Lab4U leverages technology and develops inquiry-based learning experiences to ensure ALL students have access to a quality science education
Pitch us on your solution
Lab4U is democratizing access to a quality science education in Latin America. By leveraging smartphone technology that millions of students around the world have in their pocket, Lab4U is giving millions of students around the world access to a hands-on science education. Lab4U supports science educators with tools and methodologies to put their students at the center of the learning process.
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What is the problem you are solving?
According to a 2012 Inter-American Development Bank study, up to 88% of schools in Latin America do not have a science lab. That means tens of millions of students around the region are learning about science, rather than learning to do science. Classes are tedious and theoretical, students are bored and uninterested, and their learning is superficial and ephemeral. As a result, Latin America's PISA results in science in both 2015 and 2018 lagged significantly behind the OECD average, coming in below dozens of countries at a similar level of development. Students in Latin America aren't interested in pursuing work in the rapidly-growing and high-paying STEM field, with Latin America having only about 500 researchers and developers per million inhabitants (compared with 4,000+ in North America and 5-7,000 in Japan, Singapore, and South Korea).
Given the importance of STEM for the future of the workforce, this is a critical problem, not only for individual opportunity but also for competitiveness of Latin American countries and economies in the 21st Century. The best way to change this is rethinking the way science is taught and learned in the region.
Who are you serving?
While the problem of limited lab infrastructure may be concentrated in low-income communities, the problem of an overly theoretical science education is not. On the contrary, it predominates in both public and private schools across the region. Therefore, Lab4U serves students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, their teachers, and their educational communities.
While our solutions for middle- and high-school science education, (Lab4Physics, Lab4Chemistry, and soon Lab4Biology) are already used by thousands of students across the region, that doesn't mean that our approach is one-size-fits-all. On the contrary, an important part of Lab4U's work with schools and learning communities around the world is our work with teachers, administrators, and education authorities to ensure that our solutions for inquiry-based science education are contextualized and adapted to the unique needs of each community we serve.
Our work with schools and educational communities includes the use of technology and custom-designed content, as well as consultation, training, and support to ensure students, teachers, and schools have the resources and support they need to permanently transform the way science is taught and learned.
What is your solution?
Lab4U's products and services include three main components: 1. technology, 2. a rigorous educational experience, and 3. consulting, training, support, and metrics for teachers and schools.
1. Technology. Lab4U's solutions for science education at the middle and high school levels, Lab4Physics and Lab4Chemistry, take advantage of the sensors that are built in to mobile devices most students carry in their pocket with them every day. We transform these sensors, like the accelerometer, microphone, and camera into tools that can collect and display the data students collect from the world around them in real time. In addition to the tools students have access to through the Lab4Physics and Lab4Chemistry mobile apps (like the accelerometer, sonometer, speedometer, camera, and Lab4U's patented digital colorimeter), students also have access to a library of inquiry-based experiments that guide students toward the big ideas of science with easy-to-follow instructions.
2. Educational Experience. While technology can give millions of students access to a lab in their pocket, it cannot transform science education alone. That's why Lab4U's Education Team develops rigorous experiments, based on the principles of inquiry-based science learning, that embed Lab4U technology in experiments and other learning experiences that put experiential learning before theory, and put students at the center of their own learning process. Student lab reports use real-life examples that activate students' interest and prior knowledge, and class plans and other resources are available to support teachers as they implement these new learning experiences with their students. All of this material is downloadable through Lab4U's TeacherPortal, or can be printed and turned in to teachers and schools if internet access is limited.
3. Consulting, training, support, and metrics for teachers and schools. Even the best technology and educational content cannot achieve lasting change in educational communities if teachers don't have the right knowledge, skills, and mindsets. That's why Lab4U prioritizes this third pillar in every implementation with a partner school or district. The process begins with an extensive pre-implementation diagnostic and consultation, in which implementation plans are created and adjusted in close conjunction with authorities and administrators. Teachers are onboarded and receive ongoing support and professional development through the implementation process. And administrators and educators alike receive access to use metrics that allow them to optimize the use of Lab4U's solutions and to ensure that change is lasting and capacity remains installed with teachers.
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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Santiago, Chile
Our solution's stage of development:
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Lab4U's solution is unique in its hybrid approach. While Lab4U sees the promise and potential of technology for addressing some of the biggest challenges in education, we don't see technology as a panacea. Rather, we see technology as an opportunity that must be integrated in existing structures in education. Between 95 and 100% of the school-aged population in Latin America is currently enrolled in school, which are overwhelmingly traditional in nature, and many of which have infrastructure for a 100% technological solution. That means we must think of creative ways to integrate with the existing science curriculum, and to build capacity and shift mindsets and teaching practices of current teachers. It is these actors who will have the potential to allow us to drive significant impact in science education the region.
