While there are more than 7,000 business incubators around the world, very few focus specifically on education technology.
In fact, only in the past few years has there been major growth in the number of these highly-focused incubators. Part of this increased attention is an outgrowth of a mission to genuinely help education. Yet these kinds of incubators are also thriving simply because edtech is a solid investment, as the education technology market is poised to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years. A handful of successful startups have already come out of these edtech incubators, but as the number and variety of these incubators grows worldwide, the ranks of edtech superstars likely will, too, which could have major ramifications for the future of education.
Here, we highlight just a few of the edtech incubators that are making waves in the world today, a list that’s sure to grow rapidly over the next decade.
1. Imagine K12: One of the biggest and most notable incubators for edtech has to be Imagine K12. Founded in 2011 by three big names in Silicon Valley (Geoff Ralston, Alan Louie, and Tim Brady), the incubator has since helped dozens of startups specializing in educational technology get off the ground. In exchange for a 6% stake in the company, the incubator offers startups $15-20K, a three-month stay in their offices, and, perhaps most importantly, advice, marketing help, and access to venture investors. The ultimate aim of the incubator is to invigorate education through innovation and many of its fledgling companies do just that, including recent successes like ClassDojo, Claco (formerly ClassConnect), and GoalBook. Heading into its third session this fall, its an incubator that will undoubtedly play a huge role in developing pivotal edtech companies.
2. SIIA Innovation Incubator Program: The Software & Information Industry Association is also trying to give startups a leg up by sponsoring a yearly incubator program focused on edtech. The program is designed to connect developers of new technologies with potential investors, industry leaders, and established businesses who may be seeking partnerships and offers many a way to get exposure and get financial support for their ideas. In order to qualify for the incubator, participants must meet these criteria: their innovation must represent a major change in thinking; it needs to provide a way to enhance student achievement, teacher effectiveness, or to reduce costs; and it must pair with the current theme for the SIAA Ed Tech Business Forum. In its sixth year, the program is playing a central role in defining and leading the best edtech businesses, and many of its graduates could become classrooms staples in future years.
3. 4.0 Schools: Based in Louisiana, this incubator isn’t dedicated solely to edtech, but many tech-focused education businesses have come out of it, nonetheless. 4.0 Schools provides resources and training to help individuals launch schools and education-related businesses in Louisiana and the wider Southeastern U.S., and has been an incredible asset for many who feel they have great ideas but not the funding and resources to turn them into a serious business. Over the past few years, the incubator has spawned two new edtech companies: Kinobi and Classroom Blueprint. With other projects and fellows working in 4.0 School’s labs to perfect ideas, other edtech businesses could be launching soon.
4. Startl: While this early entry into the edtech incubator market is currently on hiatus, it will soon be back to supporting promising edtech businesses after a few needed tweaks to its model. Backed by foundations with big names and even bigger pocketbooks like Gates, Hewlett, Kellogg, and MacArthur, the incubator provides some seriously rich opportunities for education-focused startups to get ahead and develop effective and accessible learning products. One of the most successful startups incubated at Startl is the education gaming app MindSnacks, which has since raised more than $1.2 million in venture capital to develop its offerings. When Startl returns to edtech incubation in the coming months, it may not just support businesses in its own offices, but also around the U.S. in local entrepreneurship communities, a change that could greatly expand its impact on education nationwide.
5. Socratic Labs: Taking a similar approach to Imagine K12, this NYC-based startup accelerator will soon be selecting 10 companies for its first cohort starting in January of 2013. The incubator is an outgrowth of the successful test prep site Grockit, including co-founders Heather Gilchrist and Farb Nivi, and strategy and development officer Rusty Greiff. The incubator will put young startups through a rigorous business building program while providing a setting that offers the chance to both learn and grow, hopefully resulting in serious venture capital investment by the end of the six-month term. While not up and running yet, it will be interesting to see just what comes out of this new edtech incubator over the next year.
6. Center for Educational Technology Incubator: The U.S. isn’t the only place where edtech-focused incubators are sprouting up. In May of 2012, it was announced that the Center for Educational Technology, an Israeli nonprofit, would be establishing an edtech incubator to help advance the educational system in Israel. The CET’s incubation labs consist of three areas: the Garage, where entrepreneurs can look for solutions to challenges in education; the Aquarium, a space devoted to research on education and technology; and the lab, which helps to identify the needs of Israel’s education system and will pilot programs developed through the incubator. The incubator put participants to work this past June and supporters hope that it can bring some much-needed edtech innovations into the school system over the next few years.
7. Startup Weekend EDU: Not all programs that support edtech development require spending months in an incubator. Startup Weekend EDU is a national organization that supports local communities of entrepreneurship, bringing together teachers, entrepreneurs, developers, and designers to build products and launch startups. Events through the organization take place throughout the year and all over the country, giving nearly anyone with an idea and the motivation to change education a place to go to make things happen. To date, more than 45,000 people have participated in the program and more than 36% of startups innovated at the events have lasted more than three months. Startup Weekend EDU isn’t alone; there are other events like it as well, including RemixEd, which takes a similar approach to encouraging edtech development. With organizations like these helping push forward the next generation of edtech products, serious changes to technology in the classroom may be on the horizon.
8. Learning Technologies: While NASA does have a number of popular educational resources online, it’s unlikely that most who use them are aware that the space-focused organization actually supports its own edtech incubator to develop them. The program provides funding, tech tools and technology services to those who have great ideas for building educational resources that help learning, focus on STEM, and will engage students. Currently under development at Learning Technologies are a number of space-themed games, virtual worlds, and online professional development tools. While most technology at the Learning Technologies lab is developed specifically for NASA use, the incubator does sometimes grant licenses to those in academia or business.
9. Macmillan New Ventures: Another incubator focused on producing tech for in-house use is that of educational publisher Macmillan. Fearing that traditional textbook publishing is being phased out in favor of digital offerings, the company is working to develop tools that will make it easy to transition into selling the next generation of educational resources. Macmillan has invested $100 million in acquiring startups, with the idea the the businesses will be allowed to exist like independent companies under the Macmillan umbrella. So far, the company has acquired PrepU, a quizzing tool for the classroom; i>Clicker, a mobile classroom polling tool; and EBI, a data and evaluation company, with plans to bring in 10 to 15 more over the next five years. While it’s not quite the same as getting the chance to develop an independent business, Macmillan’s plans (and financial help) may just help many edtech startups stay afloat and reach a much wider audience of teachers and their students.
10. Stanford Learning, Design and Technology: Stanford’s School of Education isn’t an incubator in the strictest sense of the word, but the resources and support offered to students in its edtech programs has made it a fertile breeding ground for the next generation of edtech startups, entrepreneurs, and ideas. Masters students in its Learning, Design, and Technology program are required to complete research or to build their own applications that can help facilitate learning which are then showcased at a yearly expo. While not every idea will go on to become an edtech phenomenon, some students will go on to start their own businesses and even those who don’t often take on key development roles in building edtech in at places like Kaplan, NASA, Microsoft, Knewton, and 2tor.