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Need To Grow Your EdTech Startup? Edtech Incubators Are Popping Up Everywhere

Need To Grow Your EdTech Startup? Edtech Incubators Are Popping Up Everywhere | Small Business: tips for landing clients | Scoop.it
There is no question that education is an unusual industry: Nonprofit ventures compete with for-profits. (In fact, it’s frequently hard to tell them apart.) The “users” of products aren’t typically the folks who are the “buyers” of products.

 

Need To Grow Your EdTech Startup? Edtech Incubators Are Popping Up Everywhere

 

There is no question that education is an unusual industry: Nonprofit ventures compete with for-profits. (In fact, it’s frequently hard to tell them apart.) The “users” of products aren’t typically the folks who are the “buyers” of products. The marketplace is a jigsaw puzzle of districts, charters, and others, crisscrossed with bureaucracy and conflicting demands. And the entrepreneurs are, for the most part, young and untested in the ways of building businesses.

For those kinds of reasons, it made perfect sense when three experienced Internet businessmen started an education technology incubator, Imagine K12, in early 2011.

More choice is better for all the participants involved, from kids and teachers to startups themselves.

And since incubators are kind of geographic hot spots, it made sense that entrepreneurs on the East Coast should have one, too. And maybe in the middle of the country. And in the south. Then there were more. (Here’s our list of the current state of edtech incubators.)

So far in 2013, the U.S. alone has seen five new edtech incubators and accelerators. And whether by coincidence or design, all five decided to announce their arrival this February, making the month look like a weekly show of one-upmanship.

It’s a telling sign of the convergence of dynamic energies: a supply of talented and passionate entrepreneurs devoted to the space, renewed faith in the education market among investors, and a global belief in the potential for technology to better education. But is it too much?

FEBRUARY’S FAB FIVE

Boston-based nonprofit LearnLaunch got the ball rolling on February 1 when it announced the LearnLaunchX accelerator program. LearnLaunch grew out of an existing organization, EdTechup, that had organized a regular series of local meetups and events around education entrepreneurship. The six to eight startups selected for LearnLaunchX will start school on April 1.

Socratic Labs, based in New York City, debuted its inaugural class a week later on February 7 (even though it quietly began operations in fall 2012). It will run two cohorts a year, with eight to 10 startups per cohort. The three founding directors--Heather Gilchrist, Rusty Grieff, and Farb Nivi--all hail from Grockit. Particularly notable is a program Gilchrist is spearheading called Edtech Passport: entrepreneurs involved with Socratic, LearnLaunch, 4.0 Schools (a “pre-incubator” in New Orleans), and others will have a “passport” to travel among the incubators that are part of the network and “enjoy the perks of a local network in regional hubs across the country.” This includes attending classes, using work spaces, and sharing access to each other’s networks of schools, investors, and other community resources and stakeholders. Socratic’s mantra: “Education is not a zero-sum game.”

Education is not a zero-sum game.

On February 18, TechStars CEO and founder David Cohen, along with Kaplan CEO Andy Rosen, announced they were joining forces for the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator. The program boasts a flashy lineup of mentors, including Deborah Quazzo, founder of GSV Advisors, and CEOs from big-name edtech startups like Knewton and Dreambox Learning. The program, also based in NYC, will work with ten startups every year, beginning this June.

Two days after the Kaplan-TechStars announcement, Pearson launched its own incubator, Catalyst. It’s an incubator in the loosest sense: Ten startups with “products that complement or enhance a Pearson brand” will be partnered with those teams and work together. (This has raised eyebrows and dismissals of the program as an “easy-bake oven” that takes piggyback technologies from others to promote existing Pearson products.)

That very same day, FurtherEd, which made its name in the online continuing education space for professionals, announced its very own edtech incubator in partnership withProgress Partners, a finance and M&A advisory firm. FurtherEd CEO Schnurman is still finalizing financial details of his program, but he plans to work with up to 10 small (2- to 3-person) teams in FurtherEd’s new downtown New York office.

The United States is not alone with the edu-bator craze. Other countries have caught the bug as well:

London recently welcomed the U.K.’s first edtech incubator, the “Edtech Incubator” (so much for a name). And there are rumors of another one on the way.Israel is building an education technology oasis with MindCET, which offers two programs for startups. In its first year, the accelerator is currently working with 10 startups in different stages of development.The Brazilian government is also getting in on the dance with Startup Brasil, which offers up to $100K to woo tech entrepreneurs, particularly those working on education, to set up shop in the country. There’s a bit of a competitive streak going on there, too: Startup Chile is on track to host 1,000 startups by 2014.MAKING SENSE OF THE NUMBERS

Too many? Are they fueling a bubble? “From the ecosystem perspective, more choice is better for all the participants involved, from kids and teachers to startups themselves,” says Alan Louie, a founding partner at Imagine K12 (who is stepping back from his day-to-day role). “Education is not a unified market by any means. There are a lot of cultural differences between regions, which means they each have different strengths and needs.”

