Comstock's magazine 1218 - December 2018 - Page 48

EDUCATION Grewal says schools can skip those personnel, software and curriculum costs. All they need is an internet connection and computer access. He’s also expanded the organization’s mission, offering free tech camps for high school students. In June, he orga- nized a cybersecurity bootcamp at Cosumnes River Col- lege and in October another at Folsom Lake College. Now he’s building on those with a $50,000 grant from the City of Sacramento: Starting in 2019, Yellow Circle will be host- ing cybersecurity boot camps in Sacramento’s eight coun- cil member districts for about 100 students each, with the goal of boosting their interest, and increasing diversity, in a fast-growing field. Grewal is aiming to hold boot camps ev- ery year, tackling a different topic each time. While venture capital funding for edtech startups rose 50 percent from 2013 to 2017, it’s going to fewer firms. The actual number of startups being funded dropped from about 230 to just 126 in that period. But the subtext of these events is college. They’re being held on area campuses because Grewal wants to give stu- dents exposure to higher education. He says it’s too early to have outcome data on how the camp concept affects college choices because the first camp was just this summer. But of 14 high school seniors who attended the June camp, nine are enrolled in an area community college, he says. “The most exciting part for me is that we have kids who have never been on a college campus who realize that they can live at home with mom and dad and still attend a community college right around the corner,” he says. 48 | December 2018 FUNDING THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION Money to launch edtech ventures isn’t easy to come by. Na- tionally, while venture capital funding for edtech startups rose 50 percent from 2013 to 2017, it’s going to fewer firms. The actual number of startups being funded dropped from about 230 to just 126 in that period, according to an analysis by ed- tech resource site EdSurge. And the number of those firms get- ting seed-stage and angel funding fell from 133 to just 56. The local edtech ventures haven’t pursued venture fund- ing. Come says that he’s bootstrapped PodPi with his own money because he wants more control over the company’s direction. While the company needs to be cash-flow-positive, “I’m in this because of the impact,” he says. He says the com- pany has been cash-flow positive for the last four months, and in September he signed a contract to create content for a Chinese firm that sells science and inventor kits. STEMtrunk has also been bootstrapped thus far, thanks to friends and family and an Indiegogo campaign that wrapped up in April, Watkins says. To allow him to focus full time to STEMtrunk, he says he needs to seek outside inves- tors to raise another $250,000. Grewal set up Yellow Circle as a nonprofit in order to serve resource-challenged students: 95 percent of the stu- dents who use the platform are free users, he says. In ad- dition to grants from the City of Sacramento, he’s gotten corporate donations from Google, Quest Technology Man- agement and IBM. HELPING STUDENTS SEE THE ENDGAME Indeed, for edtech projects that aim at accessibility, nonprof- it or publicly funded models like Yellow Circle may be the only ones that work, given the built-in revenue constraints. Another organization that illustrates that route is Capi- tal Region Academies for the Next Economy, a consortium of school districts from 13 counties in the greater Sacramento region trying to connect students to careers. CRANE is out to help students glimpse where their edu- cation could lead, and one way to do so is a face-to-face chat with an industry pro. But setting up those meetings involves a big ask of time-crunched employers. That goes double for rural schools, says CRANE’s Louise Stymeist. So in 2016, CRANE seized the chance to sign on with a Texas-based tech company called Nepris that sets up these virtual classroom conversations. Since then, through CRANE’s Nepris subscription, about 100 local teachers have connected their classes with about 40 area industries, Stymeist estimates. One of those professionals is Christopher Gresens, se- nior medical director at Vitalant’s Mather office. Vitalant is