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peerTransfer is a prime example of a startup from everywhere else. The Boston company solves a problem most of us didn’t realize was a problem: it’s difficult and expensive for international college students to transfer money to pay their tuition.
Earlier this week, peerTransfer announced a $6.2 million Series B-1 from current investors Spark Capital, QED Investors, Devonshire Investors, and Kibo Ventures. The most recent round brings its total fundraising to $21.2 million. Their seed round in 2010 included Spark Capital and Dave McClure’s 500 Hats.
The idea for the company came from a problem its founder experienced firsthand. In 2008 Iker Marcaide was admitted to graduate school at MIT, but when he arrived on campus he discovered his tuition payment was lost somewhere between Spain and Massachusetts. The process of transferring money from a student’s home currency to American dollars was already expensive and time-consuming. When it’s thousands of dollars for tuition payments–and it gets lost along the way–the problem obviously becomes a big one.
The peerTransfer team has partnered with universities to provide international payments. Students transfer their tuition payment to peerTransfer, who combines it with the payments of other students. They can then negotiate a better exchange rate for everyone. Then, peerTransfer sends the money to the respective colleges. An online dashboard lets students track where their payment is in the process, and the money is guaranteed to be delivered quickly and in the right amount.
Before peerTransfer, students would deal with their local bank, which didn’t always give the best exchange rate. They also added hidden fees, and if the money made it to the right university, it was often in the wrong amount.
In November, it was reported that the number of international students coming to America had grown to a record 820,000. With that many students needing to pay their tuition, peerTransfer has found a big market that has been serviced by outdated technology and systems. The challenge is signing up universities. They do already have 350 schools in the system, including Penn State, University of Massachusetts, and–the founder’s alma mater–MIT and the platform is free, but things move slowly in education.
But, every so often we come across a different kind of venture that we just can’t help but write about. Last month I attended the Demo Day of the Memphis edition of the NewME PopUp Accelerator. I was blown away by the great ideas and the caliber of entrepreneurs in the room. One in particular is not starting a tech company. In fact, she’s going into education, a rocky field at best. But, I was so impressed by her and her venture, I couldn’t help but share it with Nibletz readers.
Alexandria Lee knows firsthand what it’s like to grow up struggling. The daughter of a single mom and a drug addict dad, her story could have been one of the thousands of tragedies happening in American schools every day. Except for that one teacher who challenged her to do more. Thanks to him–a transplant from Senegal–she switched to honors classes and surprised everyone by graduating not just from high school, but also from Spelman College and Harvard Law School.
Now, Nashville-based Lee has a new vision for education for African-American boys.
“9% of black males in the 8th grade can read at a proficient level,” she said in her NewME pitch. Well, obviously, that’s not acceptable.
Lee’s solution is to open a school in Ghana and transplant at-risk boys for a few years of out-of-their-element education. Besides honors-level classes, the boys will be paired with a local student to learn leadership and entrepreneurship. They will work together to devise community action plans that solve real problems in the local community. The school wants to teach African-American boys where their roots really are, not in the tragedy of slavery, but in the deserts of Africa.
“Our goal is to transform discarded youth into community leaders. Our students will come into the program underperforming. We will first catch them up, and then excel them past their classmates back home. But, more than just academic gap closure, our students will be trained in emotional competence, given the desire to serve others, and learn manhood lessons. At an early age they will become global citizens and return to their communities with broadened horizons, prepared to begin finding solutions to ills within their own communities,” Lee told me in an email.
The Anew School will receive charter school funding from the state of Tennessee, but they will also supplement with donations from private foundations. They already have some land in Ghana and will begin building soon.
Other great things happen in Memphis, like the biggest startup conference in the world for startups everywhere else.
At the recent New York tech day a startup called Three Ring walked away with the best education startup award. In short three ring provides a platform that makes it incredibly easy to digitize students work. The backbone of the Three Ring system functions as a portfolio or digital filing cabinet.
Teachers can use an iPhone or Android phone and take a photo or video of a student assignment. From there they can organize the entries by tags including student name, class, assignment and other core parts of the assignment which makes it incredibly easy to recall for later use.
Teachers can use the assignments stored in Three Ring to provide assessments of the students work, go over the assignment more in depth with students and easily recall assignments for things like parent teacher conferences. Three Ring is currently in beta and only for teachers however Three Ring plans to incorporate a parent, student and administrator component.
