The Day After – Recap of Startl’s Mobile Design Boost

[ 0 ] November 16, 2010 |

I am just resurfacing after four intense days of prototyping, hacking, and pitching at the second Startl Mobile Learning Design Boost. It was a great success. All 10 teams – hailing from as far away as New Zealand and Singapore – made incredible progress over the course of the Boost, and 2 of the 10 teams walked away with $5000 in cash prizes.

The Boost kicked-off with a Meetup at the Bay Area Hub on Wednesday night. About 100 plus people turned out to mix and mingle, of which a quarter were the 10 Boost teams and the others were entrepreneurs and investors working on or thinking about new modes and modalities of learning. This type of turn out on a Wednesday night speaks to the rapidly growing interest in the new mobile and digital learning space.

Following the buzz of Wednesday night, Thursday morning came quickly. At 9 am, all 10 Boost teams poured onto the top floor of the brand new, soon-to-open SF Tech Shop.  Thanks to Mark Hatch and Jim Newton for making Tech Shop a reality in the world, and to John Taylor and Terry Sandin for making SF Tech Shop a reality for the Startl Boost. This place is going to be the crown jewel of San Francisco!

The Boost got underway without a moment’s loss and with each team giving their product presentations to the Boost audience, which included all 10 teams as well as the 4 Startl and 4 IDEO facilitators.

I should add here that the 10 teams were selected from a pool of about 85 applications in total. The teams were selected on the basis of the quality of their idea, the viability of their product, and the composition of their expertise.  The products covered the gamut from pre-K to post-college in terms of target audience, and from literacy and language to science and math in terms of focus domain.

Following the introductory presentations, the really hard work of the Boost began in earnest.  Whereas our Startl Accelerator program focuses on all aspects of enterprise start-up, the Startl Boost focuses exclusively on product design and development. With that focus, the teams focused on defining and refining the product’s value proposition, target audience, user experience, and learning objectives.

Over the course of the Boost, the teams worked on these objectives independently and collaboratively, sometimes with Startl and IDEO facilitators and sometimes without. But clearly the single most influential aspect of the Boost in terms of pushing the teams furthest down the road was the interaction with experts and users.

On the second day of the Boost, we invited 22 select individuals with different expertise to come in and meet with the different teams in small groups based on the needs we identified for each team. The illustrious group of experts came from backgrounds in learning design, digital media, mobile technologies, product management, early childhood literacy, adult language learning, science education, and math education.

But, that was just the morning. In the afternoon, we invited in about 55 end-users to descend upon the teams to test their products. All in, we had a user audience of about 10 kindergarteners, 20 elementary schoolers, 5 high schoolers, 10 teachers, 5 parents, and 10 adult learners.  The afternoon was a highly successful example of productive chaos!

With all the input from facilitators, experts, users, and peers, the teams worked tirelessly into the night on Saturday and through the morning on Sunday. On Sunday afternoon, we all trekked back over to the Bay Area Hub for the public presentations. Despite it being a fabulous sunny 75 degrees, about 25 or 30 folks came to hear the pitches (including John Seely Brown, Michael Carter, Alan Louie, Jon Bischke, Enrique Allen, Ronna Tanenbaum, Sandy Miller, Zane Vella, Ann Thai, and more!)

As if the audience wasn’t enough pressure, we also increased the stakes by initiating two prizes at this Boost – the Audience Choice Award and the Jury Selection Award.

Each team was given 6 minutes to present their product and another 5 minutes for audience questions. The audience was then asked to rate each product on a scale of 1-5, giving consideration to whether the purpose of the product is clear, the product is interesting, it advances learning, the product has a real audience, and it meets a real need. These votes were then tallied to identify the Audience Choice award, while a small subset of the audience dug a bit deeper into the products and the teams to identify the Jury Selection Award.

While the audience voting was all over the place in terms of audience preferences, the tally revealed a clear Audience Choice for Voxy. This was well-deserved on many dimensions, but what the audience didn’t even know was that these guys built the prototype of their mobile product from conception to completion in 3 days.

And, despite how diverse the jury was in terms of their backgrounds and perspectives, the Jury Selection went unanimously to Motion Math. Jacob and Gabriel are off to NYC in a couple of weeks, where they will also present at The Software & Information Industry Association conference. They’re gonna knock it outta’ the park!

So, here we are. Our teams have packed their bags and headed home. I walked by Tech Shop this morning, and felt that same longing I used to feel the days after summer camp ended. But, truth is, this is not the end of our relationship with these teams, they are part of the Startl family and portfolio now. We look forward to many of them applying to our summer long Accelerator program and hopefully to our next version of the Boost, which will focus less on design and more on marketing and distribution.

I’d like to close by thanking The Pearson Foundation for its generous support for the Starl Mobile Learning Design Boost, and by inviting others interested in supporting other future Boosts to contact me at Diana [at]

Related posts:

  1. EcoExplorer – Design Boost Team Profile
  2. Project NOAH – Design Boost Team Profile
  3. Mobile Design Boost for November 2010 – Apply Now
  4. Startl Announces 10 Teams for November 2010 Mobile Design Boost
  5. Digital Learning & Mobile Mixer Tonight in San Francisco


Category: Boost and Accelerator Teams, Design Boost, Higher Education, iPhone App, K-12, Mobile, Pre-K

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