Starting Up EdTech

Tapping into the edtech trend and making solid connections.

GUEST COLUMN | by Sue Thorn

Launch PadThe mainstream adoption of smartphones and tablets, the significant increase in online learning, and the surge in MOOCs have spurred an explosive boom in the educational technology startup market. In fact, the edtech market is expected to grow from $31 billion in 2013 to $59 billion by the year 2018, according to a recent report by Research and Markets.

The Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C), a leader in online learning conferences, introduced Launch Pad last year to tap into this edtech startup trend.  As part of the annual Sloan-C/MERLOT Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Symposium, Launch Pad showcases 7-10 edtech startups focused on improving higher education.

The edtech market is expected to grow from $31 billion in 2013 to $59 billion by the year 2018, according to a recent report.

As Launch Pad participants, the selected edtech startups receive highly discounted exhibit space at the annual symposium. These newly formed companies will get an opportunity to demo their products for education industry experts and online learning professionals. In turn, educators and other key stakeholders will have a chance to inform development decisions.

“Too often, the worlds of formalized education and entrepreneurial business remain disconnected,” said, Michelle Pacansky-Brock, chair of the Launch Pad subcommittee. “We wanted to develop a program that created a feedback loop between education professionals and those building tools for the classroom.”

Victor Karkar agrees that being able to have feedback from the Sloan-C audience is important for emerging companies. Mr. Karkar is Co-Founder and CEO of Scrible, an online reading and research startup that was selected to be a part of last year’s inaugural Launch Pad showcase.

“We knew that if we were a part of the Launch Pad showcase we would be reaching a qualified audience of industry experts. Their feedback was invaluable and we made several connections that resulted in pilot programs.”

In addition to the exhibition opportunity, some of the Launch Pad startups will have a chance to be part of panel discussion and all participants will be invited to participate in a workshop facilitated by Michael Staton from Learn Capital.

“More venture funding has gone to edtech startups than ever before so we felt it was imperative to add a venture capital component to this year’s Launch Pad showcase,” said Michelle Pacansky-Brock. “We’re thrilled to be able to offer our Launch Pad startups the opportunity to interact with Michael Staton, a leader in early stage education and learning investing.”

Startups that are in the early stages of funding can’t afford to exhibit at conferences — that’s why Michael Staton believes they should pursue opportunities such as Launch Pad. “Conferences offer the best marketing and conversation channels. To be selected for Launch Pad guarantees a startup increased visibility and the opportunity to talk to the right people about their product.”

EdTech Trends

Victor Kakar believes it is an exciting time to be a part of the emerging edtech community because technology is changing what is possible with digital learning. Further, he feels there is a greater national dialogue on education that is helping to bring a greater focus on the edtech community.

Michael Staton has seen edtech focusing on employable skills and employment outcomes as well as unbundling and unburdening. Unbundling allows students to seek alternatives to traditional higher education through mobile, Internet, and media. For example, startups are offering free and fee-based courses.

Unburdening is when startup companies partner with higher education institutions to offer products and services as an extension of traditional higher education models to help lower the cost.

Ultimately, startups find both opportunities and challenges where education and technology intersect. Sloan-C’s Launch Pad offers the community a chance to look at the horizon and plot a course to improve higher education together.

How to Apply for the Launch Pad

EdTech startups that are interested in applying to be a part of the Launch Pad showcase at the Sloan-C/Merlot Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium, April 9-11, in Dallas, Texas have until January 31, 2014 to apply. There is no application fee. The Launch Pad committee will select 7-10 startups from the pool of applicants that meet eligibility requirements and offer innovative solutions to higher education challenges. For more on eligibility requirements and the application go to

Sue Thorn is a seasoned communications professional with more than 15 years of experience in corporate communications, public relations and marketing communications. She has led communications programs for Fortune 500 companies, start-ups and educational institutions. Write to:


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