Fast Company Names Most Innovative Education Companies of 2019

Associate Editor

Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace for lesson plans and classroom materials, has been named the most innovative education company in 2019 by the business magazine Fast Company. It was recognized for “helping educators improve their curricula.”

zSpace, an augmented reality and virtual reality company that caters to the education market, was recognized as #4 on the education list. It was chosen for launching the first mixed-reality laptop that allows images to be “lifted” from a screen using a stylus. Those images can then be examined in 3D by students. 

Although the education list included few companies with a K-12 focus, other categories highlighted organizations that serve these students or their teachers. For example, Girls Who Code won most innovative in the non-profit category for inspiring girls to use computers. Those efforts include lesson plans for teachers to show girls examples of successful women in tech, clubs for 3rd to 5th graders, among other initiatives.

And Back to the Roots, which was 4th in the “social good” category, was recognized for what Fast Company called “the first organic cereal offered in public schools,” including New York City’s system.

What Qualifies as Innovative?

Agreeing on a single definition for “innovation” can be difficult. In this case, the magazine described its selection criteria as focusing on “businesses making the most profound impact on both industry and culture.” The magazine called these “groundbreaking businesses” that spanned 35 industries and every region of the world.  In all, 410 organizations were honored by the publication.

Overall, Teachers Pay Teachers (often referred to as TpT for short) was recognized as 45th of the top 50 most innovative companies worldwide. Originally focused primarily on teachers buying other educators’ materials, the company expanded in 2018 to attract purchases by school and district administrators with its “TpT for Schools” product offering.

TpT came under scrutiny in Education Week last year after the discovery that some teachers’ original work has been stolen and sold by other teachers on the platform. My colleague Sarah Schwartz investigated the matter and found that the company does not proactively protect copyrights of educators’ work.

DonorsChoose took second place in the non-profit category for helping teachers recover by “better directing funds to teachers in communities affected by natural disasters, allowing people to give to affected regions before the teachers return and determine exactly what they need to recover.” The organization also received a massive gift of $29 million from the cryptocurrency startup Ripple, which funded every project for nearly 30,000 teachers on the site in one day. We recently covered what teachers want most on the site, based on a DonorsChoose survey.

The event producer and online platform PlayVS won 7th place in the gaming category, for innovation in letting high schools create esports leagues and host virtual and live competitions. We covered the rise of gamers playing esports in high schools last year.

Top Education Winners

In the education category, where Teachers Pay Teachers ranked as #1 most innovative, the top preK-12 winners were:

#2 – Reaktor, which created a free 30-hour online course called “Elements of AI,” to teach the rudiments of artificial intelligence. (This is available to students and teachers in public schools at no cost.)

#3 – Wonderschool, which raised $20 million last year, honored for its focus on “high-quality early learning options” in helping early childhood educators open in-home preschools.

#4 – zSpace for its mixed-reality laptop that allows images to be “lifted” from a screen using a stylus. In 2018, zSpace CEO Paul Kellenberger told me that gaining recognition on the Inc. 5000 list with a virtual reality learning tool helped his company establish its viability in the K-12 market.  According to the Fast Company story, its product is now available to more than 1 million students and over 1,000 school districts.

The full education list is available here.

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