The Coming Revolution in EdTech

There has never been a better time to be bold.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rusty Greiff

CREDIT 17761776 was a killer year for a start-up! In that 12-month span, and in the decades that preceded it, a community of ambitious entrepreneurs channeled unusual courage, conviction and a world-shaping vision into a working MVP – an independent American life. They were probably a little bit crazy – but their 250-plus year “pilot,” with its necessary pivots and A/B tests, has proven to be an imperfect but sustainable success story.

Our Challenge Cup series, held in over 16 innovation hubs globally, and growing to over 50 cities around the world next year, identifies the most dynamic education start-ups in the world.

Today, a new band of Jeffersons, Franklins and Adamses is launching start-ups that re-imagine how we learn and teach through adaptive and personalized platforms, engaging and interactive products, and sophisticated data analytics and assessment tools—in some cases in the palm of our hands.

We hear the bubble-bursting declaration from skeptics, but the Edtech Revolution is alive and still playing in a 5 million person open online course near you!

Last month I joined Washington, D.C.-based global incubator and seed fund, 1776, to identify and partner with these high-potential and performing teams to launch and help scale transformative learning companies.

Through my own efforts with phenomenal teams – at Grockit, Sylvan Learning and other edtech start-ups – in successfully scaling learning businesses, and through my failures in poor product launches and missed growth opportunities, I’ve learned that turning a great idea into a viable product and a sustainable company takes a lot more than access to capital. The biggest challenges facing investors and entrepreneurs in edtech remains product adoption, competitive differentiation, sales cycles and growth timelines.

Every month, well-intentioned and aspiring entrepreneurial teams are realizing that an ever-changing and overwhelming mosaic of regulations, powerful branded market leaders, and complex purchasing and delivery dynamics can impede growth at the global, local and state level by intimidating entrepreneurs, institutions, and consumers alike.

At 1776, we believe early stage growth is realized only when the best, highest-impact products and teams are integrated with distribution channels, expertise and relevant school and consumer relationships to validate their products and models. Through our evolving national network of decision-makers, funders and corporate and non-profit partners, we help promising companies cut though red tape and navigate conventional potholes.

Our Challenge Cup series, held in over 16 innovation hubs globally, and growing to over 50 cities around the world next year, identifies the most dynamic education start-ups in the world that we connect with senior government, education, business, investor and operating leaders to nurture edtech companies, often culminating into global corporate, consumer and institutional partnerships.

There are new revolutions to launch and we see compelling trends that should encourage edtech innovation including:

  • Increased for-profit educational spending – with over $125 billion spent in childcare, K-12, post-secondary, and corporate/life skill training – roughly 10% of the estimated $1.3 trillion education spending in the U.S. in 2014;
  • Impressive capital invested especially in seed and Series A – with over $1.3 billion invested in edtech companies in the U.S. last year;
  • New funding sources from global foundations, family funds, and philanthropic venture vehicles to new seed accelerators are, in many cases, thoughtfully channeling capital into for-profit edtech companies;
  • Explosive growth in the global educational consumer – especially in the Middle East, Asia and African markets – in core and supplemental products and services providing greater opportunity for U.S.-based startups and international edtech companies to scale in emerging markets;
  • A multiplying effect as life-long learners using mobile platforms and consumer devices offer new content, curriculum and personalized or collaborative instructional opportunities; and
  • The “science of learning” in data analytics, efficacy research and assessment is transforming the products and models impacting forward-thinking schools, institutions and their community of learners.

Educational entrepreneurs have extraordinary problems to address – from early childhood development, to closing achievement gaps in K-12, to teacher success and effectiveness, to improving college preparedness, retention, and graduation as well as 21st century skills and career readiness.

So patriots, unite! With such an array of important challenges to solve, there has never been a better time to be bold. We at 1776 are excited to partner with fearless teams, rule-adjusters, imaginative thinkers and doers, and a community of partners to launch the next wave of smart solutions that will transform education around the world.


Rusty Greiff is Managing Director of 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based global incubator and seed fund that helps engineer the success of the world’s most promising startups tackling important challenges in education and other areas.


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