The Benefits of the Joining the EdTech Ecosystem

Ross Darwin, Principal, Owl Ventures

Ross Darwin, Principal, Owl Ventures

With COVID shutting down schools, colleges, and workplaces across the country, EdTech has become a bit of a celebrity, with teachers, administrators, and CEOs paying more attention than ever before to the ecosystem of tools that they can use to engage learners. As importantly, the moment is shining a light on how much demand and need for innovation, there is in the space, sparking a wave of interest among potential entrepreneurs. These new innovators will be able to leverage a whole ecosystem that has now been built specifically to help the edtech community, and that brings substantial benefits through that specialization.

There are a whole host of programs designed to help entrepreneurs in the early stages of building their businesses, many of which could be very helpful to an aspiring EdTech leader. However, the edtech market differs pretty dramatically from the general consumer or enterprise markets. Like healthcare, education has a complex web of stakeholders, whether it’s school boards, principals, teachers, parents, and students, or business line leaders, HR, and frontline workers. The wide number of stakeholders in this market can affect startups go-to-market motions, product design decisions, and team member selection, and so having clear advice not just on general startup questions but education-specific road bumps can be especially valuable.

Luckily EdTech is a broad ecosystem, spanning the consumer lifetime and covering an infinite number of topics. While this broad spectrum of end markets might make it seem as though getting good advice would be challenging, it’s actually the feature that allows such a vibrant EdTech community to thrive. Despite the different markets, the companies actually face very similar challenges: engaging learners, teaching the content, creating community among the learners, and assessing how much has been learned. These similarities allow EdTech communities to thrive as companies can share advice without worrying about competition. A company that teaches coding to college students can share video production advice with a K-5 English curriculum provider, or an LMS focused on creating community in online college courses can give community management advice to a corporate training provider. Sharing these best practices allows the whole industry to move faster and improve learning across the ecosystem.

"EdTech is a broad ecosystem, spanning the consumer lifetime and covering an infinite number of topics"

Importantly, the EdTech community is a part of the broader, interconnected education landscape. Many nonprofits like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invest across age groups, thinking about how early childhood success leads to success in primary education or how preparation in high school helps improve outcomes in higher education. Similarly, educational institutions are often connected to each other, as each institution wants to better prepare students before arriving and help with their success once they leave. For example, colleges offer enrichment programs for high schoolers and bring in well-known companies to help teach on the job skills to students. All of these connections allow EdTech communities to multiply their effectiveness as each relationship and introduction that one member brings to the group can be helpful to new entrepreneurs across target markets. These connections help new EdTech ventures scale more quickly, find better partners, and share more best practices.

There are many ways for entrepreneurs to get involved in EdTech communities. For example, this community and help is key reason firms choose to work with education-focused venture capital funds like Owl Ventures, But even before an entrepreneur is ready to work with a VC fund like Owl, accelerator programs like StartEd, USC RossierEdVentures, LearnLaunch, and AT&T Aspire have been created specifically to help create these vibrant EdTech hubs. Founders can also start to make some of these connections through events like ASU-GSV or through events put on by ecosystem participants like Cooley, which hosts EdTech pitch events and conferences.

The rise of EdTech in the past few months has certainly been accelerated by COVID, but the strong EdTech hubs built by the trailblazers in this ecosystem have acted the catalyst, allowing these new entrants to avoid a roadblock, make critical connections, and get to market faster than ever would have been possible a few years ago. It’ll be exciting to see how all of these new entrepreneurs continue to further build out this ecosystem.

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