Accelerator for Ed-Tech Startups Launches in New York City

Associate Editor

By guest blogger Michele Molnar. Cross-posted from Marketplace K-12.

Ten ed-tech startups will be chosen for the first EDGE Edtech Accelerator, a newly launched New York City-based program co-founded by two veteran entrepreneurs in digital education.

Don Burton, who has served as the managing director of the Kaplan/Techstars EdTech Accelerator for the past two years, and Jonathan Harber, who founded Schoolnet, Inc., in 1998 then sold it to Pearson in 2011, are leading the three-month accelerator, a program designed to help entrepreneurs secure their next round of financing.

Businesses that are chosen for EDGE, which will start in this fall, will receive $170,000 each. They will have mentors and advisors who are founders of successful ed-tech startups, or involved with ventural capital in the ed-tech area, and angel investors. Experts in the areas of technology, publishing, and policy will also be part of the group tapped to support companies chosen for the program.

Education Week interviewed Harber and Burton about their startup for startups, and here’s what they had to say. (The following interview has been edited for brevity.) 

What’s the ideal profile of an ed-tech company that you would accept into the EDGE?

Burton: We talk about the three P’s: people, problem and product.

From a people point of view, we want a team connected to the idea. It might be a seasoned entrepreneur on their second or third startup, and they might have a really good idea. We’re looking for teams that we believe could execute against the idea and problem.

The problem is our euphemism for the market. How big is the market, from a size and revenue point of view?

And about the product, we’re looking for at least a prototype, not just a “paper napkin” idea.

How are you differentiating this initiative from what you did at Kaplan?

Burton: We’re taking a much broader than New York City-based approach. We’re trying to bring in the city, the state, the federal government. We want to bring in all the largest publishers, to engage the district in a more profound way. We also have SUNY [The State University of New York] and CUNY [the City University of New York], corporate headquarters with training facilities. We have everyone from Sesame Street and Scholastic to all the big publishers like Pearson here. We want a broad consortium of people to help these ed-tech startups. That’s what makes it different for entrepreneurs: getting access to the right people.

How will the $170,000 in funding for each accepted company be distributed?

Burton: We’re providing $20,000 of common equity and $150,000 of convertible note. [The convertible note is a loan that automatically converts to an equity stake in the startup at the next round of financing.]

What parts of the educational marketplace are you interested in addressing with the companies you select?

Harber: Cradle through life-long learning.

Burton:  We’d like to have nice diversity across the spectrum. We’re very excited about the pre-K space. I think there’s a lot of new energy around that. We definitely want to have pre-K represented for ages 0-3, as well as 3-5. Traditionally, we [would expect to] attract many K-12 companies. Last year, in my [Kaplan] accelerator we had five. Then we’ll also look at higher ed, corporate training, and the skills gap.

What problem does the accelerator solve?

Harber: It’s a perfect anchor tenant for this concept of creating an innovation hub in New York. It will provide a catalyst that brings together the community. Day-to-day, Don will be more the manager of the accelerator. But I will be involved with bringing together the community programming, the city government, and mentoring.

Will this initiative be entirely New York City-based, or will it reach beyond the city?

Harber: In terms of the companies we’re looking at, we’re hoping they are solving global problems. K-12 around the globe is really interesting, as 3 billion people are moving from poverty to the middle class. As for the companies in our program focused on K-12 domestically, in terms of who we’ll connect them with, it will probably be more regional. 

Burton: We’re working very closely with Steven Hodas, Digital Promise, and the federal Department of Education on, “How does New York become a leading education cluster?”  We’re trying to create a really vibrant innovation cluster, and we’re working with Steven Hodas, who’s designing that national network.

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