How can we create a culture of self-reliance? Should the goal of higher education be to equip students to get a job or create a job? Today, half of all US college grads are unemployed or under-employed, one third of the US workforce are freelancers, and careers rarely mean staying with the same employer. The disruption of every sector means jobs and skill sets are now in a constant state of flux. Yet, most college students believe they are going to school to graduate and "get a job." Time to rethink the purpose of higher education and focus on making students more agile.
The video of the SXSW Interactive session can be viewed here.
Silicon Valley, Austin, and even Dallas have long held the psychological mantle when it comes to leading the charge for technology in the United States. From the modern-day giants that were once pioneer startups created by east and west coast VCs and entrepreneurs to the still-small yet nimble garage companies of the modern era, tech has found a home in particular cities and appears to have largely stayed there. That is, unless you take a closer look at other US metropolitans... like Houston.
While the Dot-Com Boom (and bust) still appears to be largely coastal, the general US attitude toward starting a business has changed, as has the number of tech startups in almost every major city. And given the unceasing power of the Houston economy, our city is far from left behind when it comes to technological advances. Houston oil and gas and medical tech may be the center of attention, but the city has unmistakably bright coders. Here are five thriving Houston technology startups making great strides on behalf of the Houston startup community.
LRNGO is a social tutoring exchange focused on revolutionizing education. While other education companies may take a more radical approach (“Don’t go to college!”) or voice a more traditional perspective (“Hourly tutoring available!”) LRNGO allows for direct exchange of blocks of tutoring hours on virtually any subject. In other words, if you want to teach an hour of Italian in exchange for an hour of tuba lessons, it can be done.
LRNGO has an international audience and a user base that grows daily. From the business owner’s perspective, LRNGO allows education companies to take advantage of a completely different revenue stream by getting in on the action and offering paid courses alongside the company’s standard classes. It’s a win for the site, the businesses and the world knowledge community.
What effect do the economic and technological changes taking place today have on adult education inside and outside of the classroom? Are the goals the same, or have the rules changed? Are we addressing these changes holistically, or ignoring them hoping they'll go away? Let's take a step back, and have a conversation about the challenges and opportunities these changes present.
At TiECon SW 2013 in Dallas on Saturday, October 26th, TiE Dallas, TiE Houston and TiE Austin came together to present its first ever Elevator Pitch Competition – an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas to angel investors and venture capitalists.
The top 3 finishers of the competition were awarded a combined cash prize of $1000 sponsored by Texas Entrepreneur Network and TiE Angels Dallas. The winners of the competition were:
First Place:Water Lens
Second Place:Aloterra Energy
Third Place: LRNGO.com
At one point in his life, David Brake sold piano and guitar lessons door to door. Now, he has launched a new online education platform that eliminates the legwork. Brake and his wife, Mandy, recently formed LRNGO Inc., an education sharing network with a mission to provide knowledge about every fathomable subject for a global audience. “We see an enormous opportunity in revolutionizing the way people interact through education and peer-to-peer learning,” said Brake. “We want to be where education meets everyone.”
The business: Almost everyone has something to teach, whether it’s introductory Spanish, Creole cooking or computer coding. LRNGO offers an online platform where people can share their knowledge. “LRNGO is a Web-based marketplace where people connect worldwide to teach their skills and learn from each other — in person, locally or online,” Brake explained. People who use LRNGO sign up free on the website to create a profile, which can be personalized to include their resumé, teaching rates, picture and location.
However, in addition to accepting money for lessons, teachers can also trade lessons. Teachers on LRNGO don’t have to be experts, Brake explained, they just have to be knowledgeable enough in a field to get someone started. Businesses cannot sign up on LRNGO.
How it makes money: LRNGO plans to make money primarily through advertising and paid placements. LRNGO plans to allow advertising of certain one-on-one video chat teaching platforms. Ideally, the platforms will pay LRNGO to put their icon next to a teacher who uses their product. Finally, LRNGO also plans to have paid listings for official classes or tutoring systems.
Market disruption: LRNGO’s mission is make learning easier than ever before. “We want to make learning transactions between two people locally or anywhere in the world as easy as it is to buy and sell goods on eBay,” Brake said. Brake pointed out that LRNGO is the “first learning-based website where a user can be both a teacher and a student.”
Likely competitors: LRNGO faces much competition in the online education marketplace. For example, St. Louis-based Varsity Tutors LLC allows people to search for available teachers in their area. However, Varsity, along with many other education search websites, charges user fees to get in contact with a tutor, Brake said.
LRNGO also considers instructional video sites, like Mountain View, Calif.-based Khan Academy, to be competitors. However, Brake said students traditionally prefer one-to-one learning and “a video can never be your mentor.”
Management team: Brake and his wife lead the LRNGO team as co-founders, and the couple previously founded Teachers 2 Go LLC, a Houston-based company that matches professional teachers with students in the Houston area. The company still exists, however, Brake said it does not directly compete with LRNGO since LRNGO offers education around the world and the opportunity to learn off-beat subjects, such as video gaming skills.