In the future a parent module or student module could easily be the remedy for “the dog ate my homework”. The possibilities with all four components are endless. Later on, Three Ring could be a way for students to submit an assignment to a teacher once completed. Imagine uploading the assignment to Three Ring and even if the student couldn’t make it to school, got sick before class, or had to leave early for a football game an assignment could be turned in to a teachers Three Ring account and the student could still get credited on time.
There are several tools out there in the digital world for teachers. Three Ring makes is an extremely easy to use tool that can be adapted to several scenarios.
More after the break
A Boca Raton software entrepreneur putting two kids through college just won $15,000 in the Florida Atlantic University business plan competition. Mark Fredericks and his son David, a junior at FAU, pitched SwitchMyBooks which won the competition and the money to go along with it. They also won $80,000 in business services for the startup.
The contest was open to South Florida entrepreneurs and not just students at FAU.
SwitchMyBooks was born out of necessity. Fredericks quickly realized that spending $1000 or more per year on textbooks for college was a reality.
“The average student spends well over $1,000 a year for books,” Fredericks told the palmbeachpost. “That’s a huge burden.”
Sure there are other ways to get used textbooks online, however SwitchMyBooks has a more innovative approach on a local level. Students who want to sell their books using SwitchMyBooks simply list the book on the site. When they have a buyer the buyer pays a $.99 fee to SwitchMyBooksand then negotiates the actual sale of the book with the seller individually. They can then meet up, presumably on the same campus or nearby to actually do the exchange. The reservation fee lets the seller know they have a serious buyer and the buyer know they have the book.
FAU is the first campus to use SwitchMyBooks they implemented the site on campus last month. Fredericks has his sites on a nationwide rollout though. If he can get one million students using the site he could easily generate $5M in revenue.
Unlike other used book sites SwitchMyBooks users deal locally and don’t have to worry about shipping heavy books through the mail. They can also of course use cash versus Paypal or another form of online payment.
A new EdTech startup in Memphis Tennessee is hoping to revive the stigma, fun, and “accidental learning” that came from software titles back in the day like “Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego”.
The company, called KnoCo is based in Memphis Tennessee. CEO and lead developer Ken Gibbs met co-founder Elliott Boyette while the two were working for a company that develops iOS games. They decided go out on their own and fill a void in The edutainment space. They added James Youngblood as composer, game designer and product manager.
Gibbs admits that thre are a lot of educational games out there but most of them are flash card type games. In those games kids see one card, identify something and then are rewarded with the next card.
More after the break
There’s a big challenge with large scale multi-player social games with themes aimed at the under 18 set. Capcom’s Smurf Village game felt the biggest pinch with the challenge which is monetization. Kids were playing Smurf Village on their parents iOS devices and draining their parents wallets until Apple intervened.
This issue is particularly challenging because kids make a great audience for these kinds of games. Enter Ntiedo Etuk and his start up DimensionU. DimensionU has found a way that should be ok with parents to let kids enjoy social gaming. What’s better is Etuk has focused on providing games that are age appropriate and interject educational elements as well.
According to this story at betabeat, DimensionU incentivisis learning by setting up a reward system, with the parents involvement, where the kids can earn prizes both tangible and virtual for learning accomplishments.
More after the break
If you’re applying to colleges right now and think that you’re going to get by with turning in someone else’s essay you could be dead wrong. Turnitin is a software program that over 100 colleges and universities across the country are using to curb plagiarism.
Turnitin has been around since the 1990’s however two years ago they developed a version of the software specifically for admissions essays. Before that it was used at the high school and college level to curb plagiarism in essays written by students about a myraid of topics. Long gone are the days you could go to the frat house file cabinet and slap your name on an essay that’s been turned in five times.
UCLA’s graduate program is one of the institutions that has implemented the software on the admissions level. According to school officials they found a dozen plagiarized admissions essays among the 870 submitted. It seems that copying admissions essays isn’t that big a problem with that percentage. Penn State’s Smeal School of business is also using the software and reported just 3 to 5% of their admissions essays were copied.
The prospective students who turn in plagiarized essays are of course not admitted to the school. It’s unclear whether or not they are told why.