How 5 Austin startups are investing in kids

Written by Kelly O'Halloran
Published on Feb. 22, 2017
How 5 Austin startups are investing in kids

Much of what technology will look like in the future depends on the up-and-coming generation of innovators. While many startups in town focus on enhancing our adult lifestyles, others have targeted our future entrepreneurs.

Here are five local startups pushing the collaborative and creative envelope to prepare our youngest tech-leaders-to-be. 


Hello World Tech Studio hosts an after-school coding program to help teach children various technology fields. The 10-week spring program, currently in session, covers web development, mobile app development, game design, design thinking and data sciences — and their curriculum evolves just as technology does. Enrollment for the summer program is currently open. 

Sabina Bharwani, former director of edtech at Teach For America, and Danielle Wilson Burnett, a former multimedia and computer science high school teacher, co-founded the company. Their pedagogical approach also includes lessons that embrace learning from failure, perseverance and leading with curiosity.


A recent competitor on Shark Tank, PopUp Play provides kids the opportunity to virtually design their own play forts. Through an app, children can customize fiberboard templates of castles, rocket ships and other playscapes that are then manufactured and sent out for delivery in days. Once it arrives, kids can then color in the details they added during the design process. 

Their way of blending screen time with physical play time earned the startup top honors at last year's SXSW business pitch contest and a recent $250,000 investment from Shark Tank's Chris Sacca, founder of Lowercase Capital.


Connecting more than 120,000 students from 170 countries, PenPal Schools takes the tradition of writing to a pen pal and brings it to the 21st-century classroom. Every student gets matched with three other students to collaborate, write one another and learn together as they navigate PenPal Schools' online courses.

Since 2014, the edtech startup has been recognized by SXSWedu, the White House, Dell's Innovation Pitch Slam and the Global EdTech Startup Awards. Using the program helps strengthen students' world knowledge, technology and collaboration skills, as well as reading and writing comprehension. 


GameSalad's game creation tools give folks a chance to stand in the shoes of a game developer without the need of advanced coding skills. They offer a subscription for developers to design their own games as well as an academic program for the classroom. Through GameSalad's education platform, students learn computer science over a project-based learning curriculum that introduces programming concepts, game design and digital media creation.

Over one million people have used GameSalad since its launch in 2010. Of the games created by users, 75 have reached the Top 100 in the App Store, including several that earned the No. 1 most downloaded game.


Parents Allan and Heather Staker brainstormed ideas on how to keep their five children away from what educators have deemed "the summer slide" — in other words, when students lose some of the academic gains they made throughout the previous school year during summer break. After developing a program for their own kids, the Stakers took it to market under the name Brain Chase.

Brain Chase's library of online learning programs isn't just for the summertime, as they've launched after-school programs as well. Subjects include the usual reading, writing and math, but also include electives like yoga, engineering, cooking, languages and art. 


Images provided by social media and company websites.

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