September 18, 2013 marked an important occasion in Boston: the emergence of an education technology cluster. Two hundred investors and strategic partners convened at District Hall, a government-sponsored community space in the Seaport, to hear seven ed tech startups pitch their ideas at a Demo Day. Governor Deval Patrick and Nigel Jacob of the Mayorâ€™s Office of New Urban Mechanics joined in the festivities. Each startup had 10 minutes to describe their product, team, and how much money they are raising to enable them to grow their companies.
The startups took part in the inaugural cohort of the LearnLaunchX accelerator, a program designed to help promising ed tech entrepreneurs get their companies off the ground. Demo Day is a chance for companies to officially debut their products to investors, celebrate what they have accomplished in the past three and a half months, and showcase the need teachers, students, and parents have for these new technologies.
Education is a $1.3 trillion industry, yet less than 5% of that money is currently being spent on new technologies. LearnLaunch and LearnLaunchX are working to change that. A year ago, I co-founded LearnLaunch to bring together people interested in the education technology sector. Since then, we have identified over 250 ed tech companies in the Boston area and held 33 classes, webinars and meetups designed to educate and inspire the community. LearnLaunch also held its inaugural conference Across Boundaries: Innovation & The Future of Education in February to bring together entrepreneurs, educators, investors, and others interested in the industry.
Photo courtesy of LearnLaunch
LearnLaunchX works closely with LearnLaunch to identify the most promising startups and, through a rigorous application process, pick the top performers. The selected startups are then groomed throughout an intense three months consisting of classes, mentorship, and pitch practice.
Most of the companies in LearnLaunchXâ€™s inaugural cohort are focused on the K-12 market, and most include an assessment component. The companies are tackling a wide range of issues:
- Cognii: automatic assessment of essay answers
- Countdown: a tool that helps teachers map their lesson plans to the Common Core State Standards
- eduCanon: a tool that allows teachers to embed assessments into video content
- Empow Studios: a franchise model of maker studios that teach kids STEAM subjects
- Gradeable: a tool that makes grading and assessment easier for teachers
- Listen Edition: customized lesson plans focused on teaching listening that are based on public radio stories
- Intellify Learning (Entrepreneur in Residence): aggregates educational data for higher ed institutions, publishers, and educational apps
As the education technology cluster in the Boston area grows, it is an exciting time to be involved in the industry. The Common Core State Standards allow entrepreneurs to develop content that teachers across the United States can use. Talented developers are now easily able to distribute educational content in the myriad of app stores. A growing awareness of the industry and increased access to capital is encouraging more entrepreneurs to pursue their visions for how to change an industry in need of disruption.
Demo Day was not only a celebration of how far the companies in the LearnLaunchX accelerator have progressed, but also signaled the beginning of a much larger movement toward the classroom of the future.
Marissa Lowman is the co-founder of LearnLaunch, a non-profit whose goal is to increase learning by providing support for the creation and growth of education technology and learning companies in New England. Join the conversation on Twitter at @learnlaunch.
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