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    Date submitted
  • 06-Feb-2017



6 in 10 high school students are disengaged, explaining half of the 7000 daily high school drop-outs in the US. Real-world projects, with authentic interactions with corporate partners, can increase graduation rates by 50% through improved engagement. Yet, only 1% of teachers use them since they take so long to organize. With Sidekick, it takes just seconds. Sidekick boasts a portfolio of real-world projects from our bank of corporate partners that are already standards aligned. Teachers just need to search, pick and run the project. We organize partner interactions and provide resources for the teachers and students throughout the project. We have completed 3 classroom pilots, have 3 more in the pipeline, and are servicing a year-long fully paid school contract. We also have 50 projects in our portfolio ready to go at a moment’s notice.


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Introduction Video


Additional Questions

Who is your customer?

Our key target is high-schools in the US, of which there are 27,000, resulting in a potential market size of $7Bn/year, based on current curriculum spend. Our beachhead market, consisting of the 10,000+ alternative schools and programs around the country comprises a market of $50Mn/year based on our current contract price of $20/student/year. While the payors will typically be school districts, sales only proceed via strong teacher recommendations and as such our core customers and focus of our marketing efforts are teachers. Our corporate partners are another key constituent, and for them, Sidekick is a free and convenient way to engage employees and the community, build brand awareness, grow interest in STEM and find innovative ideas. Within 3 months, Sidekick got 50 projects from 30 partners.

What problem does this idea/product solve or what market need does it serve?

Student disengagement is a serious issue affecting more than half of the high-school population and resulting in half of the 7000 daily drop-outs. This problem is worse for at-risk students who have already left traditional high-schools. There are about half a million of them, in Alternative education programs. Every district is responsible for one program that provides individualized attention. Yet, graduation rates are an appalling 45%, mostly due to disengagement. Real-world, project based learning is an accepted pedagogical solution, and 9 in 10 administrators want to center their curriculum around it. For example: a team of 4 high school students work over a 6-week period to ideate new cabin interior designs for the Boeing 787. At the end, they get Math and English credits for their presentations to the head of Boeing’s innovation team. The engagement due to authentic work and audience can improve graduation rates by 50%. Implementation, though, relies on teachers. From 150 interviews and field research in teachers’ homes and classrooms, we've learned teachers face 3 challenges: (1) finding, vetting, and coordinating with real-world partners, (2) building new curriculum around current projects that aligns to their required tests and standards, and (3) personalizing the project to the specific students in those classrooms. These steps add up to 300 hours--5 times longer than traditional lesson planning, which is already done on Sundays. So, despite huge interest, 1% of teachers use real-world project-based learning.

What attributes will make this idea/product successful? Why do you believe that those features will create success?

Sidekick’s intelligent digital assistant enables high school teachers to do real-world project based learning in seconds instead of 300 hours. We source relevant, real-time projects from our bank of corporate partners beforehand, match them to curriculum standards using proprietary machine ontology learning algorithms, and curate them in an easy-to-search format for teachers who then select a project, modify the pre-developed project plan to their preference and run it in class. The school license is $20 per student per year, just 3% of a school’s digital curriculum spend, which enables a school to run any project they wish in their classes. These licenses are acquired by targeting teachers who run single project classroom pilots priced at $120 per project that serve as case studies. As Sidekick’s offering expands, the cost of the school license will rise corresponding to the number of different subjects our platform provides curriculum material for. This is significantly cheaper than any alternatives in the project-based learning space, despite providing a superior product in terms of real world connections. Sidekick achieves profitability in the short-run by crowdsourcing curriculum development from teachers-in-training and in the long-run by automation of much of the project conversion process. The crowdsourced material will be used to feed machine learning algorithms that will eventually replace the curriculum specialists, and further streamline Sidekick’s cost position to a gross margin of 90%.

Explain how you (your team) will execute to make this idea/product successful? What gives you (your team) an advantage over others already in the market or new to this market?

Our go-to-market strategy focuses on the 10,000 alternative schools and programs which house drop-outs from the regular system. The need for engagement is greatest here since these are students for whom the traditional system has failed. This is also a segment which is underserved in terms of technology being a small market for large players like Pearson and McGrawHill. For Sidekick, it is a terrific niche to start in since spend per pupil is 25% higher on average and sales cycles are significantly shorter due to reduce hierarchy and simpler approval processes. Further, our success here will act as a proof point for future penetration into the broader high school market. In this niche, we have already run 3 paid pilots and have 1 alternative school signed up under a year-long contract. We have another 3 strong leads in the pipeline for the year-long school license. We get our pilots through contacts found at conferences, and customer recommendations. There are a host of players offering some form of project-based learning. Those offering authentic real-world experiences with real-time interactions with corporate partners tend to occur outside of curriculum and are provided by non-profits such as Junior Achievement and Illinois Science and Technology Commission. There are about 10 innovative school networks, such as Big Picture Learning, comprising 1500 schools offering such real-world experiences in their schools, but also as extra-curricular after-school activities. These players shy away from curriculum integration due to the difficulty, but end up serving only the engaged students who sign up for their programs, and can be seen more as potential partners than competitors. Buck Institute and others provide project based learning curriculum, but these are not real-time and do not involve authentic interactions with partners, and hence are ineffective at bringing about engagement. Sidekick is the only provider of real-world, curriculum integrated project based learning at a reasonable price to high schools. Further, as we scale, we gain barriers to entry due to network effects. Like Uber, the more partners and schools in our portfolio, the more difficult it will be for others to compete. Chris Shaw, CEO, is a data science expert and is charged with figuring out how to easily connect murky real-world projects to well-defined curriculum standards. Ashwin Halgeri, COO, has experience founding and running a successful education start-up in Singapore, A&M Innovations. Sarah, Head of BD, has 8 years of experience working with non-profits. Heather Volchko, an education expert, has more than 10 years in the classroom.