Pearson Partners With Backer of Startup Education Companies

By guest blogger Kevin Connors

The term “disruption” is being used in the education sector more and more, as startup companies and established players boast of their potential to improve the learning landscape by shaking it up.

In an effort to stimulate that innovation, Pearson, one of the largest education companies the world, is forming a partnership with 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based incubator for high-growth startups. Last month, Kaplan announced similar plans to mentor and support education startups.

“Education is being disrupted right now,” said Diana Stepner, head of future technologies for Pearson. “Places like 1776 can help new companies scale-up really fast and ultimately change the way we educate.”

As part of the multi-faceted partnership, Pearson will use its broad resources to provide mentoring and connections to companies at the 1776 campus. They will also offer training and instruction to students at the 1776 school, where recent graduates, career-changers, and current professionals can take classes on the digital skills needed in the startup market. Eventually, Pearson will also collaborate with startups in the incubator’s accelerator program.

In return, Pearson gains valuable connections to owners of fledgling businesses and identifies companies it can potentially partner with in the future.
“1776 is someone we will collaborate with and someone who can guide us around the startup scene,” Stepner said. “When you’re not a native you always want a local there to help you out.”

1776 connects over 140 high-growth startups from around the world to resources that will increase their ability to penetrate highly regulated markets like education, energy, and health. The organization provides access to mentors, corporations, policymakers, influential associations, and capital. It also connects startups with media outlets and other resources.

Pearson will assign a full-time liaison to the 1776 campus who will mentor entrepreneurs. Company officials will also participate in executive roundtables and guest-visits organized by the incubator.

According to 1776 co-founder Donna Harris, the organization focuses on industries like education because of its conviction that school improvement has been slowed by bureaucracy and over-regulation.

“We had to ask ourselves, ‘why isn’t innovation coming to education in the same way that it does in other industries?'” said Harris. “We realized that investors had a hard time seeing how they get an ROI (return on investment) in the time horizon they would be interested in, partly because of the bureaucratic nature of education. So we had to find a way to shorten the cycle-time for startups to get to scale.”

Harris also argued that ineffective communication between the various communities in education, including policymakers, think tanks, districts, and startups, has stymied innovation. 1776 aims to bring those players together.

“We want to partner with organizations that have expertise, the means to provide capital, or the ability to help these startups scale-up,” Harris said. “Our focus is on supporting those disruptive thinkers.”

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