Publishing giant Pearson's new education technology accelerator has enrolled its first class, Ki Mae Heussner reports for GigaOM. The first set of companies to benefit from the Pearson Catalyst program include a web course designer, an education site targeted at teachers, and a company pioneering natural speech processing.
Unlike many other ed tech accelerators that have opened their doors in recent years, Pearson is looking at a different type of start-up to take under its wing. Diana Stepner, Pearson's head of future technologies, explains that the company looked at candidates who were "further along" in their development, including having a finished product ready for trial. This means that rather than being in direct competition with other accelerators, Pearson views Catalyst's role as "complimentary." At least one of the companies selected into the Catalyst in its first year is already a veteran of another New York-based accelerator.
In the past few months, plenty of other ed tech-only accelerators have opened their doors to startups, including Kaplan's TechStars-powered program and Socratic Labs in New York. But Pearson's program differs in a few key ways. For starters, it's virtual, meaning that startups meet with mentors and receive training via video conference, telephone and email (its demo day is in-person). And, Pearson doesn't take an equity stake in companies. Accepted startups get $10,000, support from Pearson executives in relevant areas and the opportunity to launch a pilot program with the publishing giant.
More than 200 different companies applied to take part in Pearson Catalyst, but only 6 were selected. Not only will all 6 receive support for the development of their products, Pearson will also facilitate introductions to "key customer groups" including Pearson itself. After all, as Heussner points out, Pearson is the biggest purchaser of education technology in the country.
The 6 recipients range from adaptive learning software to text processing that can identify cheating:
Here's a quick look at the first startups in Pearson Catalyst's class:
VLinks Media – The Chicago-based company enables educational publishers and corporate trainers to create interactive online classes for the web and mobile.
Spongelab – A science education site for teachers and students, it offers a library of digital content that focuses on game-based learning.
Ace Learning Company – The startup blends educational content with adaptive learning technology to help personalize education for college students.
ClassOwl – Created by Stanford undergrads, ClassOwl is a social academic platform made "by students, for students."
ActivelyLearn – This Seattle startup offers an online e-reader that enables teachers to reach students inside the text they're reading.
Full Stack Data Science — The startup specializes in natural language and text processing and can identify student cheating.