Noodle Markets today launched the first part of its ambitious plan to become a one-stop, Amazon-like source for K-12 schools and districts searching for educational tools.
The New York-based company officially announced NoodleMarkets.com, a free online marketplace to address what it calls a vexing problem for vendors in a crowded market: making their products known to educators.
Starting today, vendors can begin registering on the site, which is the first step in opening the buyer-and-seller platform. Eventually, it will also be a place where schools can post requests for proposals, and where vendors can respond to them.
Schools and districts, like vendors, will be invited to register for free when the second part of the plan, available in the first quarter of 2016, goes live. Then, educators will be able to use NoodleMarkets.com to search for and buy educational products and services. Later in 2016, the company plans to offer specialized bid management tools for schools’ procurement. It’s at this point that fees will kick in for vendors as they reply to bids.
The new venture is the latest startup from The Noodle Companies, which are led by education entrepreneur John Katzman, who founded The Princeton Review and 2U. Nicole Neal, a former Pearson Education Inc. executive, is the CEO and chief product architect.
“Our primary client is the educator,” said Neal in a phone interview. “We want their lives to be easier by simplifying this process. It means vendors win as well.”
Neal said that about $128 billion per year is purchased in K-12, a statistic that Noodle Markets distilled primarily from the National Education Association’s 2013-14 research (Rankings of the States 2013 and Estimates of School Statistics 2014), as well as data from Education Intelligence, Inc. Of that amount, about $49 billion is spent without going through the formal RFP process, she said.
The remaining $79 billion of goods and services are purchased via a request for information, request for proposal, or similar procurement avenue.
“We asked, ‘How can we come up with a technology or tools that would really help ease the process of purchasing, and make it easier to manage or respond to solicitations,” she said.
Their online marketplace idea is an attempt to address the disconnect between districts’ needs and wants, and vendors’ lack of understanding about K-12 officials’ priorities—an issue that was studied in depth last year by Digital Promise and the Education Industry Association.
When the RFP/bidding portion of the platform is released, districts will be able to issue RFPs on Noodle Markets and sellers that pay a fee will be able to respond to them directly through the marketplace.
“If you talk to school leaders behind closed doors, many will tell you they feel completely overwhelmed by all of the choices, and the lack of credible third-party information about them,” said Bart Epstein, CEO of the Jefferson Education Accelerator, which is not affiliated with Noodle Markets. “Bringing together information in a way that helps education leaders be better consumers is a fantastic idea.”
If Noodle Markets can successfully bring “more transparency and standardization to the RFP process, then it should be a win-win,” said Epstein.
The accelerator is a commercial venture that arranges for companies to test ed-tech products in schools and colleges through independent reviews. That process is being guided in part by the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.
Neal said she believes the size of the vendor audience is about 15,000 companies working in K-12. Initially, Noodle Markets will focus on products that have to do with teaching and learning, she said. “In the classroom, that’s our focus. But we’re not going to close the door for folks who are selling toilet paper or construction services.”
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