What business models work for edtech startups? Great question! Edtech entrepreneurs are on a constant search to identify new business models that work in education. This month Startup Education launched their first Business Models in Education: Creating a Sustainable Venture bootcamp at the EdTech Austin meetup group in Austin, Texas. These bootcamps were designed to teach key information and skills to enable our community members to build sustainable education startups.
It was a fantastic night and there was a great crowd on hand. Seriously, look — here’s a photo of John from Startup (Weekend) Education talking about the Business Model Canvas for education:
John walked participants through a simulation of the Business Model Canvas, using higher education institutions as examples. After mapping the traditional business model, participants were asked to “innovate and adjust” to find solutions that would make universities more innovative and adaptive to the needs of the consumers.
Some of the suggestions for innovation were really cool. For instance, more than a few teams suggested that universities might innovate by not charging tuition (it might sound crazy, but consider that online universities, MOOCs and the like were pure fantasy a little over a decade ago). These kinds of “crazy” ideas are what make innovation in education possible. Thanks to everyone for participating; we hoped you enjoyed the workshop!
Following the workshop, we were very fortunate to hear from Ben Ponder, who discussed some of the challenges in creating a sustainable education venture. Audience members discussed the merits of the “freemium” model in education, and even considered the role that advertisements will play in future iterations of classroom content and curriculum.
We look forward to holding more bootcamp/workshop style events through EdTech Austin and hope you’ll join us in Austin in July for our next event…
Our next event is Startup Weekend Education – Austin! We hope you will join us for that on July 25th, and if you register as an educator, we’ll give you 25% off your admission if you use the promo code: “ATXEDUCATOR”. Click below to check it out:
We’ve got some fantastic mentors and judges, and it’s sure to be an awesome event! Drop me a line if you have any questions.
This post was originally published on EdTech Austin’s website and written by Sean Duffy, Startup Weekend Education Austin Organizer. The EdTech Austin Meetup is the hub for the amazing keynotes, panel discussions, edtech mixers, member spotlights, and hands-on learning experiences that inspire teachers, entrepreneurs, technologists, education reformers, and ed-tech enthusiasts to connect, collaborate, and innovate.
Written by Vivian Tan, Co-Founder of Mathbreakers, a video game that teaches math through play.
As a small independent studio with big dreams to transform math education through fun video games, we discovered that the “education sector” is much broader than it first seemed. A year and a half ago, our team set out to create an educational game that kids would actually enjoy playing. We soon learned that our target demographic — kids between the ages of 7-12 — does not simply exist in a vacuum. The entire education market, in fact, consists of an intertwining network of parents, teachers, districts, students, and other groups with varying needs. Each of these groups may directly or indirectly influence the type of educational products and services that are used by other groups.
Creating our dream math education video game took a spark of inspiration — turning that into reality and bringing it to market required understanding the needs of our audience.
Our love for video games led us to create Mathbreakers. We grew up spending a great deal of time playing with video games; that was always the reward that motivated us to finish our homework or chores. This inspired us to make a video game that integrates learning and playing, and Mathbreakers was born.
Mathbreakers is a 3-D math exploration video game where kids experiment with numbers and operations by playing with various toys and puzzles. Adventurers can chop numbers in half with a fractions sword, cast addition spells to zero-out negative enemies, and outsmart swarms of spiky integers while developing number sense.
We spoke to teachers and math education specialists about the biggest challenges faced by math learners in elementary and middle-school, and we noticed a recurring issue: kids are discouraged from pursuing a math education because they are led to believe that they’re “bad at math.” The fear of failure stems mostly from the way that math is taught: through drills, worksheets, quizzes, and exams that don’t usually take into account different modes of learning. Students are often rushed onto the next math subject before having a firm grasp of foundational math.
That’s when we knew we had to build this game for kids. Mathbreakers motivates young children to tackle math problems because they become immersed in playing it and have an interest in getting better at it. Many of the educational games we have played in the past approach the problem from a traditional educational delivery angle. As a result, the products often end up being worksheets with game-like elements tacked on.
Mathbreakers speaks to kids on their own terms. The game empowers children to take control of their own math learning experience. Players are encouraged to experiment and explore the world of numbers around them, without having to worry about making mistakes or getting the “correct” answers right off the bat. As one mother put it, “kids are learning without realizing they’re learning, and it becomes part of their subconscious mind.”
We have tested Mathbreakers with hundreds of kids over the past year and a half. We knew we were onto something BIG when kids refused to stop playing a game about math at the end of our test sessions! Even kids that identified themselves (or were told by their parents and teachers) as not being good at math or hating math took to Mathbreakers almost immediately. They were so enthralled by the game that they didn’t mind having to do math just to beat the level and move on to the next challenge.
