Thursday, March 25, 2010
Pop Quiz: What is the latest start-up to take on education-as-we've-known-it? [See School's Out.] Guess again. You get the gold star if you answered Supercool School, the latest buzz magnet in the noisy, online education start-up space. Founder Steli Efti, pitching at DEMO this week, says Supercool School is all about letting anyone create an online school to teach anything they'd like. Think of it as a kind of private social network, or Ning, in which so-called "citizen teachers" who want to fix what's wrong with the educational system can create a global classroom of their own. Subject and form is up to you. [One recent "citizen teacher" used the platform to host a conversation on the proposed start-up visa, which was attended by people in four countries; the instructor/facilitator used split-screen technology to bring some of his students, virtually, to the head of the class.]
Supercool School provides the platform for interactive, real-time virtual classrooms; you give Efti 20 percent of the tuition income for the virtual lecturn. "We create a white label platform the lets everyone create and customize an online school," he says. Efti also plans to start selling subscriptions for premium features. So far, there have been more than 100 Supercool Schools created since January -- including one called "Start-up School" in the company's beta testing program.
Efti says the San Francisco start-up has 2 million potential customers and a $450 million market opportunity.
But what's most distinctive about Supercool School is just how un-cool it seems to be, at least by reigning social entrepreneurial standards. Its founders come out of nowhere, its marketing materials aren't complex nor choreographed, its vision is huge ["We want to decentralize and democratize an entire industry," Efti says] and its backers aren't among those being knighted this year by either of the enterprise "world forums" coming up this spring on the conference circuit -- the Skoll World Forum gathering in Oxford next month and the Milken Global Forum in Los Angeles a couple of weeks later. On the contrary, Supercool School's message is totally "from the ground up" and direct and idealistic -- all the more reason it might actually make it to mainstream.
Here's a video of Efti explaining the concept:
What do you think?
(Illustration, above: Doodlemachine Studio for istock.com)