The Lean Lab, a Kansas City-based education tech accelerator, is returning for its fourth year with a new approach that aims to be more community focused and sophisticated.
During a Tuesday event, the Lean Lab announced the five new startups in its 2017 cohort at a breakfast at the recently renovated Corrigan Station.
Katie Boody, co-founder of the Lean Lab, said that this year’s application pool was the most competitive to date. The accelerator received applications from 32 different cities from around the U.S., with demographics representative of the national student population.
Applications were 48 percent men, 52 percent women and 53 percent people of color.
“I hope that means that we’re doing our job well,” Boody said. “It is really important that if our entrepreneurs are creating the future of education, that they are representative of our current student population. We take that very seriously.”
Boody added that she was pleased with the applicants’ passion and accomplishments, which made narrowing down to five firms a difficult decision. It was of utmost importance for the accelerator to select companies that would make area students and teachers a priority, she added.
“We wanted them to be committed,” Boody said. “And not just be like ‘Sure, Kansas City sounds cool, it’s in the middle of the country or whatever but I’ll move there for a couple dollars.’”
To ensure they would fit with Kansas City’s needs, Boody said she looked for firms with a strategic plan detailing what role they would play in Kansas City’s education community.
This year, Lean Lab COO Aditya Voleti conducted a listening tour in which he interviewed over 130 teachers and students from high-need zip codes in Kansas City to determine their needs.
“After distilling all the data, we found that parents and teachers want a better way to communicate,” Voleti said. “Students really want real-world learning opportunities and they are bored sitting in a classroom doing worksheets all day.”
Voleti said he believes the 2017 cohort will fit Kansas City’s needs. As the program this year is designed to be more community facing and collaborative, he believes that Lean Lab startups will establish partnerships with Kansas City firms.
“I’m just very excited that a lot of the companies we specifically looked for are solving Kansas City problems and that they plan to scale here and launch here,” Voleti said.
The Lean Lab also announced that the accelerator will launch an alumni scholarship program this year that will offer grants of around $10,000 to alumni and offer pro bono support.
“We’ve realized that we have a 65 percent venture persistence, so with each graduating class there are still people who may need our support as they continue their work,” Boody said. “That’s a huge opportunity for us to grow our impact and double down. We take investing in our people seriously and want to make sure we’re there for them.”
The program is split into three modules, the first one beginning Aug. 9. Here are the startups in the 2017 cohort:
- Vital, St. Louis, Mo. — Built by two Ph.D. students, this technology transforms existing lesson plans into content that is accessible for visually-impaired students.
- Diversity Talks, Providence, R.I. — This firm offers a service for diversity and equity training from a student perspective by working directly with high school students.
- Explorable Places, New York, N.Y. — This startup connects students and teachers with culturally relevant, educational field trip opportunities.
- H3TV, Kansas City, Mo. — “Healthy hip-hop” aims to get kids off their feet with their original hip hop exercise program. H3TV has produced more than 100 singles and performed over 300 live shows in 2016.
- Transportant, Kansas City, Mo. — Seeking to mitigate the local and national shortage of school bus drivers, Transportant will provide “Uber-like” live visibility and Wi-Fi connectivity to school transportation.