So if you are an edtech entrepreneur looking to transform your idea into reality, where do you start? Here are a few things that we’ve learned along our journey that may be helpful!
Identify your users –This sounds like generic startup advice that every entrepreneur should already know, but zeroing in on exactly who your users are could be tricky. In our case, we initially identified our users as kids ages 7-12 that would play our math game. But since young children rarely use a product without supervision, we realized that parents and teachers are a sub-category of users too, but they would not necessarily be players of our game. Instead, we built a second suite of tools specifically for parents and teachers.
Identify the decision makers — When your target users are too young to make purchasing decisions, then you have a few other obstacles to jump through. If you decide to market directly to families, then parents tend to be the final decision makers. If you market to schools, then decision makers tend to hold positions up at the district level. See what we mean by intertwining networks? Ultimately, if your end users love your product, then it’s much easier to sway the decision makers.
Identify other influencers — Parents and teachers aside, if you’re making a product for students under the age of 18, then you have to take certain legal requirements into consideration. In particular, if your users are age 13 or younger, then you must comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This may affect the way you structure your website, communications, and data collection.
Test frequently with your users — We knew that we really had to put the video gameplay first, because that’s what really engages our audience. Mathbreakers wouldn’t help kids learn math if they didn’t enjoy playing it! The experience of the game had to be fun and engaging from day 0, so we tested and iterated frequently and threw out all the mechanics that kids did not like.
Don’t compromise your vision — Help decision makers and other influencers understand your product, but don’t always change your product just for them. Our vision was to make a math video game that kids would really love to play. We didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the game itself, so we made external tools (such as a dashboard and lesson guides) that helped parents and teachers understand and integrate the game into their children’s learning. Mathbreakers is aligned to the Common Core and we gather data to improve the players’ learning progression — but that doesn’t have to get in the way of kids having fun!
We are also experimenting with creating higher math game levels in Mathbreakers. You can check out our games and visualizations of Turing Machines, Set Theory and more at Mathbreakers Labs.
This article is written by Startup Weekend Education organizer, Karl Rectanus.
After speaking on a panel to some of the brightest undergraduate students from the US and Mexico last week, I decided something: Entrepreneurs have become too cool.
Entrepreneurs are the “lead guitarist” of the 70’s, the “stock broker” of the 80’s, the movie star, the striker on the World Cup team, and the point guard. Miles Davis driving an electric sports car through the middle of a Vegas night club. Being an entrepreneur is all sparkly photos, fast talking and billion dollar exits. Right?
Don’t believe the hype… The reality is entrepreneurs are people who solve problems for a distinct market, usually with a lot of hard work and limited resources.
So, when one of those bright undergrads asked me how I went from the classroom to the “glories” of entrepreneurship, I realized something else:
Teachers are real entrepreneurs.
Every day, educators are solving problems for their distinct market (their classroom of students) with a lot of hard work and limited resources. They help the students who excel and those that struggle. They invent and deliver solutions, with learning, analysis, communication, self-awareness, persistence and critical thinking as the commodity of trade. They help students move ahead on the next quiz, in the next grade, to the next level in the real world.
Do we celebrate teachers as entrepreneurs? Not always.
That’s why I’m ecstatic that our region’s next installment of Triangle Startup Weekend is Education focused. The event — at an amazing venue, The James Hunt Library on Centennial Campus at NC State on July 18-20 — will bring educators, mentors, celebrity judges and rewards to help make new ideas into new realities. Educators and engineers, problem solvers and critical thinkers, collaborators and visionaries will gather for 54 hours of invention, competition and new solutions.
So, if you’re a teacher, a student, or a regular old non-movie star that wants a dose of how real entrepreneurs create solutions, then sign up and participate. Learn more and register.
Karl Rectanus, an educator and entrepreneur, is the CEO of Lea(R)n, Inc. an award winning early-stage company bringing quality control to education technology.
picture via The Guardian.
In May, EdWeek named Shauntel Poulson as one of the Nine People Who Will Shape Education in the Next 10 Years. We are proud to have Shauntel as a member of our Startup Education community as a Startup Weekend Education Oakland organizer and previously as a judge for the Startup Weekend Education San Francisco event.
