Tag Archives: educause

Funding Your EdTech Startup


Last week I told you that the job you wanted didn’t exist, that your ideas are terrible and you will fail. Now that we’ve dismissed your fantasies about how amazing life will be when the world recognizes the genius of your innovative technology product and the press / customers universally grant you laurels while handing over mountains of cash; let’s get you started.

One of the most important things you are going to need is money and advice from people who have done this before. Even if you are doing a “lean startup“, you will find that eventually getting someone else to cover some of the startup costs is useful. Be careful though, the people with the money will be happy to get you to build your business into a thriving enterprise and leave you with only crumbs at the end. I’ve made you a list broken out into three categories of organizations to pitch your idea to. I don’t endorse any of these groups and I caution you to do your own research before doing business with them.

Accelerators / Incubators

Accelerators / Incubators provide training and sometimes money to help you take the earliest steps in building your business. Usually they can offer some mix of office space, small grants (a few thousand dollars), training and access to advisors. The following are ones that I’ve seen in the news recently that seem especially focused on EdTech. There are thousands of others out there.

  • Kapplan EdTech Accelerator — The Kaplan EdTech Accelerator is a three month intensive, deep immersion program for ten education startups
  • Pearson Catalyst — The Pearson Catalyst incubator program aims to match startups with Pearson brands to deliver pilot programmes and offer access to Pearson resources and product experts, including the opportunity to work closely with a Pearson brand over the course of the program.
  • Imagine K-12 — Imagine K12 is a 3.5 month program for founders and hackers intent on changing the world.
  • 4.0 Schools — 4.0 is a design lab for curious people committed to unprecedented innovation in education.
  • Startl — Provides small grants to help seed promising ed tech ventures.
  • Center for Education Technology (Israel) Provides support to Israeli Ed Tech entrepreneurs.
  • Startup Weekend Education — Provides workshops over weekends where innovative people like you can build out your ideas and get your business off the ground.
  • Learn LaunchX — Boston MA based program for Ed Tech with a summer program offering funding, office space and advice.
  • Socratic Labs — NYC based edtech incubator.
  • Y Combinator — Not specifically edtech focused, but one of the more talked about startups.

Angel Investors, MicroFunds and Venture Funds

These are the more traditional sources of funding. These are usually comprised of “accredited investors” These are usually rich people or groups of rich people with money and resources to investigate your company and business plan before they invest. These groups tend to overlap and the terms usually apply to the scale of investment made. Angel Investors are usually individuals who provide seed investments (usually less than $1 million) to startups. MicroFunds are just groups of Angel investors who get together to spread these small investments around to a number of companies. Venture Funds are larger pools of money that focus on making multi-million dollar investments.

Some useful sites for finding these investors:

  • Angel List — This is sort of like an dating site for startup funding.
  • Crunchbase — a general registry of tech companies, but also useful for finding out which funds are backing particular ventures.
  • VentureBeat — provides news and information about startups and funding.

Crowd Funding

The Internet has enabled a new kind of funding model. Crowd funding lets you take your concept to social media and then market it to potential customers and others who like your technology idea. The people you engage give small amounts of money towards your seed funding goal. Typically potential customers will get a discount or moved to the front of the line when the product becomes available.

Two of the more popular sites for Crowd funding are:

Your Friends and Family

You should be careful here. Make sure they understand that your intent is to lose their money in an epic failure. They are paying for a very expensive wedding that will end in a divorce. Still the journey will be character building for you and there is a remote chance, like a lottery ticket that they will make some money out of it. I am not going to list your friends and family here, because you have Facebook for that.


Educause 2010 Reflections

I had a lot of very interesting conversations and attended some great sessions and went to many booths at Educause 2010. What I learned will shape my personal technology advocacy and thinking. Let me highlight a few for your reaction.

1) An IT Labor Shortage?
Is there a labor shortage in IT globally and/or specifically in Academic Computing. Some CIOs, IT directors and even a few software executives seemed to indicate that they were having trouble staffing positions. How will this shortage impact on open source projects, commercial software adoption and companies providing hosting services or SaaS based models. There were lots of opinions by traditional advocates of various models. I’ve heard that it could be very negative for any one of these models depending on what folks decide works best in the end. For example if Academic IT decides they can no longer maintain staff to support open source applications they might go to a commercial provider like Blackboard, or perhaps a hosting company like rSmart. On the other hand maybe the staff shortage stems from the perceived value of owning the whole technology and the role of commercial and services providers. My personal view is that it becomes harder and harder to justify staff intensive solutions. Highly proficient technical staff are in demand across a number of industries. Global demand for IT talent is such that solutions need to focus on driving down their staff footprint on campus.

2) Shibboleth?
Based on the InCommon meetings and Identify Management track it seems to me that Shibboleth is finally gaining real traction. I heard about a lot of success stories. I was even excited to see that a number of Blackboard customers have found success using the lightweight support we’ve made available. As homework from the conference I’m working to get Blackboard back into InCommon and working with our Technology Product Manager to provide a more detailed roadmap on how we should extend Shibboleth. I’ve been doing quite a bit with Open ID over the last year; but I heard pretty clear that schools want Shibboleth for its perceived higher quality security.

3) Open Database Is Making An Impact in Analytics?
I heard quite a bit about small projects to mine the VLE for data. John Fritz at UMBC had a pre-conference workshop on Monday that I heard great things about regarding how they are doing data mining in their Blackboard system to improve outcomes and performance. SunGard announced a Signals building block for Blackboard which provides a nice dashboard with predictive information about student performance. I was interviewed by the guys at Action Analytics and I’ll link to the video when its up on their site.

4) Campus Computing Report?
I was generally pleased to see that the #1 and #2 and #3 trends (eBooks and Mobile and Lecture capture) have been strongly supported by Blackboard’s technology strategy. In the summer of 2009 we released our first eReader integration (a simple building block that supported the Amazon Kindle). Today we have partnerships with the major providers of eBooks including BN and Follett. In the mobile front Blackboard has now gone through two generations of integration with our Learn platform and are seeing remarkable adoption. Meanwhile Mobile Central continues to expand its footprint to more campuses. On the lecture capture front we have a very strong partnership with Echo 360 (provider of wired classrooms), ShareStream and Kaltura (video streaming and management companies) and with the formation of Bb Collaborate there are possibilities for the recording of online collaborations as well. It is good to see that our strategy is validated by the trends seen as important in the industry.
What do you think?