Unmet Needs in Special Ed. Are the Focus of New Ed-Tech Grants

Managing Editor

Fifteen companies and organizations have won new grants to support developing ed-tech products for special-need populations, with the goal of boosting students’ access to and engagement with learning resources, among other objectives.

The winners of the NewSchools Venture Fund’s Ignite Special Education Challenge will receive awards from $65,000 to $150,000. The grants will support product development, building their organizations, strategy, and other goals.

The awardees promise to cover a lot of ground. One winner, PhET Interactive Simulations, a nonprofit based at the University of Colorado, will use the money to make a library of online math and science simulations accessible to students with video or audio impairments.

Another organization, LiftEd, will work on a mobile tool for tracking behavior and academics, meant to address “data collection pain points” that special education teachers cope with, the venture fund says.

A third grant supports Timocco, described as an occupational therapy tool that gamifies learning through software that builds the fine-tuning of motor skills using everyday objects.

The full list of grant winners is below:

  • BeeLine Reader — $65,000
  • Branching Minds — $125,000
  • Education Modified — $65,000
  • Enuma — $125,000
  • ExceptionALLY — $65,000
  • Enome, Inc. dba Goalbook — $150,000
  • InnovateEDU — $100,000
  • iTherapy — $65,000
  • Kinems — $100,000
  • LiftEd — $65,000
  • Nearpod — $125,000
  • PhET — $150,000
  • Timocco — $100,000
  • VocaliD — $100,000
  • Zyrobotics — $100,000

To date, the New Schools Ignite project has backed ed-tech entrepreneurs in subjects such as science, with the goal of focusing on areas of education that have not received a lot of attention from venture investors and other funders.

In staging the special education grant program, the NewSchools Venture Fund officials said they did market research to identify areas where ed tech could fill a need. Specifically, they saw the potential to make rigorous academic content accessible to broad populations of special education students; to encourage communication and collaboration among diverse learners; to ramp up the use of data to help students, families, and schools; and to cultivate student skills focused on executive functions, and student agency.

Tonika Cheek Clayton, a managing partner at the venture fund, said in an interview that the organization recognizes that “technology is just a small piece of supporting students with special needs in classrooms.”

Overall, ed-tech developers should aspire to help “meet students where they are,” she said, while acknowledging the broad array of needs among special education students.

The venture fund will track the progress of the companies’ work, she said. It plans to produce case studies about their experiences that can shape the work of entrepreneurs, and special-needs advocates.

“This is just the beginning,”  Cheek Clayton said. “What we’re going to learn, we want to share with the broader community.”


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