Personalized learning models combine new technology with ongoing assessment, data use, and changes in how teachers use time and structure the school day, in order to create dramatically more personalized learning experiences for students. Shauntel Poulson is helping to shape this transition. As a principal with NewSchools Venture Fund (for which my Bellwether colleagues recently led a successful CEOsearch), Polson identifies and makes investments in technology companies and models that are at the cutting edge of developing new personalized learning models with the goal of dramatically improving outcomes for schools and students. A native of Denver, Poulson, 31, earned her degree in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as an engineer with Proctor & Gamble before earning masters degrees from Stanford in both business and education. She lives in Oakland, Calif.
What do you do as a principal with NewSchools Venture Fund? What types of portfolio investments do you focus on? What are you looking for in potential investments?
As a Principal at NewSchools I source potential investments, conduct due diligence, and provide management assistance for the Seed Fund. The Seed Fund makes investments in early-stage education technology companies that have the potential to transform K-12 teaching and learning. Currently we have a focus on classroom infrastructure, school infrastructure, digital content, special populations, and college, career and community.
I am looking for highly scalable solutions that will ultimately improve outcomes for students, especially those from underserved backgrounds. The founding team is critically important and I look for passion, scrappiness, and multi-disciplinary expertise in business, education, and technology. The venture must be solving a real pain point and have a unique technology, business model or approach. The venture’s market should be sizeable and growing and there should be evidence of success from early adopters or paying customers. Since we are a seed stage investor, I also look for financial sustainability and evaluate capital efficiency and the ability for the venture to attract follow-on funding.
How do you expect technology and personalized learning to impact education over the next 5-10 years?
I expect technology will continue to drive the shift from one-size-fits-all instruction to personalized instruction where curriculum is tailored to students’ individual needs and interests. The disaggregation of content will lead to more granular lessons that come in a variety of forms like games and from a variety of sources besides publishers. These lessons will be delivered through teachers equipped with tools to better assess students’ capabilities in real-time. Lessons will also be delivered through online platforms that adapt based on a student’s learning trajectory. Learning will happen anytime, anywhere and students will explore their own interests and passions through relevant, engaging material that stretches their thinking and prepares them for the workforce.
What are some of the potential opportunities?
As the world is becoming increasingly interconnected, there are more opportunities for students to learn from others around the world. Technology can facilitate more peer-to-peer collaboration where students become the experts and learn by teaching. The “protégé effect” suggests that students will work harder, reason better, and ultimately understand more by learning to teach someone else than they will when learning for themselves.
Another opportunity is to leverage technology to better engage parents in their children’s education. Right now school is a “black box” and technology platforms could improve teacher-parent communication and provide information and resources to help parents better support their children.
What are some of the challenges or pitfalls?
Too often classroom tools are not designed with teachers in mind and teachers don’t have sufficient support to implement new tools. We recently partnered with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation to pair entrepreneurs with teachers so that teachers can get direct support and entrepreneurs can think through classroom implementation and design teacher friendly products. EdSurge is also bringing together teachers and entrepreneurs in local Summit events where teachers demo products and provide immediate feedback.
Another challenge is measuring the ROI of education technology investments. One of our portfolio companies, BrightBytes, is helping schools better understand how technology is linked to student outcomes and is giving school leaders the tools to make data-based decisions about technology integration.
Why/how did you come to work in education?
Education was always a priority in my household growing up. My mother came from a low-income background and overcame countless barriers to obtain her doctorate and become a professor. She instilled in me a drive for academic achievement that would enable me to build a strong educational foundation.
I know not all children have been afforded the same opportunities as me or have had someone to instill in them a love for learning and a sense of empowerment. As a way to give back, I mentored and tutored students all throughout college and was a facilitator of an afterschool program while working in Cincinnati. It was in this role that I began to see first hand the disparities in education and the dire consequences of a flawed school system. I saw my students’ talent and potential going to waste, their spirits defeated, and their dreams shattered all because of where they lived.
Deep down I knew education was my calling and I decided to leave my job in Corporate America to pursue a career in education so that I could take a more active role in effecting change.
Before you joined NewSchools Venture Fund, you were an engineer. How does your background as an engineer impact your work or the way you view the education landscape? What advice would you give to others in the STEM fields who are interested in getting involved in education?
Engineers by definition are problem solvers and education has many complex problems to solve. I realize there is no silver bullet to improving the education system and that it requires a holistic approach of improving the different levers like curriculum, infrastructure, teachers, and leadership. I am also an innovator at heart and like trying new approaches and thinking beyond the constraints of the current education system.
I would encourage others in STEM fields to explore the variety of ways to use their skills in education, and to especially consider teaching as we are in dire need of more STEM talent in the classroom. One of NewSchools’ grantees, ElevatED, is working on recruiting college STEM majors into teaching as a way to meet the goal of increasing the number of excellent STEM teachers by 100k over the next decade.
