Across our country, some mom and dad’s garage startups are bootstrapping their way to success. Some. For every success in the startup world, there are an equal if not greater amount that never find their footing.
Ever seen the show Silicon Valley? It’s sort of like that—one company makes it big (fictional Pied Piper) while around them, apps like Bro (where you literally just send the word “bro” to your friends over and over) fail.
It’s natural selection of the startup world—just not exactly the kind Darwin probably predicted. The tech-city which gives the show its namesake is where true value in EdTech is coming from. There are big successes all over the place, and I use the word “big” because, well, established companies are dipping their toes into the major market that is EdTech, but those companies aren’t always the best-positioned to be successful. Sure they have the capital to be successful, but they aren’t the most nimble.
Small EdTech companies have a major advantage in their non-cookie-cutter, non-one-size-fits-all approach to EdTech. As a teacher who is always looking for resources to help my students, those are the companies and the model I am most interested in.
Financing for EdTech last year reached $1.87 billion—a figure that screams “we need this” from the highest rooftops. EdTech investors aren’t throwing money at Godzilla, however, just the tadpole version of Godzilla. They are investing in fledgling companies who are looking to make real change in education and not just turn a quick profit. Of course, being investors, they do seek a return, but true success to this end may be defined simply as EdTech companies who can build products that school districts actually want.
There are major challenges for small EdTech companies, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that Internet technology is late to education. Further, the ultimate clients of EdTech companies are school districts with limited budgets and slow processes to adopt new technology. It’s a major hurdle to overcome, but it’s one that small companies are poised to meet.
As a teacher, in order to meet the needs of my students, I usually have to piece together a variety of solutions.
There is no one silver bullet technology that meets all of my students where they are, fulfills all their academic needs, and provides me with the necessary data to make adjustments to each one of those students’ plans. With that said, small EdTech companies are best positioned to cooperate with each other in such a way that teachers can feel less like they are using products that compete with each other. In the big technology world, it’s about world domination (maybe not literally) and trying to outdo your competitors by doing things better than they can.
Better products and better marketing. In the small EdTech world, companies are being developed because they see problems that need to be fixed in a way that is “different” than their competitors. There is no better in education, because each student needs a very individualized plan. An MP3 player works the same for everyone, but an EdTech product provides vastly different outcomes for each user. Small companies are working toward the same goals of creating change in education.
I want to jump back to the ultimate clients of education technology—the districts. I titled my post for a very specific reason, as small EdTech companies are able to quickly adapt to the needs of a district at the drop of a hat (I’ve seen it—it’s true!). Many small firms start with a freemium model as a way to prove to districts that they have the chops to satisfy the needs of the school district.
Districts, at the opposite end, want to make sure they are getting a product that aligns very closely with their mission and vision for all the schools within their jurisdiction. This is where the stars align in EdTech. In order to ensure that the relationship is mutually beneficial, small EdTech firms can tailor and change their product to each districts’ needs. Then do the same thing at a different district. Herein lies the nimble values of small EdTech—the ability to adapt, and then readapt. Small firms can build an idea, then deliver that idea in a way that meets all the needs of their clients.
New and better products are going to be making their way to the education technology market within the next months and years. Each of these small companies will operate in the same way that any startup would: funding rounds, product development, beta testing, and eventually a go-to-market plan. Where they won’t be the same is in their outcomes. Small education business needs to disrupt the way that big EdTech does business, or else be destroyed by the Godzillas. The big outcome for small EdTech will always be to develop products and services that benefit school districts and ultimately the students those districts serve. In order to stay current, small EdTech must continue to adapt to the constantly changing needs of our students.
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About the Author
Chris Brida is a mathematics teacher in Baltimore, MD. He currently teaches 9th grade Algebra. Chris is a regular guest contributor to our blog, and we feel lucky to have him.