NC IDEA WINNER: Lea(R)n, Clinical Trials for EdTech - 1

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NC IDEA WINNER: Lea(R)n, Clinical Trials for EdTech - 1
NC IDEA announced its Spring 2014 grant winners on June 5, 2014. This piece is part of a series of stories on the six winners. Read about them all here.

If you thought that the field of education was slow to change, then you likely haven't counted the number of educational applications out there these days.

According to Lea(R)n co-founder Karl Rectanus, there are 20,000 applications doing everything from organizing digital content to gamifying classroom learning to delivering education in new ways to evaluating teachers and staff. Any given teacher or administrator is testing out three or four technology tools at a given time, he says. And to date, there's no real way to know which platform works better than any other.

Rectanus believes he's the best person to create a system of evaluating and certifying EdTech. He spent time early in his career as a teaching fellow in North Carolina, and then left to become the third employee at eCivis, a Washington D.C. startup helping schools manage their grant applications. He helped grow it to $20 million in sales before coming back to North Carolina in 2007 to help found NC STEM. He's consulted with the White House, state legislators, the Gates Foundation and other entities around education innovation.

It's all that experience that won over NC IDEA judges, says John Cambier, a judge and Idea Fund Partners managing partner.

"He has a rare combination of a lot of experience in the educational space and he was a software entrepreneur before," Cambier says.

Rectanus compares what he's creating to the clinical trials prevalent in the pharmaceutical industry. To determine the effectiveness of a drug, they perform a variety of tests and publish the data. Rectanus is developing a software free for educators (but with fees for more complex data) that takes a phased approach to technology trials. His goal is to roll out a certification process for education technology, to help educators make better decisions and to shorten the sales cycle so the best innovation gets into schools faster.

He created a video explaining his vision here:

The NC IDEA funds will support the development and evaluation of Lea(R)n's first product, a software for collecting and disseminating rapid feedback from educators on tools they're using in the classroom. The grant will also help the company secure intellectual property around the tools.

Rectanus is planning a beta test this summer and a full launch in the fall. He also hopes to close a $500,000 round.

Says Cambier: "We all felt this is big and innovative and if he can pull it off, its going to be meaningful."