Groupnotes, a Canadian startup with a team spread across Hamilton and Toronto, Ontario, was crowned the overall winner of Startup Weekend’s Global Startup Battle today. The international contest is all about launching a startup in just 54 hours, which the Groupnotes team managed with gusto, even signing on a number of customers willing to pay for early beta access before going hands on with an actual shipping product. Why? Educators want better, more meaningful ways to get students working together, and to track and measure their class participation.
The idea behind Groupnotes is to create a collaboration platform that works for education, with a focus on the needs of professors and educators to start. Groupnotes co-founders Matthew Gardner explained that while the platform should eventually hold appeal for enterprise and other users, too, the team felt it was important to first design a salable product aimed at a particular vertical, and then work on expanding its reach later on, after there are already some paying customers on board.
“The product itself got shaped a little differently from the initial weekend,” Gardner said in an interview, explaining that the product changed dramatically following an interview with educators and students regarding their own needs. “We sort of found a pretty nice market with education and decided to sell directly to educators. There’s been excitement about it from elementary all the way through to university professors.”
To address what educators were looking for, Groupnotes developed a collaborative platform that can get an entire class on board working together on a single topic or course of study. As members of a group browse the web, they can take notes and annotate pages with drawings and text comments, and as other users also browse, they can see and add to those breadcrumbs. It also collects notes in a group dashboard, and information is communicated between group members in real-time, meaning that a prof leading a class could be viewing materials as students in the class comment, note and ask questions on their individual devices. There’s a demo available on the Groupnotes website for an early look at how the live product will function.
This provides teachers with unique insight into part of the learning process that’s normally fairly opaque: research. Gardner describes it as sort of a “blackbox” for the work that actually goes into an assignment, which is a crucial component that could help educators better guide students in their efforts, or identify strategies that are particularly effective and share those with other students who maybe aren’t doing so well.
Beyond education, this kind of tracking is a great way to establish and monitor best practices for research and information gathering, as well as to establish and monitor compliance to standard operating procedures. Groupnotes goes beyond just collaborative note-taking applications, and ventures into the territory of being a much more comprehensive tool for learning about the process of learning, something that could prove indispensable as educators try to come to grips with learning that happens primarily through online resources.
So what’s next for Gardner and his co-founders Jason Moore, Greg Connell, Mathieu Gosbee, and Graham Kennery? Well, the team hopes to continue fielding sales requests which they say continue to pour in, and then ship a beta product to its early subscribers in January. The team also has to collect on its reward, which includes a trip to Rio De Janeiro to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, a trip to the Googleplex in San Francisco, as well as $35,000 in startup services and cloud storage.
Spoils of victory aside, the team is committed to keeping up the breakneck pace that helped it build the basics of a business in 54 hours, and wants to work on building integrations for Groupnotes into the major platforms educators are using already, including Desire2Learn and Blackboard, among others. Groupnotes has a lot of early momentum, and customers willing to pay prior to delivery of a true shipping product, so we’ll be watching to see if it can capitalize on these early opportunities.