Make More Happen

Will You Be the Next Great Education-Tech Entrepreneur?

Will You Be the Next Great Education-Tech Entrepreneur?
Image credit: Brad Flickinger | Flickr

Are you an investor looking for the next best socially minded business or an entrepreneur looking for hot industries where you can have a big impact? Then education should be near the top of your list.

The education-technology sector is ripe for disruption, investment and rapid growth, while offering the coveted opportunity to dramatically alter people’s lives and the global economy.

The number of new startups and funding arriving to the field is undeniable (according to CB Insights, industry funding reached $1.25 billion last year). Yet it's one of a few sectors that have not caught up with the wave of innovation that has transformed the manufacturing, media and health care industries.  

Related: Cornering a Missed Pocket of the Ed-Tech Market

U.S. education is poised for change. Teachers and students alike are increasingly disillusioned, disheartened and disengaged. American students’ performance on standardized tests has been disappointing.

Professors cite incoming students' lack of college readiness and business leaders point to a significant gap between the skills employees need and those possessed by job seekers.  

Yet, the possibility of improving education has never been brighter. Leaders are calling for more rigorous standards, greater accountability and innovation. Schools and colleges are ready to change the status quo and technology can play a critical role in this transformation.

Educational institutions need better curriculum materials; streamlined systems; tools that empower educators, students and parents; and a commitment to embrace the change.

Technology combined with educational expertise can have a powerful effect on learning.  

The Center for Digital Education estimates that U.S. public elementary schools and colleges and universities will spend $20.4 billion on ed tech in 2014. The greatest areas of growth in this field are being driven by two emerging educational models: blended learning, a combination of face-to-face and online instruction, and personalized learning, educational activities tailored to students’ individual needs as determined by frequent assessments.

To be clear, no technology can outperform a great educator. The best ed-tech offerings must reflect this by freeing up educators' time and empowering them with data and tools that enhance their ability to teach.

Imagine the impact on student achievement and outcomes if educators and institutions were armed with the caliber of technology that doctors and hospitals are starting to embrace.

The challenges in education require an infusion of passionate new ideas and voices.

Related: Why Everyone Wants a Piece of Ed Tech

Before jumping headlong into ed tech, understand some unique market conditions in this burgeoning sector. State governmental regulations can create a significant barrier to innovation, as can the slow pace of institutional decision making.

System-wide purchasing cycles in schools and districts and colleges and universities last nearly a year. That’s why many startups focus on freemium-pricing models and letting individual educators adopt their tools as opposed to institution-wide procurement.

Additionally, standards and policies vary across states, which can increase development costs and complicate the sales process. That said, the adoption of Common Core State Standards for kindergarten through grade 12 has allowed for some efficiencies.

To succeed in ed tech, investors, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies must take into account these guidelines:

Offer solutions that challenge the status quo and foster innovation among educators. New technologies can't simply digitize a paper-based system.

Entrepreneurs who think they know education because they went to school will fail. This is a complex ecosystem with ever-changing needs. Understand current issues, policies and trends. Spend time in schools or on college campuses and talk with education professionals.

The voices of educators, students and parents are integral to identifying real educational needs and for product development and implementation.

Understand as well that there has been a legacy of great educators and administrators. Yet, technology with the power to change education can fit seamlessly into an institution's workflow and enhance instruction, instead of seeking to replace it.

Establish a clear and realistic path to generating revenue that factors in sales cycles, institutions' and educators' funding sources and budgets and perceived value.

Authenticity is paramount. Be motivated by mission, not money.  

America's students and education institutions deserve the best. More entrepreneurs with new ideas and innovations are needed -- as well as real solutions that will help educators and students. Do you have what it takes to be the next great ed-tech entrepreneur? 

Related: This Is Bill and Melinda Gates' Prediction for the Future of Online Education