“We found there were a lot of people we had to say no to (who wanted to be teachers at Teachers 2 Go),” Brake said. “We had teachers that taught things we couldn’t find students for, so we thought of LRNGO.” Mandy also has engineering experience. She studied electrical engineering and worked at Texas Instruments Inc. (Nasdaq: TXN), which is based in Dallas, for 10 years. Besides its founders, LRNGO is a client of the Houston Technology Center and is participating in HTC’s Ignition accelerator program where it has multiple mentors.
Future growth: LRNGO plans to launch a mobile app this year. Brake said the worldwide private instruction and tutoring market is expected to surpass $100 billion in the next five years. The company plans to continue expanding as more people look for education outside of traditional platforms.
LAUNCHedu, a part of the SXSWedu Conference and festival, is an exciting and fast-paced competition that highlights solution-seeking visionaries who are revolutionizing the world of education. LAUNCHedu is the premiere destination for promising entrepreneurs to showcase innovative startup education business products and services. With a diverse audience of education stakeholders ranging from classroom teachers and administrators, to powerful investors and policymakers, LAUNCHedu at SXSWedu offers a unique opportunity to connect with education thought leaders and develop what’s next and new in learning.
For more details, visit www.sxswedu.com
On February 12, 2013, LRNGO officially became a client of the Houston Technology Center. We are very excited at the potential of this partnership, and honored that HTC would like to see us grow as a company. We look forward to the long-term cooperation and mentorship that this entity provides. This is a huge opportunity for us, and we look forward to continuing to work with this valuable resource to improve our competitive advantage in business through their knowledge.
The Houston Technology Center provides education, insight, and access to capital that entrepreneurs need to move towards the path to commercialization. The Houston Technology Center is a business accelerator and the largest technology business incubator in Texas, advancing the commercialization of emerging technology companies in the greater Houston area.
For more information, visit: www.HoustonTech.org
Houston -- Dec. 12, 2012 – LRNGO was named one of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship Most Promising I.T. and Web companies at the 10th annual I.T. and Web Venture Forum in Houston last week. Information Technology and Web companies showcased their new ventures at the largest venture capital conference in the Southwest with more than 400 attendees, including investors, venture capitalists, industry representatives, business leaders, service providers, and entrepreneurs.
LRNGO.com is a web-based public marketplace of people willing to teach their skills, where anyone can monetize teaching what they know or trade lessons with others and learn for free. LRNGO launched a pilot site two weeks earlier in November, and they are currently beta testing.
The one-day event culminated in an announcement of the 10 Most Promising I.T. and Web Companies. The 10 “Most Promising” Companies were chosen from more than 40 presenters and judged by investors and business leaders in attendance, based on the companies’ five-minute business plan presentations.
“LRNGO is honored to be a recipient of this award and recognized for our commitment to developing a marketplace platform where people can buy, sell and trade knowledge locally and globally based on their learning interests. We believe the economic impact and the potential market involved are both compelling reasons to develop a knowledge-based trading platform at this time,” says David Brake, Founder and President of LRNGO, INC.
Rice Alliance managing director Brad Burke, announced the winners of the Most Promising I.T. and Web Company awards at the event. “Every year the quality of companies improves. This year we had a diversity of companies including those addressing Learning, Fundraising, and Aggregated Social Apps. As a group, the companies this year are further along. Most have developed prototypes, sold to customers, demonstrated results and raised previous funding. This makes them more appealing to current investors, who have commented on the improved quality of the companies. Past start-up company presenters at Rice Alliance venture forums have raised in excess of $2.1 billion. This year’s crop of winners is expected to achieve similar results.”
LRNGO, INC. is a startup company with three co-founders based in Houston, TX, and two of the co-founders for the past 5 years have also owned and operated Teachers 2 Go LLC, a successful teaching agency that brings over 200 private instructors of all subjects and activities directly to the homes of clients. For more information about LRNGO, go to www.LRNGO.com.
About The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship
The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship (Rice Alliance) is Rice University’s globally-recognized initiative devoted to the support of technology commercialization, entrepreneurship education, and the launch of technology companies. Since inception, more than 1,400 early-stage companies have benefited from participating at the 140+ programs hosted by the Rice Alliance and raised more than $2.5 billion in funding.
- 2012: #4 Best U.S. Graduate Entrepreneurship Program - Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine
- 2012 and 2011: #14 Best U.S. Graduate Entrepreneurship Program – US News & World Report
- 2012: #7 Best College for Aspiring Entrepreneurs - Huffington Post and Unigo.com
- 2011, 2010, 2009: "Top 10" Best U.S. Graduate Entrepreneurship Program – Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine
- 2011 NASDAQ OMX Center of Entrepreneurial Excellence Award – Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC)
- 2011 National Model MBA Entrepreneurship Program – U.S. Association for Small Business & Entrepreneurship (USASBE)
- 2011, 2009 Marketer of the Year - American Marketing Association – Houston Chapter
- 2009 Outstanding Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership - GCEC
- 2009 Outstanding Technology Entrepreneurship Program – USASBE
- 2009 Houston’s Greatest Economic Development Ally – Greater Houston Partnership