The following was shared with the Bloomingtonian:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 9, 2023
For more information, please contact:
Andy Lehman, Head of Accelerator Programming, The Mill, [email protected], 812-679-6140
Charlie Edmonds, CEO and Founder, Pocket, [email protected]
Kevin Celisca, CEO and Co-Founder, Integrate School, [email protected]
EdTech Apps Sweep 2023 Fall Crossroads Pitch Competition
Pocket wins pre-seed, Integrate School wins seed division
Bloomington, Ind.—The Mill, Bloomington’s nonprofit center for entrepreneurship, today announced the winners of the Fall 2023 Crossroads Pitch Competition. Pocket won the pre-seed competition for its educational platform for beginning band and orchestra that utilizes Black gospel music as its instructional vehicle to engage students with a historically important genre. Integrate School, the winner of the seed competition, improves instructional quality and equity by allowing any teacher to easily create standards-based, curriculum-mapped lesson plans. Pocket will receive a $10,000 investment from Flywheel Fund. Integrate School will receive a $20,000 investment. The two winning startups also receive priority consideration to pitch at an upcoming Elevate Ventures event for further investment.
Pocket to close long-standing content gap
The Pocket app gives beginning band and orchestra instructors access to a curated catalog of music, lesson plans, and pacing guides based on Black gospel music. This historical music, founder Charlie Edmonds said in her pitch, has deeply influenced American rock, hip hop, and contemporary music, and yet is radically underrepresented in music textbooks—a long-standing pain point of teachers and students. A former middle school band director, Edmonds saw other band instructors regularly expressing frustration in professional forums on the dearth of appropriate African-American content for their students. In Edmonds’ own school, band enrollment tripled when she expanded the curriculum to include relevant Black music.
“It was an absolute honor to participate in and win the pre-seed finals of the Crossroads Pitch Competition,” said Edmonds. “The process gifted me the ability to learn from amazing judges and participants, immerse myself in the thriving entrepreneurship community in Southern Indiana, and share my world of Pocket Methods, LLC with a wide audience. With the pre-seed funding from Crossroads, I am now accelerating my goals for development, piloting in schools, and gaining much needed legal access. I am filled with gratitude for this opportunity.”
Now a PhD student in music education, Edmonds aims to crack the $3 billion child instrumental music learning market. Band directors are unusual, Edmonds notes, in that they usually have a separate budget and discretion to spend it—thus eliminating barriers to market penetration. In her customer discovery surveys, 100% of band instructors were willing to pay for access to Pocket’s platform. This fall, Pocket will pilot in two schools, and by August 2024, Edmonds hopes to have her minimum viable product complete.
“My forward movement would not be possible without the support of The Mill and the Flywheel Fund,” Edmonds said. “From my participation in The Mill’s Startup Summer program to now, I have been endlessly supported by The Mill’s staff in startup coaching, accountability meetings, connections to venture capital companies, marketing assistance, and anything I could request. Compounding that support is The Mill’s community of members who have shown genuine care for my founder journey with their feedback and willingness to help in any way. Pocket has introduced me to an entrepreneurial community that I will always cherish.”
The pre-seed finals were judged by Nida Ansari, CEO of Karmic Partners; Landon Young, Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Programming at Elevate Ventures; and Logan Herzog, Innovation Fellow at The Idea Center at Notre Dame.
Integrate School to increase access to high-quality instruction
Integrate School is a lesson planning tool that maps to curriculum and state standards. Currently, co-founder and CEO Kevin Celisca said in his pitch, schools use cumbersome combinations of Google Docs and email, or even handwritten notes, to communicate lesson plans to the main office. Most have no verification process of alignment to standards, and no tracking of whether the lesson itself has good student learning outcomes. This leads to inequities in instruction, especially for students in zipcodes with lower tax revenue and fewer teacher resources.
“The reason this is important to me,” Celisca said, “is I was a victim of zipcode discrimination.” Celisca credits his fourth-grade teacher for helping him turn the corner on learning. “She worked with me after school every day and customized a lesson plan to help me excel academically, to eventually go to college and study abroad.” After college, Celisca worked for a big-four accounting firm working with Fortune 500 companies. Later he started a nonprofit, College Lingual, to help first-generation students transition from high school to college, where he learned how to sell to schools.
Celisca says it’s now his sole mission to help teachers everywhere easily create high-quality lesson plans, personalized to student needs, to ensure all students succeed. Integrate School increases job satisfaction for teachers, while also increasing accountability and transparency for administrators and parents.
Integration with key education software is key to the product’s viability, according to co-founder Maxwell Witt. Integrate School has a two-way data synch with EdLink, to connect data to class rosters; 1EdTech’s CASENetwork, a central repository for state and national learning standards; and OpenAI, to fuel AI-generated lesson plans that align with those standards and students’ current levels of understanding.
“I am deeply honored and incredibly grateful to accept the prestigious Crossroads seed award,” said Celisca. “The unwavering support extended to us by the Mill and Flywheel Fund for Indiana startups is truly unparalleled and unlike anything I have ever experienced in any other state. My team and I now have the fuel we need to propel our company to new heights. The level of dedication and encouragement we have received from this community is nothing short of inspiring. Their belief in our vision and their willingness to invest in our potential is a testament to the transformative impact our company aims to make.”
Integrate Schools uses a B2B SaaS model, with site license pricing starting at $5,000. Their average contract value, with value-adds like a library of pre-made lessons, is now $50,000. The app is ESSA / ESSER level 4 approved (an evidence-based certificate of efficacy) by the Learn Platform, a third-party evaluator, which allows schools to purchase the software through their emergency funds.
The seed finals were judged by Julie Heath, Executive Director of IU Innovates; Ryan Locke, Vice President of Venture Finance at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation; and Alex Shortle, Partner at EO Advisors.
“This fall’s competitors were truly outstanding,” said Andy Lehman, Head of Accelerator Programming. “We couldn’t be happier with these two worthy winners, who’ve founded companies with great potential not just for growth and investors, but with great potential to make a positive impact on students and communities. We look forward to hearing more about the future success of all our finalists.”
Crossroads Pitch Competition is open to any Indiana-based startup with less than $250,000 in annual recurring revenue. A panel of over 40 entrepreneurs, investors, and business experts selected four finalists for each of the two tracks. The other pre-seed finalists were Primary Record (Jean Ross); Rescue Biomedical (Vy Le); and Soloist (Parker Busick). The other seed finalists were HEMSCap (Hoda Salsabili), rScan (Rod Baradaran), and Traduality (Diego Achio).
Visit https://www.crossroadspitch.com/ to learn more about the competition.
About The Mill
The Mill is the heart of southern Indiana’s startup ecosystem and its largest coworking space. A 501(c)3 nonprofit, its mission is to spark Bloomington’s innovation economy by launching and accelerating startups, and its vision is to become Indiana’s center of gravity for entrepreneurship.
Launched in 2017 as a regional event, Crossroads Pitch Competition is now one of Indiana’s biggest pitch competitions, attracting startups from all over the state. Crossroads takes place in spring and fall, with tracks for seed and pre-seed startups. The Crossroads brand also includes Crossroads Collegiate, for Hoosier students; the Crossroads Platform, white-label support for regional pitch competitions; and the Crossroads Idea Competition, for entrepreneurs exploring very early-stage business concepts.