Even so, that collection of incubators promise easily more than 100 edtech startups a year. How many of them will survive? NewSchools Venture Fund counted 34 seed financings in 2012. We’re keeping count, too. From there, a portion are likely to get snapped up in acquisitions: CB Insights counted 99 M&A edtech deals in 2011 and 2012. Traditional publishers like Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Wiley & Sons have been among the top acquirers, with the top disclosed deal worth $650 million. Startups are getting into the action as well, as seen in Edmodo’s acquisition of Root-1 in March 2013 orRosetta Stone’s recent purchase of Livemocha.

And that might be enough momentum to keep the incubators going. Our back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that most incubators have about a $1 million-a-year burn rate. (Figure $400,000 for the 20 startups, a similar amount for managing partners, and the rest for rent, other services, and events.) Just a few deals should keep the incubators humming.

“We [the U.S] probably can’t support 20 of these things, but five is probably more reasonable,” quipped Louie.

But some final words of wisdom for those thinking about joining the incubator bandwagon: It’s more than just offering money, work space, and connections. “Most people don’t realize how much work they have to put in,” says Gilchrist. “Imagine managing eight startups, on top of your own.”

By Tony Wan, Associate Editor, Ed Surge


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I.B.M. to Take Big Step Into Mobile

I.B.M. to Take Big Step Into Mobile | Small Business: tips for landing clients | Scoop.it

Big Blue announces a major foray into mobility, including strategy, app building and management, and security. (RT @IBM: I.B.M.


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Harvard Asks Alumni to Donate Time to Free Online Course

Harvard Asks Alumni to Donate Time to Free Online Course | Small Business: tips for landing clients | Scoop.it
In an e-mail, the university asked alumni who had taken a course on Greek heroes to volunteer as online mentors and discussion group managers.

 

Alumni of elite colleges are accustomed to getting requests for money from their alma mater, but the appeal that Harvard sent to thousands of graduates on Monday was something new: a plea to donate their time and intellects to the rapidly expanding field of online education.

For the first time, Harvard has opened a humanities course, The Ancient Greek Hero, as a free online class. In an e-mail sent Monday, it asked alumni who had taken the course at the university to volunteer as online mentors and discussion group managers.

The new online course is based on Professor Gregory Nagy’s Concepts of the Ancient Greek Hero, a popular offering since the late 1970s that has been taken by some 10,000 students.

The online version, which began last week and will run through late June, has 27,000 students enrolled. Its syllabus includes Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” dialogues by Plato, poetry by Sappho and other works.

“I’m 70, and frankly, at my age, to reach more students in one course than I have in decades is astonishing, and I love it,” Dr. Nagy said.

One of the challenges of “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, is managing their sheer size, and encouraging thousands of students to engage each other, since they cannot all converse with the professor. Tapping into a deep pool of alumni offers at least a partial way around that problem, one that a few schools have discussed trying.

Claudia Filos, editor of content and social media for the course, said that in some MOOCs, discussions “tend to run off the rails.” The hope for the Greek heroes class is to have enough people monitoring — asking pointed questions, highlighting smart comments — to prevent that from happening.

About 10 of Dr. Nagy’s former teaching fellows in the class will direct discussions, with help from a larger, still-undetermined number of former students. Both groups will work unpaid; the e-mail to alumni said the work would require three to five hours a week.

About a dozen recent former students were recruited before Monday’s e-mail was sent, Ms. Filos said. Those who express interest will be screened, “and they have to be brought up to speed on the material,” she said.

In addition, Dr. Nagy said that about a dozen people, including Ms. Filos, were involved in creating the course, and that about 10 academics from Harvard and elsewhere will help review and rate some of the students’ work. Most of the assessments will be done by fellow students, an approach taken in many other MOOCs.

It has been just a year and a half since a Stanford professor offered the first MOOC, showing that the audience for such a class could be in the tens or hundreds of thousands. Since then, the field has expanded at a brisk pace.

Last year, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology founded edX, one of a handful of ventures offering online courses from prestigious universities. The University of California, Berkeley, joined edX a few months later, and several more colleges, including the University of Texas system and Georgetown, have said they will offer classes through it.

Most Harvard MOOCs have been in technical and scientific fields, with some in the social sciences. Starting with the Greek heroes course, the university will also offer an array of humanities classes.

EdX courses, like most MOOCs, are free and do not offer credit, but students can earn a certificate of completion.


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