Ed Technology Entrepreneurship, Incubation Driving Education Changes

Technology startups are fast replacing the bureaucracy and paper work in education. For some former teachers, the entrepreneurial startup environment allows educators to focus on problems faced by classroom teachers, but also by administrators, parents and students.

The education innovation industry is booming as attention toward using technology to improve education from outside the classroom increases, writes Anne Field in Cisco’s The Network. Since the first startup accelerator — Palo Alto, California-based Imagine K12 — was opened for business in 2011, several other companies have emerged. Newer additions include Kaplan’s EdTech Accelerator powered by TechStars, a three-month program located in New York City, and Pearson Catalyst, initiated by the UK-based educational publishing powerhouse.

This increase in startup accelerators underlines the broader aim to incubate educational tech companies: technology has a significant role to play in education reform, as pointed out by a founder and partner of Imagine K12, Tim Brady.

“There’s a realization that technology can dramatically affect educational outcomes,” he observed.

Startups are focusing on data, mobile technology, and a number of other innovations to affect the classroom and school administration.

Ben Glazer is an example of one of an educator uniquely position to develop solutions to common problems. Together with a former Havard Business School classmate, Stuart Fyre, Glazer created a system where teachers could use classroom data to become better educators. Together, they founded a company, Eduvant, in San Francisco to sell the system. A year later, they were accepted into Imagine K12′s first three-month class.

Two steps were involved in developing the product, with the first being to find a way of integrating a series of separate systems. Statistical techniques were then added to allow educators to analyze and mine the data, collected in real-time, and identify relevant patterns. For Glazer and Frye, this involved creating models able to predict student performance and notice when individuals deviated from anticipated outcomes.

Although the tools are designed to be intuitive and easy to learn, Eduvant recently introduced a free, online training system that takes 15 minutes a day for 15 days to complete — a small commitment compared to most professional development tracks.

Earlier this year, a researcher at Georgia Tech founded a company, Verificient Technologies in New York City, that could identify possible cases of cheating. After being accepted into Kaplan EdTech’s first class, the startup refined its model of monitoring student work and raising red flags. The solution doesn’t do everything, though — the final decision of cheating lies with the institution that passed its students through the system, as stated by Tim Dutta, a management consultant and serial entrepreneur at Georgia Tech, allowing schools and teachers to maintain their professional autonomy.

“We don’t make the final determination if there was cheating,” says Dutta. “The institution does.”

And parents — arguably the most crucial stakeholders in education — aren’t sitting on the sidelines. As parent involvement is stressed by more schools, solutions like those proposed MommaZoo are in demand. MommaZoo developed a mobile app to help parents track their children’s progress in school, which combines the power of mobile technology with the desire to increase the fluence of parents on their children’s education.

MommaZoo applied to Imagine K12 and was accepted into a three-month-session earlier this year. Founder Catheryne Nicholson suggests that more parent involvement can change education — and entrepreneurs eager to innovate are helping to drive that change.

“It’s the single most powerful lever you can pull to change educational outcomes,” she says.