One of the primary ways in which firms are getting products to market or ready to seek larger VC funding is by entering incubators and accelerators. One of the only out there that focus on learning and games is Co.lab, a partnership between the New Schools Venture Fund and the non-profit wing of mobile game firm Zynga.
Now the accelerator is accepting applications for the third round of companies. To be considered for the third cohort of companies, you must fill out an application at the Co.lab site. The accelerator will run from late September through the end of January 2015. An application and more information can be found at the Co.lab site.
The announcement of new applications prompted us to check in with Esteban Sosnik, executive director, and Associate Director Cameron White about what kind of companies they are looking for in the third cohort and what they have learned thus far.
gamesandlearning.org: You’re part-way through your second cohort and it seems like there is a great diversity of firms coming through the system. What do you all look for when you consider cohort members?
Cameron White: co.lab supports socially motivated startups (for-profit or non-profit) working at the intersection of edtech and games that are committed to developing products that help students learn in new ways, in school or at home.
We’re looking for innovative solutions that are using games or technology to address real educational needs. In addition, we look for teams with a strong business foundation (team, financials, etc.) that have the potential to scale to reach millions of students, teachers or parents. Finally, we select companies we believe will get a lot of value out of our program and can contribute knowledge and resources to the other cohort members.
gamesandlearning.org: Are there certain types of companies or products that you all have not had come through but are interested in applying?
Cameron White: We work with a wide range of startups — from pre-launch to VC-backed companies with a strong portfolio of products — developing innovative content, tools for assessment, or distribution platforms. We try to select diverse cohorts in order to create opportunities for the entrepreneurs to learn from one another. Ultimately, we choose the companies that are doing really high quality work and fit the criteria outlined above.
That said, we would love to see more tools targeted at middle and high school students, as we think there is a huge potential for social impact in this age range. We are also interested in tools that teach skills related to social-emotional development, computer science, social studies and other subject areas that could benefit from game-based approaches. We would also like to support more non-profit developers, especially those targeting traditionally underserved communities.
gamesandlearning.org: How has co.lab and the process evolved over these first couple of groups? Are there things you all are doing differently?
Cameron White: We are continuing to bolster the educational support we provide to companies. We recently brought on an Educator in Residence who is helping to facilitate classroom pilots and other forms of educator feedback. Working with him, we are providing companies a wide range of support related to game-based pedagogy, classroom integration and assessment.
We are also bringing in more collaborators from outside of Zynga – for example, just this month we hosted Kunal Sarkar, CEO of Lumosity, and Sam Chaudhary, CEO of ClassDojo.
gamesandlearning.org: Do you hope to expand the number of companies or do you have a target number? Why that number?
Cameron White: We would like to keep our cohort size between five and eight companies — we’ve found that this range allows us to give our full attention to each entrepreneur while also providing exposure to new ideas and perspectives.