Accelerator Program Sees Surge of Interest in K-12 Arena

Staff Writer

As school districts cope with enormous setbacks in learning, staffing turnover, and restrictions on classroom lessons, an ed-tech accelerator has found that an unusually large portion of the women- and minority-owned businesses it supports are jumping into the K-12 market.

In its fifth cohort, the University of Southern California’s ed-tech accelerator program, overseen by the Rossier Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education, is seeing a greater interest in elementary and secondary learning, rather than higher education or corporate training.

Of the 16 startups, 80 percent are dialed in on K-12, which is about twice as many as usual, said Doug Lynch, a senior fellow at USC’s Rossier School of Education and the accelerator’s director.

The founders are looking to address everything from financial literacy to coding to language learning.

Some of the interest is likely in response to the impact that COVID had on learning, Lynch said. Multiple measures, including the recent results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, have shown a major drop in student academic outcomes.

“There’s definitely a zeitgeist, if you will, where on the one hand COVID made ed-tech plausible,” he said, “and yet, we are just as a country — and as a world — in a horrific place.”

As a result, Lynch said the resources the accelerator will offer during six months of training for the company founders will focus heavily on topics like evidence and soft skills — factors that help companies stand out to school districts among a crowded field.

When company officials sit next to educators at a conference, for example, they need the networking and communication skills to be able to appropriately bring up their product or service. And the measurable results to back up what they say. Just having a cool piece of tech isn’t enough, Lynch said.

“We’re really focused on making sure that research is incorporated early in the process, more so than ever,” Lynch said.

The accelerator, which launched in 2018, is free for companies and provided virtually — features that program officials believe encourage a greater diversity in applicants. So far 55 companies have run through the program and raised more than $80 million from investors, Lynch said.

The new cohort represents founders from eight different states and four countries, including Finland, Nigeria, Brazil, and the U.S., according to Lynch. The vast majority of founders — 87 percent — are women or people of color.

The companies focused on K-12 education in the new USC accelerator cohort include:

  • Bilingue is a language learning app for bicultural students ages 1-7 that incorporates AI to develop lessons and interactive tactiles.
  • ClassEquity is an online community that promotes positive behaviors and financial literacy by having students pay “bills,” work “jobs,” and purchase rewards at the class store.
  • CodeTribe offers gamified online coding and web development training with communities or “tribes” that students can join.
  • CTE Entrepreneurship Academy is a set of virtual courses that aims to help Career and Technical Education students gain experience and skills to launch their own businesses.
  • EduMatch is a global professional learning community for educators that provides PD opportunities and seeks to amplify educators’ voices through a blog and podcast.
  • EVT, or Educational Vision Technologies, is a platform that allows educators to upload videos, including Zoom recordings, and curate online courses.
  • Gateway is a platform through which high school students can access expert-led, virtual shadow externships that allow them to explore high-growth careers.
  • Kwizie is an online quiz generator and analytics dashboard that uses AI to automatically produce assessments for YouTube videos, articles, or other uploaded material.
  • Landing Zone/Converge offers data integration, interoperability standards, and visualization to empower districts, educators, and students.
  • RAI Hawaii offers K-12 schools robot assisted instruction which uses five unique robots to teach supplemental coding and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, math, and art).
  • Shoonya a is a play-based educational app for students under 10 years old focused on language and cultural learning.
  • Short Answer is a peer-to-peer formative assessment tool that allows students to create responses to a question prompt, compare answers, converse, and provide scaffolded feedback.
  • Wonderly is a platform that offers students “unlimited” digital skills training.

Other companies in the cohort are:

  • SIB Impact is a purpose-driven game which brings to the table solutions to socio-environmental challenges the world faces.
  • CrisprClassroom offers “resumé-boosting” bioscience courses and certificate programs to universities and companies.
  • GROAcademy is a free idea assessment tool for entrepreneurs.

The program this year will also focus on teaching founders skills related to selling, attracting talent, and legal basics, Lynch said. As far the types of products and services the companies are offering, many aim to deliver academic resources to schools.

“Each year is designed based on the needs of the cohort,” he said. “We have the whole gamut of companies, but this one seems to be much more focused around curriculum.”

Image credit TarikVision/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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