These six Austin startups engage kids in learning opportunities outside the classroom.
By Abigail Rosenthal
It’s officially August, a time when kids of all ages and grades start dreading the back-to-school shopping trips and supply lists that mark the end of summer and the beginning of yet another school year. Before the first bell rings, take a glance at these six female-led startups in Austin that focus on emphasizing the fun in education fundamentals, showing students that learning doesn’t just mean memorized math equations and run-on reading lists.
As part of the fight to get more women in STEM fields, Girlstart focuses on getting girls excited about science, technology, engineering and math with hands-on activities through its after-school and summer programs. Girlstart has been successful in its goal. So far, 87 percent of participants have entered a four-year university, with 80 percent pursuing STEM majors and careers. Since it was founded, Girlstart has reached and helped teach more than 16,000 girls. After-school programs are available in 19 school districts in Central Texas, with more to come as Girlstart expands into other Texas regions.
The arrival of fall marks the beginning of college-application season for high-school seniors. SchooLinks is an online platform that helps ease any application worries, matching students to schools and professions that best fit their needs and wants. The program starts by matching students with majors based on their personalities and interests, then locates colleges that reflect that interest before breaking down the application process—for enrollment and scholarships—to keep students focused on their goal.
“We are simplifying what can be a daunting process by providing [students with]an engaging and fun experience,” Founder and CEO Katie Fang says.
Founded by an Austin couple looking to prevent the “summer slide” in their five kids, Brain Chase keeps kids learning throughout the summer break and into the after-school days. Through the web platform, students complete challenges to try to locate $10,000 buried in a secret location, with the first player to correctly guess the coordinates winning an all-expenses-paid trip to dig up the prize.
“Learning and adventure are the two founding goals of Brain Chase,” Co-founder Heather Staker says. “We started this treasure-hunt business to give families fun IQ-building activities to do together during the summer and after school.”
This project-based learning program introduces the creative side of computer science to 2nd grade through 12th grade students who might not find the subject taught in their own schools. Hello World offers students the chance to explore and learn about web development, game design and other revolutionary skills associated with the field of computer science.
“Our team recognizes there’s enormous opportunity held in STEM industries and we aim to place our graduates at the front lines of technological advancement to give them access to the most influential careers in the world,” Founder Sabina Bharwani says.
Geared toward girls in high school who have never taken a computer-science course or who might not consider a career in tech, ChickTech offers workshops to get girls interested in pursuing technology-related careers. This fall, 100 nominated girls from the Austin area will get to participate at no cost. In August, ChickTech will also be part of the first ACT-W Austin Conference, a gathering featuring workshops, panels and other opportunities to meet fellow women in tech.
“We are dedicated to retaining women in the technology workforce and increasing the number of women and girls pursuing technology-based careers,” Director Nicole Engard says.
One might not expect kids to get excited about money and finances, but Gayle Reaume is accomplishing just that through Moolah U. The program’s flagship weeklong pop-up camps teach kids how to manage their money—right now and further down the road—by teaching them how to create their own businesses. For kids age 12 and older who have completed the camp, Moolah U now offers its long-term Apprentice Program to help students gain leadership experience and build on the concepts they learned in camp.