Here Come the Accelerators!

Can education innovation scale to save the world? 

GUEST COLUMN | by Don Burton

CREDIT EDGEedtechSome of the world’s biggest challenges, including housing supply, healthcare, and food shortages, will be improved through private sector innovation in partnership and with oversight from government. Charities and philanthropic agencies can sometimes provide needed stimulus, but sustainable solutions require a complete ecosystem that includes both public and private participation. Education, one of the largest such challenges, is an area with the potential to be drastically improved by private sector innovation in concert with government efforts. Throughout both the developed and developing worlds, nations are looking to education as one of the most important natural resources of the 21st century. Those countries that fail to educate their citizens will fail to compete globally.

The right startup accelerator can dramatically increase the chances for success, the speed at which the startup gets there, and the flow of funding that is the life blood of the business. 

Technology has a critical role to play in helping to tackle some of the world’s biggest education issues, from skills gaps in STEM and literacy to education access and income achievement gaps. Even in the most developed nations such as the US, we are seeing increasing disengagement and demoralization of student populations with formal schooling. Less than 25% of the US population graduates high school prepared for college or a compelling career. Traditional modes of teaching and learning, dated back centuries, are failing our millennial students.

Education technology startups are approaching some of these problems by introducing technologies that transform the way that teaching and learning is delivered. However, these fledgling companies not only face the same general business challenges faced by all startups but also a set of challenges very specific to the education sector. As a result, they often need specialist help in order to ensure success.

Solving the multidimensional puzzle of global lifelong education will require an army of innovators. That’s where the recent model of edtech accelerators comes in. Accelerators will help to recruit, develop, and support thousands of new innovations and entrepreneurs around the world. Some companies will fail, and some will succeed. But as a whole, edtech accelerators will galvanize the industry, connecting governments, entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and educators.

An edtech startup accelerator helps startups with navigating the specific market minefields. It helps them understand the issues and build the capabilities they need to be successful in this unique market space. It gains the startups access to the right people who can help them think through their strategies and tactics to best grow their businesses; the right partners who can distribute their products or help overcome a key barrier. The right startup accelerator can dramatically increase the chances for success, the speed at which the startup gets there, and the flow of funding that is the life blood of the business.

Critical considerations for an edtech accelerator

Never before has there been this level of interest in technologies that make learning more engaging, interactive and accessible. The power of cutting edge technologies to transform education is leading to increased opportunity to improve learning, from K-12 to higher education and beyond. I have long been involved with the edtech startup community, and have seen firsthand the potential of education technology to transform learning. That’s why together with co-founder Jonathan D. Harber, we recently launched the new EDGE Accelerator for edtech startups in New York City. But before launching a new specialist Accelerator for edtech, there are a number of critical considerations to take into account to give startup participants the right launch pad for success. These include:

  • The right location: Accelerators need a physical place, a city and metro area, with the right infrastructure and talent to create an ecosystem for edtech innovation. A place like New York city has all the raw elements to ignite an edtech innovation fire. It has an abundance of students and learners with the country’s largest school district, some of the most prestigious private and charter schools, the country’s largest community college system, as well as the headquarters of some of the world’s largest corporations and corporate training programs. It has the largest educational publishers and some of the most prestigious teacher’s Importantly, it also has a large investor community investing in edtech.
  • Access to the right network of advisors and mentors to make an Accelerator successful: A quality Accelerator also needs to provide access to a vast network of resources and talent to ensure participants can benefit from a wide range of specialist expertise.
  • Providing enough funding to really help Accelerator participants set themselves up for success: In addition to providing enough funding to help Accelerator startups participants to grow their businesses, a good Accelerator should also be designed to help participants with the further goal of securing their next round of financing to help ensure their continued success.

Don Burton is a co-founder of EDGE Edtech, together with Jonathan D. Harber. The EDGE Accelerator is now accepting applications for the September 2015 class from innovative edtech startups. The intensive, three-month mentor-led Accelerator, housed in EDGE’s offices in New York City, runs from September to December 2015 and each of the ten companies selected for the program will receive $170,000 in funding. Applications are available at, with selections concluding on June 25.


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