A Growing Technology Cluster—Whose Products You Can Touch

[In the Pittsburgh region there’s a growing groundswell of edupreneurs. In this RemakeLearning article several edupreneurs are mentioned including Tom Lauwers, the founder and Chief Scientist at Birdbrain Technologies. I’m fortunate to work with Tom on several elements for Birdbrain, including the Robot Petting Zoo happenings that have happened here in Pittsburgh and Berkeley, California.]

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One afternoon in 2012, Matt Stewart was in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh watching kids play with puzzle pieces. The pieces were part of an exhibit Stewart helped design to teach the building blocks of coding to children as young as four. He soon noticed one young girl taking charge with some puzzle pieces, and showing her classmates how to use them to solve problems. The girl’s teacher told Stewart that the student was usually behind her peers in many areas of learning, but the puzzle pieces seemed to click with her.

Photo/Digital Dream Labs

An idea for a company was born. Stewart and his cofounders, Justin Sabo and Peter Kinney, fellow Carnegie Mellon University graduates, founded Digital Dream Labs in 2012. Today, their first product, Puzzlets, uses puzzle pieces and sensors to control video games and teach skills like logic and sequencing in a hands-on way.

“If you’re on a touch screen, you’re in your own zone,” Sabo said. “You’re no longer here.” At a time when so much technology for kids is screen-based, Puzzlets’ physical pieces invite problem solving and collaboration with parents or peers.

Sabo and his cofounders are part of a small scene of entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh who are creating hands-on educational technology, toys, and games, and in the process are helping to create a cluster of entrepreneurs, designers, and manufacturers that could situate Pittsburgh as a hub of edtech hardware production. The scene is small but seems poised to grow into the type of industry cluster that characterizes maker-oriented Pittsburgh.

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A Personal Concierge

[In this article Edsurge explains how its trying to find the intersection between administrative needs and available products and companies. Edsurge has been a leader in this domain through its series of Edsurge Summits. I’m working with Edsurge to produce a Summit as part of the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference on November 3-4 in Pittsburgh. (www.tretc.org) ]

by Betsy Corcoran
Jun 23, 2015

ConciergeFor the past six months, EdSurge has been experimenting with developing a product. Our efforts are still at an exploratory stage. Even so, we want to share what we’ve been doing, what we’ve learned and our next steps.

Since we began, EdSurge has aimed to bridge the gap between the users and creators of education technology. We’ve done this through reporting and writing news, sharing your stories and hosting events across the country. We’ve also tried to make sense of this growing, intricate industry through our Edtech Index.

Even so, the challenge and cost of getting the most appropriate tools into the hands of the people who need them is still really high. Educators say that they spend hours sifting through research, emails and demos to find tools that meet their needs. Companies underwrite big sales and marketing pushes without being sure they’re reaching customers in the right time or manner.

Reports from Digital Promise and the John Hopkins School of Education have chronicled these inefficiencies, as have the Center for Reinventing Public Education. Or ask an educator or an edtech entrepreneur. Chances are, you’ll hear the same frustrations.

Whether measured by time or money, it’s still too hard to find the right tool for the right need.

After watching thousands of users find each other through our Index and at our Summits, we wanted to do more. We wanted to make it easier for educators to find the most appropriate products for their needs and for companies to find the customers who need them most.

What if finding the right tools and customers was more personalized? What would it be like if both companies and educators had their own personal advisor? Someone like a hotel concierge, who was knowledgeable about the territory? And yes, someone who was truly neutral about whether you wanted front-row symphony tickets or a late-night slice of pizza?

That’s how the idea for our Edtech Concierge was born.

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