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'Mathspace' Startup Collects and Responds to Student Data, Dominates at ISTE 2015

At the International Society for Technology in Education's Startup Competition, a new app that hopes to be one of the first that evaluates student work in place of multiple-choice questionnaires takes top honors.

On June 30, Mathspace swept the competition at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference as the No. 1 company to watch in 2015.

In a vote and judging panel at the event’s Ed Tech Start-Up Pitch Fest held in Philadelphia, the math instruction startup won both competition categories of Most Likely to Succeed and Most Innovative, collecting 39 percent and 54 percent of the votes, respectively. The company teaches math skills in a similar way to popular coding instruction sites such as Codecademy and Treehouse, with hints and feedback embedded in lessons.

In each of the two judging areas, Mathspace was followed by three fellow finalists starting with second-place finisher Interactive Cases, a real-world science education platform; Zyrobotics, a company supporting apps for students with learning disabilities; and Education Framework, a company that rounded out the group with its data privacy services. The four represent top startups from a field of more than 100 companies that applied.

“With Mathspace, we want to give as many students access to our technology as possible,” said Mathspace’s North America Vice President Daniel Tu-Hoa. “We believe it’s a much more powerful way to learn mathematics than what’s out there in the market of digital math.”

The startup hopes its app is one of the first that evaluates students' work, replacing outdated evaluation systems like multiple-choice questionnaires and correct-or-incorrect grading.

“We believe showing your work is important, that’s where the learning is happening and so that’s where students should get feedback,” Tu-Hoa said.

Mathspace evaluates this learning via an algorithm that collects and responds to student data throughout the problem-solving process. With data collected every step of the way, the app personalizes math problems based on a student’s problem-solving path. Additional features include the ability for students to use handwriting — with finger or stylus — to answer math questions, an analytics dashboard for teachers, and parent notifications with assignment due dates and weekly progress reports.

At the moment, Tu-Hoa said the app’s business model markets the app to schools and educators; however, the ultimate goal is to construct a consumer version within the next six months to a year. Funding will determine progress, and Tu-Hoa said he expects his team to cement Series A funding in the next few months.

“We want to find a channel to go straight to the consumer, straight to parents, and give them a program that’s a fraction of the cost of a one-on-one tutor,” Tu-Hoa said.

In addition to certificated bragging rights for earning top honors, Mathspace also earns itself access to $1,500 worth of market intelligence through the 2015 Software & Information Industry Association tech education report, as well as added exposure with an ISTE corporate membership, free exhibiting space at the next ISTE conference, and the opportunity to attend an SIIA event.

Event host and ISTE Board Member Mila Fuller, who was accompanied by ISTE Chair Kecia Ray (Ray was just named executive director of Government Technology's sister company the Center for Digital Education), said the competition was geared to supply tech companies with hands-on direction from educators in the field.

“If you’re a startup and don’t have an opportunity to be in the classroom day-by-day, being at a conference and competition like this gives them an opportunity to get immersed in what real, authentic learning looks like,” Fuller said.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.