There are also many ways for STEM professionals to get involved in education on a volunteer basis. We just funded a company called Nepris that enables STEM professionals to virtually connect to a classroom and discuss their work, provide project mentoring, and answer students’ questions.
My one piece of advice to STEM professionals considering education is to take the time to get grounded in the sector by learning about the existing structures, spending time in classrooms and talking to educators.
Who are some of your heroes/mentors/people you respect whose examples shape your work?
I have a deep respect for all teachers who work tirelessly to educate students and I am especially thankful for my high school chemistry teacher who sparked my interest in chemistry and inspired me to pursue a career in chemical engineering. I also admire the passionate, committed education entrepreneurs I work with everyday who show me that the powerful ideas of a few can impact the lives of millions.
My manager and mentor Jennifer Carolan is a pioneer in the field of edtech investing and brings an important perspective as a former educator. She continually teaches me how to evaluate potential investments and how to best support our companies. I also look to other edtech investors like Mitch Kapor who grounds the conversation in social impact for underrepresented communities and Matt Greenfield who reminds me to ask myself “does the world need this company?”
What do you hope to be doing 5-10 years from now? What do you hope to have accomplished?
In 5-10 years I hope to still be working on impacting the lives of students either as an investor or as an operator in education technology. I hope to have helped create an education ecosystem where students of all backgrounds get a quality education and reach self-actualization.
What interests do you have outside of work?
I stay active by doing boot camp, hiking, hip-hop dancing and running around the lake near my house. I also enjoy traveling and teaching a class of 4-5 year olds at my church. I love watching football and am an avid Denver Broncos fan.
Trinket was formed with the intention of putting educators at the center of open education. By providing teachers the technology to disrupt and innovate education – the Trinket team has discovered two things:
- Teachers will not be replaced by software
- There’s a middle path for education technology that can disrupt an industry without disrupting teachers’ connections to their students.
The Trinket team has been working towards this vision since 2013. After winning Startup Weekend Education Raleigh, we’ve grown, pivoted and brought on new team members including our former SWEDU event judge. Together we’re building the tools to make a difference in your classroom. A year ago, I wrote an article detailing four lessons from Trinket’s first four months – now I’m ready to share another nine lessons we’ve learned on our journey from a Startup Weekend into classrooms around the country.
Our Next Nine Lessons
13 months into a startup we’ve been through ups and downs, hiring and firing, coding, blogging, traveling, and pitching. Here are nine lessons that I’ve learned along the way.
1) Not later. Now.
As founders and early team members, you’re the ones who must filter through the mountain of tasks that might be a good idea and find the tasks that will be crucial to your success. I’m a big believer in not sweating the medium stuff. This system is quite simple. You can not afford to push off the big things; do them now. You can easily knock out the little things; knock them out when you can. You can push off the medium things; push them off until they become big. Whatever system works for you, make sure you’re finishing the most critical things first.
2) Lead with a question
This is a phrase we live by at Trinket and it means two things. First, lead your team by seeking to understand them and their ideas. Looking back, the majority of disagreements on the team were because someone – often me – had not taken the time to hear out and understand someone else’s insights.
Secondly and more broadly – your default move should be to ask questions. Dive deep into your users, the tools you use in your business, and your investors. Living in a fantasy land that doesn’t match the real world is one of the most omnipresent dangers for any startup, and asking questions is your best defense against this. For Trinket, asking our users why they were using our product helped us to realize the importance of our interactive technology so that we could focus our development and marketing on it.
3) Make your users your partners
We talk with Trinket users and potential users several times a week. We use Intercom to target users who’ve talked with us before and ask them if they’d like to be interviewed. These interviews help inform our product design, messaging, and make up a cool series of user interviews we publish on our blog. By turning our users into the superstars, we can treat them as partners rather than prospects. This collaborative relationship bears fruit for us every day in the form of referrals, social media mentions, and even helpful bug reports.
4) Make your competitors your distribution channel
Partnerships with competitors can be just powerful. Until just a few weeks ago, we were a teaching platform. We quickly realized that by making our interactive technology embeddable on any page like a YouTube video is, we turned each of our competitors into a distribution channel. We’re now in talks for deeper integrations. This isn’t possible for every business, but if you can do it, do. It will pay off for years to come.
5) Give your team a rhythm
Startups lend themselves to a lack of structure. Be it writing code or blog posts, much of what we do requires stretches of uninterrupted time. And, with crazy travel schedules and nightly events, it can be hard to keep regular appointments. In the midst of this chaos, it’s important to set and maintain a weekly rhythm. If you miss a beat, fine. Just make sure you sync up regularly and keep some continuity so you can hit your most important targets.
