Project Designed to Test, Develop Ed-Tech Opens for Business

Managing Editor

A new university-meets-private sector partnership designed to bring research-tested education technology into the market has picked its first company to test and showcase.

The Jefferson Education Accelerator announced that Echo360, a higher education tech platform designed to help students ask questions anonymously in class, take notes, and revisit lectures, will be the program’s first official company partner.

We reported on the launch of the Jefferson Education Accelerator, an ambitious new model in ed-tech research and commercial development, in an Education Week story earlier this year. The accelerator will give ed-tech companies working in K-12 and college the ability to have their products tested and put through independent review, potentially giving them a record of evidence-based effectiveness for potential buyers in education systems.

The JEA is a commercial accelerator program, which will receive equity in the businesses that make it through the process. It is being advised by the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. The accelerator is planning to build a network of academic researchers at UVA and schools around the country who can act as independent reviewers of companies’ work, with assignments divided by areas of scholarly expertise.

Echo360 is backed by the investment company Revolution Growth, founded by Steve Case, an entrepreneur perhaps best known as the co-founder and former CEO of America Online.

“We know that traditional lectures present a significant challenge for institutions grappling with completion rates and student engagement,” said Robert Pianta, the dean of the Curry school, in a statement. “Echo360 already shows strong evidence of supporting faculty and engaging students.”

While the first company to be publicly named as participating in the accelerator operates in the postsecondary world, announcements of K-12 ed-tech companies taking part will come soon, most likely this fall, said Bart Epstein, the JEA’s founding CEO.

Echo 360 is “the type of company we’re eager to support,” Epstein said in an interview, one that has shown a “willingness to put their solutions to the test” and “distance themselves from the pack by putting their work up to scrutiny.”

Hundreds of Inquiries

The JEA has pledged that the research it conducts on individual companies who go through the accelerator will be made public. The types of research are likely to vary from small, rapid-response reviews intended to help companies refine and improve products to broader, longer-term investigations with experimental designs.

Epstein said there’s no firm timeframe for releasing research results for Echo360, partly because the details of what research will be conducted, and who will oversee it, are still being finalized.

Epstein said the JEA has reviewed hundreds of ed-tech companies that have expressed interest in working with the accelerator. He quipped that digital companies tend to view their products through a “Lake Wobegon,” prism of optimism.

“I don’t think I’ve talked to a developer yet who didn’t think [a] product would be different, and special, and effective,” Epstein said. “Our job is to help them understand that simply being confident in your product isn’t enough—you need proof that what you’ve produced does what you say.”

Check back for more news on the work of the Jefferson Education Accelerator in the months ahead.

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