The Future of Education Technology Incubators Appears Bright

TechStars has had an uncommon level of success as a technology incubator, and now Kaplan – which recently announced a TechStars-powered in-house incubator – hopes that the platform can work its magic in the education sector. To help it along, the company brought in Don Burton, an entrepreneur and an investor, to serve as the accelerator’s managing director. Burton talked over his plans for the the new venture with GigaOM, including how Kaplan can make the new incubator a success.

The fact that the education technology industry is booming is no secret – especially to players like Burton and Kaplan. Many companies who are active in the traditional side of the business, including giants like Pearson, have recently jumped into the incubator game looking for success in the market that is projected to explode over the next decade.

And according to Burton, we haven’t seen anything yet. Even the well-publicized successes have mostly been traditional ideas just brought into a new tech context. The revolutionary things, he thinks, are still to come.

Burton: We’re at the very beginning of major change. We’ve had big success stories, in the sense of online education, like University of Phoenix or Wireless Generation, which was sold to News Corp. But if you look at those opportunities, they’re really more automating the way we currently do education [like] a lot of the education technology that’s been here to date.

What’s really exciting is now we’re thinking of new ways of imagining what learning can look like. Like the Maker Movement and the Quantified Self movement — I think those types of project-based, interest-based and passion-based experiences in the real world are what we can do with all of learning eventually.

Burton’s first goal in his new job is to set Kaplan and its accelerator apart from the competition, and teaming up with TechStars should provide a significant boost. The company has been in the business since 2006, which means that it has an established network of industry contacts, venture capitalists and even mentors to guide aspiring entrepreneurs to success.

As Burton explained to GigaOM, Kaplan’s efforts could be thought of as an accelerator plus. When a startup feels that it is starting to get its feet under it, it might look to applying for Kaplan’s program to get to that next step.

GigaOM: The industry is in the midst of an investment upswing, but what are the key challenges for entrepreneurs?
Burton: One of the biggest challenges is simply creating change in the formal school systems that are not as market-driven as some other sectors. If you have the best solution, that does not guarantee you adoption in all the schools across all the systems. Even you have amazing success in some districts, how do you get that across the whole system? A lot of these districts across the country have very different ways of doing things and it’s tough to scale your opportunity. And policy — how does the government view technology and for-profit education?