WHO WE ARE
We are founders just like you. We understand the competing pressures of start-up life and we are here to lighten your load.
Experts in Learning Sciences, Technology Design, & Education Research
Molly B. Zielezinski
CEO & FOUNDER
Molly B. Zielezinski, PhD. has spent more than a decade working at the intersection of technology and learning in K-12. She began her career as an elementary math teacher and in time advanced to roles supporting colleagues through the design and delivery of professional development. Later, Molly went on to earn a PhD from Stanford University in Learning Sciences & Technology Design where her research focused on technology use to support learning by underserved students. While at Stanford, she honed expertise in the learning sciences, working on cutting-edge projects to create and evaluate advancements in technology design, design thinking, curriculum development, and teacher education.
Today, as founder and CEO of MBZ Labs, Molly works in partnership with educational technology companies and research organizations, building their capacity for real-time relevant efficacy and evaluation. At MBZ Labs, she also supports strategic initiatives focused on bridging existing gaps between technology, research and practice.
DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH
Paul Franz, M.A. is a life-long scholar, avid researcher, and former middle school teacher. He has written and presented research on student health and well-being, college admissions and higher education policy, curriculum and technology, and Massive Open Online Courses. His work has appeared in the Review of Higher Education, ASCD’s EL Magazine, and on EdSurge. He has also appeared as a guest on KQED Forum.
Paul holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College, Santa Fe, and an M.A. in Learning, Design, and Technology from Stanford University. As the Director of Research for MBZ Labs, Franz uses these skills to provide actionable insights to educational technology companies interested in leveraging research for improvement.
DIRECTOR OF KNOWLEDGE
Amanda Thibodeau has been working in education and non-profit management for the last decade. After working in multiple healthcare startups, Thibodeau moved to the Sierra Nevada foothills to learn about sustainable agriculture with the goal of teaching students where their food comes from. There, she founded and developed a thriving educational farm serving thousands of students and educators throughout the region, later pioneering a farm-to-school program that serves over 96% of classrooms in her county while developing cutting edge curriculum and professional development to support this program.
With her B.A. in Communications and Culture and Philosophy from Clark University, Thibodeau is skilled at synthesizing information and identifying trends and big picture themes. As the Director of Knowledge at MBZ Labs, Thibodeau is excited to use her varied skills and leadership experience to help companies and educators thrive in a dynamic environment and face the challenges of education in today’s world.
Kate Whitney is currently a master’s student in the Learning, Design, and Technology program at Stanford University, where she’s excited to expand her knowledge of research methods, user experience, and the learning sciences. While working toward her B.S. in Biology from UCLA, Kate worked as a research assistant studying human behavior from an evolutionary perspective. There, she became passionate about the research process and its potential to inform solutions to society’s challenges. During her time as an undergraduate, she also had the opportunity to develop and teach weekly biology lessons to elementary school students, sparking her interest in education.
Following college, Kate worked as a project manager at a web development agency, where she realized the power of user experience in technology design. At MBZ Labs, she is excited to apply her experience in research and education to help educational technology companies create products that are both usable and effective.
Read about Karin
Dr. Karin Forssell is the director of the Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) master’s program and lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Dr. Forssell also directs the GSE Makery, a space where students and faculty can explore how making things helps people learn. In her courses, students learn to use research from the learning sciences and learning-centered design processes to create effective digital tools. Her current interests include maker space education, teacher technology adoption, and parenting in a digital world.
Tonika Cheek Clayton
Read about Tonika
Tonika Cheek Clayton is a Managing Partner at NewSchools Venture Fund where she leads the Tools & Services team. Under her leadership, NewSchools has invested over $15 million in 85 promising for-profit and nonprofit entrepreneurs developing digital tools and services that support teaching and learning in PreK-12 schools.
With a strong understanding of edtech from her time as the VP of Amplify, as well as her rigorous research background from Harvard University’s Public Education Leadership Project (PELP), Tonika brings a wealth of knowledge, insight and experience to the intersection of education, technology and equity. She currently resides in Dallas, Texas with her husband and three children.
Read about Sara
Sara Romero-Heaps is the VP of Product Strategy at Nearpod, where she oversees strategy for the curriculum and software products, along with managing Nearpod’s efficacy portfolio and DEI efforts. A former middle and high school educator, Sara is passionate about ensuring edtech products are both pedagogically sound and culturally responsive. Sara currently resides with her wife, son, and pup in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Read about Zak
Zak Zielezinski is Chief Executive Officer at Declara and has been with the company since 2013. He is responsible for defining and implementing Declara’s overall business strategy, product vision and leading execution towards achieving company objectives.
Prior to assuming the CEO role at Declara, Zak served as VP of Business Development, where he led global sales and marketing, strategic partnerships and customer success to accelerate growth and impact for Declara, its customers and stakeholders.
Prior to joining Declara, Zak led Customer Success and Business Development for educational software provider SchoolOne, where he delivered professional development and managed implementation of the SchoolOne Student Information System product and a suite of integrated classroom applications across hundreds of K-12 schools and districts in the US.
Prior to this, Zak founded multiple companies in the educational market while a full-time undergraduate student at Clark University. He founded and served as President of Interactive Purchasing Solutions (IPS), a company providing custom branded e-commerce
storefronts and product fulfillment solutions, which was utilized by over 15 of the top 20 independent boarding schools in the United States. Zak was also founder and CEO of The Campus Book Brokerage, a used textbook buy-back service that saved students tens of thousands of dollars per semester on their textbooks and course materials.