Federal Research Program Tries to Bring Ed-Tech Startups to Market

Senior Editor

This week I introduced readers to the U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Investment Research center, a federal office with an unusual mission—using taxpayer dollars to guide startup ed-tech companies and other fledgling businesses into the commercial market.

SBIR offices are housed in a bunch of agencies across the government, all with the goal of bringing new or untested ideas to markets.

Compared with some of its peer offices, the education department’s version is small—it has an annual budget of about $8 million. Contrast that with the Pentagon, where the SBIR receives $925 million a year.

Interest in the education program, however, appears to be growing within the startup community. Applications have jumped over the past year.

And the list of grantees—who can receive awards of up to $150,000, or $900,000, depending on the work—includes some familiar names in the world of ed-tech, including Filament Games, Sokikom, and Teachley

Many of the supported projects focus on developing technologies for special-needs students. One such technology was iPrompts PRO, an app designed by HandHold Adaptive to support students with autism and other developmental barriers.

The SBIR funding “allowed us to develop a product and simultaneously research it,” HandHold Adaptive CEO Rob Tedesco told me in an interview. “It would have been hard to convince an investor that the level of formal research is something you should be doing so early in the process.”

Here’s a video describing how iPrompts PRO works:

Other videos describing projects funded through the SBIR program can be found here.

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