After 54 Hours At A Seattle Startup Weekend Devoted To Education, Here Are The Winning Ideas

By Dahlia Bazzaz
The Seattle Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Alessya Labzhinova created a mobile app to give students quick calculus practice problems on-the-go. Her app won first place at Startup Weekend EDU Seattle, an annual 54-hour workshop where people from a mix of industries split into teams and work on ideas for an education startup.

The Seattle Times

College calculus can be unforgiving — even for math majors who score an engineering job at Amazon after graduation, like 29-year-old Alessya Labzhinova.

“I struggled,” said Labzhinova, now a full-time student getting her master’s in entrepreneurship at the University of Washington. Calculus builds on all the math you’ve learned throughout your life, she said, so if you’re shaky in some concepts, it’s hard to catch up.

But students need to pass calculus if they want a degree in tech or science fields, and Labzhinova wanted to help others build their calculus skills. Her idea — a mobile app that would give students quick practice problems on-the-go — won first place at Startup Weekend EDU Seattle, an annual 54-hour workshop where people from a mix of industries split into teams and work on ideas for an education startup.

About 68 people participated in this year’s competition at the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library. Some hailed from the tech sector, but many others were teachers, students and budding entrepreneurs hoping to simplify or enliven classroom teaching.

The weekend typically begins with individuals pitching ideas, and participants vote on the ones they like best. If someone’s pitch isn’t greenlighted, they can join another individual with a winning idea.

That’s how Labzhinova ended up working with five strangers — some engineers, an app developer, a data scientist — to help bring her app, called DXDT, to life. Not only would the app give students more practice, it would provide their instructors with data to help them pinpoint where they need more help.

As the teams craft a business model, gather input from consumers (teachers, parents and students) and develop a sample of their product, volunteers coach them. They’re encouraged to keep working on the project late into the night. (Food is provided.)

Like Labzhinova, most joined the workshop to network and/or figure out how to solve a problem they’ve observed in learning or teaching.

Nathan Yan and Bingnan Xu, both sophomores at Bellevue’s Newport High School, pitched an idea for a desktop site that would introduce the field of machine learning to people who don’t know how to code. Called Valley, their site would be similar to the website creation tool SquareSpace. (Machine learning refers to computer algorithms that make predictions based on data, like Netflix’s recommendations feature.)

Yan, 15, said he wanted to pitch this idea after he realized how many people are daunted by the idea of machine learning.

The Valley team received an honorable mention from the judges, who included officials from Seattle Public Schools, and professionals from the education technology and marketing fields.

“Tell Me About a Time,” an app that provides peer and professional feedback to people as they prepare for job interviews, won second place. In third place, Seattle Freelance Academy — a nonprofit that hopes to provide a free summer camp centered on entrepreneurship for low-income youths in Seattle.

The prize money is small. Labzhinova’s winning team received only $500. But they will advance to a global Startup Weekend competition, and received three-month passes to a local co-working space, among other prizes.

To Labzhinova, the real reward was being able make a lot of progress on her idea.

“Winning is just the cherry on top,” she said.

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