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  • 05.23.11

Time To Saddle Up, Education Entrepreneurs! Investors Are Ready To Listen To Your Pitch.

The NewSchools Venture Fund Summit is an annual gathering of leading education reforms, education entrepreneurs and celebrities working to create a better education system. These are interviews with some of the faces at this year’s summit in San Francisco.

Mark Zuckerberg

Douglas Crets: Given state of funding environment for startups, what are some
things entrepreneurs should do right now to establish relationships with
investment partners?

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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.

About the author

Douglas Crets is a Developer Evangelist and Editorial Lead at the Microsoft BizSpark program. He works to tell the story of thousands of startups hosted in the Azure cloud platform built by Microsoft.

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