reach to a broader audience.
KW: What are your personal takeaways besides the prize money? What lessons did you learn? Will they have an impact on the product?
BL: Firstly, the prize money is not a personal takeaway 🙂 I do not expect to see any of it–it’s all headed towards growing eduCanon. The multi-staged process of 1776’s Challenge Cup allowed us to connect with mentors throughout the DC area as well as companies from across the globe that, I imagine, will continue to be key in developing our product roadmap as we expand.
KW: Where are you going to invest the money into?
BL: We’re a very scrappy team and work extremely hard, building our own dev and marketing toolset for eduCanon and living the startup life of ramen and quadcopters. Investment will go towards adding similarly dedicated team members to our team. If we can plug here, we are looking for a get-it-done full-stack developer and a creative inbound marketer.