Amazon, Already a Presence in K-12, Expands Its Support for Ed-Tech Startups

Senior Writer

Amazon has a massive presence across many sectors of the economy, from online commerce to cloud-computing to web-based streaming. It’s role in education is tiny by comparison, but growing.

Now, Amazon has expanded one of the lesser-known roles it plays in schools, and in ed-tech. The AWS EdStart program, which was launched in 2017 as an accelerator to support the growth of ed-tech companies, has grown to include very early stage startups—even those with few customers and little revenue.

AWS EdStart currently has “hundreds” of members in 34 countries, according to an email from AWS. Many of the companies currently participating are well known in the education world, including Allovue, CodeSpark and FlipGrid.

To date, AWS is one of the primary ways Amazon seeks to do business in the K-12 market. AWS is a cloud computing infrastructure service that powers hundreds of thousands of technology companies around the world. Many school district have also turned to it, as they seek to move away from physical storage.

In addition, Amazon has also marketed its services in recent years as a purchasing vehicle for schools.

AWS EdStart companies receive promotional credits, mentorship and technical training, but the program does not take an equity stake in the companies it works with, unlike some other startup accelerators and incubators.

Growth in K-12 Analytics and Machine Learning

The AWS EdStart program accepts companies founded in the last five years with revenue under $10 million, according to the program website. The newer EdStart Innovator level applies to companies less than two years old with annual revenue less than $1 million and few or no customers.

AWS officials said they’ve seen an increasing focus among EdStart companies in areas such as analytics, data, and machine learning to solve problems in education. AWS EdStart expanded to included very early stage ed-tech startups in order to “level the playing field” for innovative efforts, the company said, adding that it is “committed to the smaller, less-funded individuals and organizations who are incubating new ideas…”

EdStart Innovator members receive $500 in AWS promotional credits, while the more mature AWS EdStart companies receive promotional credits based on their size and activity.

The program was designed to “help entrepreneurs build the next generation of online learning, analytics and campus management solutions on the AWS cloud,” according to an email from AWS.

AWS has been working with ed-tech startups in a variety of ways. This year, for example, the company provided winners of the University of Pennsylvania’s Milken-Penn Graduate School of Education Education Business Plan Competition with $40,000 and $25,000 in AWS web service credits for the grand prize and runner up awards, and smaller awards for contest finalists. AWS was a strong supporter of the contest, said John Gamba, director of innovative programs at Catalyst@Penn GSE, the school’s center for innovation.

Gamba said AWS sought to do more than provide promotional credits and wanted “to address the pain points that early stage ventures have” around issues like cloud computing, privacy, security and accessibility.

But it’s also clear, said Michael Golden, the executive director and senior fellow for Catalyst@Penn GSE, that the AWS EdStart program makes good business sense: “If AWS can help these companies in the early stages, as these startups expand and grow they are likely to be loyal customers.”

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