I’ve been working with a lot of edtech startups in the past 18 months. In the Ottawa-Toronto-Waterloo region alone I’ve seen about 100 companies/entrepreneurs who would say they are in the edtech space. But, when you look deeply there are maybe 10 that are really fundable ventures that have any chance of making a difference.
It’s still very early days in this space.
One of the biggest challenges is selling into the system. Procurement happens at the school district level. They want a product that is ‘plug and play’ and will work for every school in their district. They are searching for what I call the “golden temple in the sky”.
As Richard Elmore of Harvard describes in an awesome 8-minute presentation at the Aspen Institute, he feels like he has been providing palliative care to a dying institution – the school board or school district.
He explains that we have been living with a nested hierarchy organization structure for the past 50 years. We keep trying to push coherence through the organization from the top down and it isn’t working. It’s broken. We are moving to a new organizational model that is networked. When you look at a lot of the edtech startups they are already living in this networked world.
This really resonated with me because I’m clearly not a fan of our current org structure and if you look at the types of ventures that are getting traction in the edtech space, almost all of them are network-based. No one is trying to build out a fully baked platform, except for Amplify’s Septuagenarian founder Joel Klein funded by Septuagenarian Rupert Murdoch. Despite Murdoch’s $300M investment, key funders and players I know think they are unlikely to come up with a winning solution.
But the challenge of the networked world approach is that school boards need all these great individual pieces (content-as-a-service, learning-as-a-service, digital assessment, learning management systems) of the puzzle put together. And who is going to do the stitching at this stage when there are no clear winners yet?
The school district is not good at stitching. They want the new solutions to come to them in a way that integrates it all together.
So, we know that school boards want a platform play, fully baked solution but no one living on the edge believes that platform is the way to go. It’s not agile enough and would take upwards of $300M, to do so.
So, in the meantime we wait to see which startups can last through our procurement challenges on the way to a more networked approach to redefining K-12 education.