Eric Johnson

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Co.Lab Accelerator Gives Its First Class a Lesson in Pitching Educational Games

logo_high-featureAt Zynga’s headquarters in San Francisco last night, the NewSchools Venture Fund and the games company’s charity spinoff, Zynga.org, showed off the early fruits of the two nonprofits’ partnership, Co.Lab.

First announced in May, Co.Lab is an education-focused accelerator. Its new cohort of five small gaming/ed-tech companies is planned to be the first of many, utilizing spare Zynga office space and the expertise of the for-profit side’s various departments to help get games for learning out the door and higher up on the app charts.

“We’re excited to lend not just space, but, we hope, other talents at Zynga,” founder and former CEO Mark Pincus said in a short address to the event’s crowd. “I think there’s already been an outpouring of interest from Zynga employees to get involved. Hopefully they don’t join the companies permanently, but if that happens, we’ll live with it.”

The five companies in the first cohort, in no particular order:

  • Kidaptive, the makers of a pre-K-focused iPad app called Leo’s Pad. The app is currently free, with more than 500,000 downloads to date, and offers a slew of games aimed at helping parents track their young ones’ educational development. In other words, as CEO P.J. Gunsagar put it, “Is my kid on track?”
  • Pluto Media,* a startup originating in the YouWeb incubator that focuses on music education. Founder Luis Diaz said that a third of the downloads for its first game, Pluto Learns Piano, came from teachers who wanted to use the game in the classroom — which came as a surprise. Its new game Koala Band combines social Club Penguin-esque play with musical mini-games.
  • Motion Math Zoom

    Motion Math Zoom

  • Motion Math’s slogan is “Play With Numbers,” and CEO Jacob Klein said its presence in Apple’s educational promo materials has helped get the young company to 700,000 monthly active users. Like Pluto Media, Motion Math was initially aiming at the home-education market, but pivoted when teachers started using its number games in the classroom.
  • LocoMotive Labs brought two of its three apps to the Co.Lab event — a not-yet-released paid one that teaches kids how to tell time, and the already-released Todo Math Practice, which teaches K-2 counting and arithmetic skills. Co-founder Gunho Lee said sales of the $6.99 Todo Telling Time will be contrasted with an upcoming subscription model for new games in Todo Math.
  • One of these things is not like the other — the fifth company in the cohort, Edmodo, has been around for five years, and claims to have already registered 27 million K-12 schoolteachers worldwide. And, unlike the other four companies, it doesn’t make games, but rather distributes them, along with other educational tools, in the Edmodo Store.** Marketing VP Ketan Kothari said the company hopes to distribute the rest of the cohort’s games.

All four of the game-making companies showed off their products on iPads and iPad minis, although two also mentioned current or future Android support. Edmodo works across iOS, Android and Web apps.

While Zynga.org has already committed to funding the first year of the Co.Lab program, executive director Ken Weber said the Zynga employees who have volunteered their time will help the companies with game design, mechanics, analytics, analyzing the return on investment in new game features, play-testing, marketing and distribution. Meanwhile, the NewSchools Venture Fund will bring to the table a network of contacts in the worlds of education and ed-tech.

* Disclosure: Diaz’s co-founder, Rohan Relan, is a friend and housemate. Relan was not at the Co.Lab event.
** Kothari, when I accidentally called it an App Store: “We don’t call it the App Store. Otherwise, Apple might get angry.” Amazon already fought and won that fight, though.


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