6) You cannot over-communicate your company’s vision
This is something one of our investors once said and I’ve taken it to heart. As a keeper of the vision, it’s your job to communicate it loud, clear, and often. In fact, my sign that I’m not doing this well is when our users, our team, or our investors get confused. The word communicate is important here too: it’s a two way street. Every time you communicate the vision you’re giving those users, team, and investors a chance to make it better or share a perspective you hadn’t thought about.
7) Your advisors and investors are your posse
If you’re doing a good job building support for your idea, you’ll attract some talented entrepreneurs to work with and maybe invest in your idea. Initially, I made the mistake of treating our investors like scorekeepers I wanted to impress. This prevented us from getting their hands-on help with the challenges we were facing. Your investors want you to succeed and have valuable skills. Treat them like your posse and call them in when things get tough instead of trying to impress them by going it alone.
8) It’s all in your head
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
Startups are freaking hard. I believe that most startup founders are physically and psychologically capable of succeeding, but yet many don’t. Why not? In short, they psych themselves out. This is why legendary investor Paul Graham focuses so much on teaching startups how to not die.
- Step One: don’t run out of money.
- Step Two: don’t give up.
Step One is quite difficult, but Step Two is what does most companies in. Giving up isn’t a one-time event that happens on the day a company shuts down. It’s your motivation’s death by a thousand cuts from a secret belief that survival isn’t possible. The Mental Toughness that sports coaches talk about is the only thing that will save you from this. Don’t succumb to the fate of the weak minded. As Ben Horowitz writes in The Struggle,
“like playing three-dimensional chess on Star Trek, there is always a move…remember that this is what separates the women from the girls. If you want to be great, this is the challenge. If you don’t want to be great, then you never should have started a company.”
9) It’s a rafting trip, not a roller coaster ride
Unlike a roller coaster, which was designed by an engineer to thrill you and keep you safe, rapids are there simply because gravity is pushing large amounts of water over some huge, hard rocks. Like the wild, untamed markets we’re going after – the combination of the flowing inertia of the water and the unyielding hardness of the rocks combine to make a path that few, if any have traveled before. Like traveling to a remote river, no one forced you onto your startup journey; you chose it. If you make it though the glory of your achievement will come from the difficulty of the course you charted and whether and how often others have achieved the same thing before.
Rafting isn’t all exhilaration either. There can be long, slow stretches of weak current where you exhaust yourself trying to build momentum or risk running out of supplies. Do your homework, know the maps by heart, and do your best. With luck, planning, and skill, you’ll make it through.
If you find that you don’t have the stomach for the journey, there are plenty of safe, seat-belted seats on the roller coasters closer to home.
This post was written by Atul Pandey, a Startup Weekend Education Sydney Co-Organizer.
The goal of most businesses is to make a profit. At the other end of the spectrum are charities with a goal for social good. Sitting somewhere in the middle are social business ventures.
A social business venture is specifically conceived and structured to drive social change. It may generate profits, but it doesn’t prioritize maximizing earnings for shareholders. Instead, profits are invested in the population or cause the enterprise serves and reinvested into the business.
These days, social entrepreneurs are solving some of the world’s most challenging social issues that are too risky for for-profit businesses and require resources and expertise that are beyond the reach of non-profits.
One such challenging area is global education. In recent years, the global education sector has struggled to cope with issues ranging from the achievement gap and limited accessibility to a general decline in educational quality. Cutbacks in government funding have stretched financial resources and have only deepened this crisis in education.
Today, more than ever before, there is a need for social entrepreneurs to step up and work on fixing global education. A new class of angel investors and VC firms that exclusively support social entrepreneurs is rising. Social Ventures Australia is a leader in this sector in Australia and works with innovative social entrepreneurs to create better education and employment outcomes for disadvantaged Australians by bringing the best of business to the social sector, and by working with partners to strategically invest capital and expertise.
Social Ventures Australia is one of the sponsors for the First Startup Weekend Education event in Australia held from 27th – 29th of June in Sydney. SVA has announced a special prize to mentor the winner of the best social venture idea from the Sydney SWEDU event.
Whether you want to create a business for profit or social good, come along to the Startup Weekend Education and bring your ideas to life in 54 hours.
Startup Weekend Education Sydney is 27th June 2014 – 29th June 2014 at Muru-D Campus, 363 Oxford St., Paddington, NSW Australia.