Technology Research

Speed Dating Meets Celebrity Apprentice: EdTech Edition

This week, Eduventures was in Phoenix for the annual ASU+GSV Summit. With so many higher education entrepreneurs, investors, and influencers in the mix, it quickly became a speed dating experience of sorts. Although meeting space was hard to come by, we managed to talk with several edtech celebrities about their initiatives that will transform education in 2015. Here are three highlights:

1. The Federal Government Shows it Cares about EdTech Developers

Coming straight from his presentation with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, we caught up with Richard Culatta, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology (OET). At the conference, OET launched a new EdTech Developer’s Guide, which aims to give new developers a leg up on understanding the education ecosystem and how to map their learning tools to the critical needs students and educators face. Don’t let the name fool you. This is not a development kit in the software sense, but rather an awareness campaign that the administration has produced to steer budding development teams away from fads and toward the education issues that OET feels are important. The intention is to focus developers on the core social issues that must be solved in order to truly impact learning. Guests mingling in the lobby at ASU+GSV Summit While this isn’t OET’s first foray into providing a forum for technology companies to learn from educators, it appears to be its boldest. It calls out ten specific opportunities on which entrepreneurs should focus their attention (and invested R&D dollars). The conference attendees we spoke with had mixed reactions to the announcement. Some praised the attention that the administration is bringing to specific goals such as developing skills to improve lifelong learning. Others deemed the opportunities cited in the developer’s guide “old news” and suggested that the department focus instead on the development of interoperability standards and funding initiatives to promote the sharing of longitudinal outcomes data across state lines.

2. A Well-Backed Niche for Continuing Education

Escaping the “lobbyists” inside the conference, I met up with Karl Mehta and Catherine Casserly, Ph.D. from EdCast. EdCast is a Stanford StartX company backed by tier 1 venture capital firms, such as The New School’s Venture Fund, and investors like Roger Novak of Novak Biddle Venture Partners on their board. This is not Mehta’s first foray into edtech. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find another serial entrepreneur with his track record of solving big challenges in education, which includes eight months at the White House as a Presidential Innovation Fellow. Casserly, the former Creative Commons CEO, also brings her extensive knowledge of open education resources to the team. EdCast is hard to pin down to a specific segment of the higher education technology landscape. The closest fit might be to describe it as an online program management (OPM) firm specializing in continuing education. Their business model is very flexible, allowing their knowledge network of OER courses to complement an existing LMS or CMS or to be used by an individual faculty member to augment a single course offering. Their pay-as-you-go model is quite novel in the industry, providing a low-cost entry point and betting on their ability to help you scale your online course offerings. Eduventures is looking forward to connecting with the team at EdCast again soon to dive deeper into its product offerings and to gain a better understanding of where it fits in to the overall OPM market segment, or if it represents a new knowledge network segment altogether.

3. Show Me the Money (People)

While we missed an in person meeting the big money man, Mark Cuban, we did make the rounds to meet with several players in the venture capital and investment banking space. Most notably, we met Robb Doub of New Markets Venture Partners. We discussed their various investments in education companies, including their recent, successful exit from Starfish, which we have covered previously in their acquisition by Hobsons. We also discussed the successful transition of assets from ConnectEDU to its current project, Graduation Alliance, and what that means for the state contract holders of the former’s college and career planning portal business. We are excited to follow up with Doub and the team at New Markets Venture Partners as it builds its fund to pursue the next big thing in education technology. Stay tuned for our Wake-Up Call on Tuesday morning providing further coverage and thoughts on this industry event.    

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