Though some competitors develop mobile applications that unlock data-collection capabilities of smartphones, none offer a library of rigorous, relevant, and accessible experimental content like Lab4U's. In addition, our model, which emphasizes the importance of deep partnerships with schools, teachers, and educational communities allows us to leave an impact that is deep and lasting.
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
Lab4U's Theory of Change shows the link between the technology, educational experiences, and professional development that Lab4U develops among the learning communities we work with.
We expect impacted students in both low- and high-income communities alike display increased motivation, a deeper conceptual understanding and retention of science concepts, along with the development of key soft skills among students in the short term. In the medium term, we expect teachers' capacity to teach inquiry-based science increase, as well as increased academic outcomes in physics/chemistry among students, as well as increased self-perception in STEM. Long-term, we expect to see lower dropout reates and more students opt to pursue STEM fields, as well as more students prepared for (and choosing to pursue) a university education. The ultimate impact, on a macro level, includes increased competitiveness, access to opportunity, equity in STEM, and preparedness for the workforce of the future.
This theory of change is backed up by evidence that it's already working: in 2018, the Inter-American Development Bank sponsored a Randomized Control Trial to measure the impact of Lab4U on more than 5,000 students in public schools in Sinaloa, Mexico. Their teachers were trained in Lab4U's technology and methodologies, and their students had access to Lab4Physics over the course of a semester. The study found a positive and statistically significant relationship between use of Lab4U's solutions and increased:
- Science knowledge
- Self-concept w/respect to Physics
- Interest in studying a STEM career in the future.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
As of March 2020, Lab4U has been downloaded more than 140,000 times around the world, with approximately 20,000 active users, most of whom are in Chile, Mexico, and the USA.
In a year, Lab4U expects to have doubled its number of active users, to more than 50,000 (with 200,000+ total downloads) through new projects in the public and private sector, primarily in our target markets of Chile, Mexico, and the USA (though we anticipate expanding beyond those markets into additional Latin American countries, such as Colombia and Argentina where we already have several schools/teachers using our solutions and local allies who are in beginning conversations with additional partners (universities, etc).
In 5 years, we will have at least 1.5 million active users. As a Latin American solution, we anticipate the majority of these users will continue to be located in the LatAm region, though we expect that with some adaptation both Lab4Physics, lab4Chemistry, and soon Lab4Biology will be usable large Chinese, Indian, and other markets. At this time, we hope to have translated Lab4Physics and Lab4Chemistry into Portuguese, French, and Mandarin Chinese, in addition to English/Spanish which are currently supported.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
In the next year, we plan to greatly expand our curricular coverage of both Lab4Physics (from 35 to 50 experiments) and Lab4Chemistry, more than doubling the experiments we have available to include new topics like chemical reactions and pH. We will continue to grow our corporate social responsibility program, which has attracted sponsors who are interested in impacting in science education in public schools that have high need but low ability to pay. We will also be on the path toward launching Lab4Biology.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
Uncertainty in the B2B EdTech market, where in-person classes have been disrupted due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This hit at a difficult moment in our N. American sales cycle, threatening to derail some of our projects as uncertainty as to when classes will resume and how deep the economic impact will be has caused many schools to hold on requisitions for the upcoming school year. This same situation has led us to new opportunities: in the past month and a half we have seen an explosion in the number of inbound leads requesting support and use of our services as parents work from home with their students for the first time and are looking for ways to keep them engaged. We're also seeing a boom in the number of teachers who are interested in using Lab4U to assist them in engaging students in meaningful, inquiry-based learning experiences through an online learning modality.
Another barrier to growth includes the scalability of our consulting/support processes for schools. Currently, schools and teachers in LatAm have needed a great deal of high-touch, in-person support. While we believe this support is key for an impactful implementation (especially in year one of a program with Lab4U), it is difficult to provide this level of service and support with the current team structure. It's also difficult to provide in the regions that have the highest need, as they tend to be far removed from our offices in CDMX and Santiago and often have limited access to connectivity.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
We are reevaluating our sales process and the structure of the sales team as we shift to more virtual support and seek to cultivate an increase in the number of inbound leads (rather than pushing outbound sales). We are in the process of shifting some of our prospectors (sales development representatives) who had been cultivating partnerships with schools to teacher success representatives, who will support existing teachers. We are also shifting resources toward marketing, where we will be hiring several new positions to assist in digital marketing efforts. Our head of business development will continue to pursue partnerships with governments and companies who can help Lab4U's solutions get in front of more students and teachers in the highest-need, lowest ability to pay communities.
With respect to scalability, we have an increasingly extensive library of professional development content that can be adapted for new schools with minimal need for new content creation. We are improving in our ability to lead online trainings and to give meaningful support afterward.
If you selected “My solution is already being implemented in Latin America/Caribbean,” please provide an overview of your current activities in the region.
