Ed-Tech Startup K12 Kit Looks to Revamp Social Networks for Schools

6/27/12Follow @gthuang

In case you haven’t noticed, we have quite the education-tech cluster forming around Boston. May I direct your attention westward, out to Worcester, MA, and a new startup called K12 Kit, which is making its software broadly available today.

The idea is to provide a cloud-based software platform for K-12 schools and their students to communicate, collaborate, and publish content within their community. Think calendars, school newspapers, yearbooks, sports clubs, and school-wide announcements.

From what I can tell, nobody has yet cracked the “social/collaborative platform for schools” nut—it’s a tough market. Students tend to use some combination of Facebook, texting, and group messaging. Teachers and administrators use e-mail and various spreadsheets and in-house collaboration systems. What K12 Kit is building sounds a little bit like offerings from Edmodo, Scholabo, and Schoology; my guess is it specializes more in building community tools and less on the classroom learning process.

K12 Kit is bootstrapped and led by founder, CEO, and serial entrepreneur Steve Rothschild. Previously he was the CEO of Furniture.com, Bulbs.com, Empire Furniture Showrooms, and (most recently) Applied Interactive, a lead generation service. It will be interesting to see what insights he brings to the ed-tech sector.

Here’s a short e-mail interview with Rothschild:

Xconomy: Why do schools and students need this? What is the big problem you’re solving?

Steve Rothschild: The majority of the population has grown up in a computerized world. Students spend lots of time on social networks, creating and consuming media. Schools have not kept up, as students create ad-hoc Facebook groups to communicate with one another about sanctioned school activities. While today’s educators are held responsible for the online safety of their students, they are rarely provided with the tools necessary to do so. Schools should, but do not, employ Web-based communications to educate students on how to effectively communicate, appropriate use of communications, and potential risks. Schools and students are losing out by not using Web-based communication to build community, inform parents, maintain alumni relationships, and raise funds.

X: How do you fit into the broader education tech cluster in Massachusetts?

SR: There are EdTech companies that provide schools with administrative tools. The tools are effective for administration, but they are not comprehensive school communications platforms. K12 Kit focuses on information sharing and the user experience. Designed for collaboration, communication, and publishing, K12 Kit is intuitive and engaging for students, while enriching the learning environment. For instance, K12 Kit facilitates students to communicate about school activities, collaborate on the school newspaper, and publish their yearbook, all in a safe and educational environment that prepares them with skills for the 21st century.

X: Where did the idea come from?

SR: K12 Kit spawned from an effort begun seven years ago to engage school communities in their yearbook creation process. Rather than have just a few individuals on a committee control their school’s yearbook, the goal was that everyone could be engaged, participate, and create a more inclusive end result. Our team quickly realized the technology being developed had a far greater calling than just the yearbook, which has become one of many collaborative features in K12 Kit engaging students and educators in their school community. Now K12 Kit has features for the classroom, student activities, sports teams, and more.

X: How have you found building businesses in Western Mass.? Has fundraising been an issue?

SR: Starting a business anywhere is challenging. We like Worcester because Worcester provides an environment conducive for startups. Massachusetts has a global reputation for leading academic thought. Worcester is home to great higher education programs that provide access to a pool of talent which would cost a great deal more in some of the more infamous high-tech areas. Also, workspace is inexpensive and the area provides a quality lifestyle for employees, enabling us to bootstrap development so far. We have not experienced any shortage in access to educators, employee talent, or prospective investors.

X: What are your biggest challenges?

SR: As we are just launching, we expect our biggest challenge to be reaching schools and getting their attention. The education market is highly fragmented. Each school has to be addressed individually. Generally the schools we have spoken to for beta sites are either forward thinking and disappointed with the limited solutions they have tried, or they are more traditional and hesitant to adopt any solutions. We look forward to working with both types of schools to show them the way forward.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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