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Learn Zillion, One of the Scrappy Startups Making D.C. a Hotspot

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A new Washington, D.C., incubator, The Fort, debuted its first cohort of startups today. TechCruch notes, "The program, which gives founders anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 in seed capital, was lured to the area from nearby Arlington thanks to a $100,000 grant from D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray."

The D.C. metro area is home to many of the first gen eLearning giants: Blackboard, Connections, Discovery, Kaplan, and K12. Later this month Mayor Grey will visit a new edu-innovation hotspot -- the New Schools Venture Fund office at 17th and R, home of LearnZillion.

The first wave of entrepreneurship in education started twenty years ago with Teach for America and great charter schools. That wave drew McKinsey consultants like Jim Shelton and Shivam Shah in to education to help plan reforms in New York City, found the E.L. Haines Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., and join Kim Smith's New School Venture Fund.

E.L. Haynes principal Eric Westendorf applied an entrepreneur's drive by applying six-week improvement cycles. Frequent assessment helped the talented teachers gain insights drive achievement gains. However, the identified needs raised teacher anxiety. Teachers realized that they needed to differentiate instruction but they didn't have the tools to do what needed to be done.

Eric pieced together some standards-aligned resources including video lessons. Teachers began sharing lessons that worked. That was the big idea behind LearnZillion: teacher-created Common Core-aligned learning resources. A few months ago Eric left E.L. Haynes and called his buddy Alix Guerrier from McKinsey and they launched the company. They won a grant from Next Generation Learning Challenges. With seed funding from New Schools and Learn Capital (where I'm a partner), LearnZillion was launched and is serving 4,000 teachers in dozens of schools.

LearnZillion is recruiting a Dream Team of 150 teachers to spend a few weeks this summer creating more resources for grades 3-8. If you're interested, send them a note.

Along with the Bay Area, New York City, Boston, Austin, and Seattle, D.C. is an edtech hotspot with a rich mixture of great universities, incubators, venture capital, and talent. Companies like Learn Zillion are improving schools and cities.