Lab4U has offices in Santiago de Chile (home office) and Mexico City, with development and educational departments headquartered in Chile and business development headquartered in Mexico. Current activities in the region include work with dozens of public and private schools in Chile, including several consultancy projects for educational transformation that have been renewed 2-4 years, and deals with Municipalidad de Arica and Santiago. In Mexico, we have greatly expanded the number of private schools in our pipeline (primarily in Mexico City, Morelos, and Veracruz) while building partnerships with state education authorities in CDMX and Veracruz. Through a partnership with the US Embassy in Mexico, we have implemented a project in 5 different HS systems in Veracruz state, with 75+ teachers trained and 4000+ students impacted. We have also partnered with CEMEX, in a project impacting students enrolled in public schools in greater Monterrey (CONALEP, CBTiS, and Prepa de la Univ. Autónoma de NL). This project includes teacher training for 20+ science teachers, and 1,500 impacted students. It also included the design of new experiments with CEMEX branding and a focus on the physics of the cement industry.
In the past, we've also partnered with Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo in a project and Randomized Control Trial in Sinaloa, México (2017-18), and with the Vicepresidencia de República Dominicana in a project to train dozens of HS Physics teachers.
Select an option below:
How many people work on your solution team?
11 full-time staff (9 in Chile, 2 in Mexico)
~4 interns (this number is highly variable)
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
The Lab4U team is a unique mix of science and engineering professionals, educators, developers/programmers. We are a multicultural, multiracial, multilingual, overall extremely diverse group of Chilean, Mexican, American, French, and Colombian nationals who are united by a common belief in the power of education to transform communities, societies, countries, and the world. Though we are diverse in virtually all ways, we're united in our idealism, our culture of hard work, and our belief that the work we do every day is genuinely having an impact and making a difference in thousands of lives around the world.
We are positioned to have an impact due to our diversity, our agility, our openness and proven ability to make data-driven decisions that help us adapt in environments of uncertainty and rapid change.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
We currently have partnerships with:
- CORFO (Chilean government grant for companies producing innovative products for export, current grant is for expansion of Lab4Chemistry),
- The US Embassy in Mexico (grant to train more than 50 teachers in Veracruz, Mexico and to provide 4,000+ students access to Lab4U's experiments and technology over the course of a school year),
- CEMEX (partnership to increase scientific literacy in the communities surrounding their main Monterrey, MX plant through teacher training, student access to Lab4U's technology, and design of new experiments through their CSR department).
In the past we've also partnered with:
- Toyota USA (marketing campaign using Toyota Mirai and Lab4Physics App),
- Arbor Scientific (commission-based sales through their platform in the USA)
- Vicepresidencia de República Dominicana (Teacher training for dozens of HS Physics educators)
What is your business model?
Our business is based on the sale of SaaS/educational services, to be used by students, teachers, and educational communities around the world.
The sales model varies slightly from market to market (Chile, Mexico, USA), but in general we bundle our product and services, offering most of our clients a personalized package that includes a combination of 1) technology (unlimited to Lab4Physics/Lab4Chemistry mobile apps), 2) access to the Lab4U Teacher Portal, which contains experimental content (lab reports and class plans aligned to content on mobile app) along with video tutorials and other resources, and 3) support and professional development for teachers. This third component includes an initial onboarding and virtual support throughout program implementation, but is customizable depending on school need.
In the past year, Lab4U has also begun to work with corporations through their CSR and marketing departments on sales that impact students and teachers in low-income communities to partially or completely offset the cost of implementing a project in contexts of high need but low ability to pay.
Generally, the cost of a Lab4U project is tied to the number of students impacted, and varies depending on country, whether the project is meant to impact public/private school, and volume of students impacted. In general, the cost per student ranges from US$10 to US$30 per year.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
Last year, we had revenue of more than $100K USD, and are on track to have revenue of $250K USD this year. Our path to sustainability revolves around ensuring we are able to retain the majority of our current clients, upselling new trainings and services. We also hope to increase sustainability by winning government contracts in Mexico and Chile, something we're poised to do with at least two partners. Finally, we hope to achieve more rapid scalability by increasing operations in the US, where school sales cycles are shorter and individual teachers and schools have more spending autonomy than the majority of school systems in Latin America. This will allow us to subsidize the cost of implementing in LatAm.
Why are you applying to the TPrize Challenge?
We are applying to the TPrize challenge because we believe it would open the door to powerful partnerships with impactful and experienced organizations working in the EdTech space in the U.S. We're eager to learn from other companies who have been able to generate significant social impact, especially in Latin America, while also rapidly increasing sales and revenue. We believe that the TPrize challenge would give us access to a powerful network that would help accelerate our learning and ultimately our growth and sustainability.
We're especially interested in models that will help us scale our teacher support systems, meeting the unique needs of educators in Latin America without significantly increasing our cost.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
We would be thrilled to partner with companies that have active CSR departments, interested in contributing to educational equity in Latin America and the world. We're also interested in partnering with organizations that are already delivering impactful training and content for educators and educational communities in the region, as we think we'd be able to contribute to a robust offering.