Tonight I interviewed Mick Hewitt, who works with Mastery Connect, a teacher sharing site that enables learning for students using social web practices. I asked him what the environment was like for startups in the education industry, and for any advice he might give people who are seeking money or seeking partnerships in the space. Every little bit of information helps in this era.
Douglas Crets: Given state of funding environment for startups, what are some things entrepreneurs should do right now to establish relationships with investment partners?
Mick Hewitt: It's always been difficult for start-ups in edtech to raise money, and the questions investors are asking right now are no different than before. That being said, there is actually a movement in education technology, that Joel Klein described at #NSVFSummit as 'palpable.' I think the edtech community is highly aware of this and you can feel it.
So we're seeing from the investment community a willingness to take a second look and seeing some investment rounds that seem to be larger than in years past. I think the key thing that entrepreneurs can do right now with investment partners is to discuss more deeply the problem statements of the pitch. Investors often want the 1 minute elevator pitch and to define the problem you're solving in the first 20 seconds of that pitch.
Digging in to solve the problems in education I would say needs a "deeper dive" than 1 minute. It's important for entrepreneurs and investors to realize that there is and will continue to be monetization in this market, but creating solutions requires a good understanding of the inside of a classroom, school structures and data systems, and the way learning works. I think it's important to establish relationships with investment partners that are committed to the idea of making education better.
Douglas Crets: Education reform, or market disruption as an answer to our current education needs?
Mick Hewitt: Great question. I'm a market disruption guy. I think reform can be accelerated through market disruption in technology. From a systems perspective, we are at a monumental time in edtech history. We have a large majority of states that have agreed to common standards. This is creating a tremendous opportunity both for learning and for the market. The freemium model that was really a big part of the web over the past several years is finally getting some steam in education. Freemium is very disruptive and lowers the barrier for procurement in education and encourages schools and districts to try things at a faster pace than the typical 9-12 month pilots of typical software sales in the industry. I think there are a lot of great business models being formed around these ideas and being very disruptive. We've seen companies going straight to teachers in a sort of "direct to consumer" for this industry approach.
Douglas Crets: Anything in social apps or network worlds that looks like education but is not in the formal system currently?
Mick Hewitt: Today at NSVF, Mark Zuckerberg was asked what apps he sees on Facebook that stand out in his mind that are helping K-12, and none really seemed to come to mind. He immediately pointed out some apps targeting the higher education space that really involve the social interactions for students at that level. He cited one problem being that kids under 13 can't have a Facebook account. I think another reason there are social tools developing for teachers outside of Facebook is that teachers are looking for more context from a social network in education. At MasteryConnect, we are building a learning community of teachers around the Common Core standards and helping teachers share the core-related common formative assessments (CFA's as teachers call them) they are developing in schools and districts across the country. We are taking standards-based teaching to the cloud and making it social and real-time for teachers and providing real-time information to parents about what students know and don't know relative to the core standards.