The field of education often adopts technologies well after they appear in the business world. Perhaps for this reason, more and more entrepreneurs are seeing opportunity in adapting these technologies for the education space, and there is a growing community of business-minded people trying to solve some of education’s biggest problems. The companies have names like Instreamia, Biblionasium and Snapp School, and are often run by young people with big ideas.
Monday night in New York City, a line snaked down the staircase leading to Projective Space, an office on the third floor of a Lower East Side fabric-factory-turned-tech-start-up-building that hosted the Educators and Entrepreneurs Mash Up, the third event of the New York Education Tech Entrepreneurs group founded by Douglas Crets last year. A mix of over 240 teachers, administrators and education technology entrepreneurs, their largest turnout yet, filled the space to talk about how technology is changing education and to hear pitches from four education technology start-ups.
A panel that included James Shelton III, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement for the U.S. Department of Education, Rhena Jasey, an English teacher at The Equity Project charter school and Jalak Jobanputra, a venture capitalist with RTP Ventures, touched on many of the points that are often brought up at ed tech events: that individualized instruction and data analytics are of the utmost importance today, that we need to teach kids how to collaborate and make sense of the overwhelming amount of information they have access to and that technology is only a tool and not a savior on its own.
Shelton manages a portfolio that includes most of the USDOE’s learning technology, school choice and competitive teacher quality programs. He said that the large federal investments in education through Race to the Top have helped get systems of measurement in place, but that we haven’t seen yet what can be done with the data. Not surprisingly, Shelton supports the growth of new companies that can help creatively solve problems in education.
“I would love for people to get rich because they taught a lot of kids to read, not because they taught a lot of kids to shoot things,” he said.
After the panel, the tone changed and four entrepreneurs took the stage. Each had seven minutes to pitch their business, which was critiqued by a different panel of judges and the audience. The ideas ranged from a social networking site called Biblionasium where students could post and share books and teachers could track their students’ reading progress to a company called Peer 2 Peer Tutors that finds and pays qualified high-school students to tutor younger kids in a variety of subjects. Another called Instreamia was a web-based language-learning program that uses online media like YouTube videos and adds algorithms that learn the needs of each person logged in.
Warren Black, founder of VR Quest, a virtual reality program that allows kids to create their own educational video games, had an audience member come up and play a demo he created. The man put on the virtual reality goggles and Black guided him through an ancient Egyptian pyramid in search of cats.
“I feel like I’m completely wasted,” the man said as he navigated the warren of halls in the pyramid.
The crowd erupted in laughter.
“It was meant for kids,” Black responded, to more laughter.