An edtech founder and advisor to a growth equity firm provides sector insight.
GUEST COLUMN | by Courtney Reilly
How does that old trope go? You know the one—that, ‘every industry has transformed through the integration of technology, but schools still try to function the same way they did a hundred years ago…’ Right now, you’re picturing that familiar image of a classroom with its straight rows of old-school desks and a chalkboard at the front of the room, right? In how many PowerPoint presentations have you seen that show up?
‘…that familiar image of a classroom with its straight rows of old-school desks and a chalkboard at the front of the room…’
The reality is—that old trope has been left far behind, and K-12 systems today are fully immersed in the digital age. This may be the biggest takeaway from the recent release of PeakSpan Capital’s K-12 EdTech Landscape map (check it out here if you haven’t already!). In fact, their release announcement discusses the ways in which K-12 education increasingly relies on systems that look, feel, and function similarly to any other industry’s enterprise software ecosystem.
For the Last Ten Years
For the last ten years, we’ve looked at the tiny portion of investment dollars flowing into edtech – just 1.5% of overall venture investing in 2020 – and anticipated the maturing of the industry that would drive a larger portion of funding into the edtech space. With every part of the K-12 system now using technology, that growth potential is upon us. No longer is edtech serving the pioneering early adopters; the late majority is on board, and the adoption curve has caught up across the industry.
The great news for entrepreneurs, companies, and investors is that widespread adoption means greater opportunities to build new and improved solutions to compete in an expanding market. And it’s also great news for educators; this stage of the market means that customers are in the driver’s seat and can demand better.
‘…great news for educators; this stage of the market means that customers are in the driver’s seat and can demand better.’
The first wave of edtech proved that mostly analog systems could function better and more efficiently using technology. Customers will demand that the next wave of edtech optimize for smooth, integrated efficiency that works in the background to leave educators better able to focus on the humans in front of them.
Accounting for a Rapid Evolution
But the full integration of technology into the functioning of K-12 systems is not the only takeaway from PeakSpan’s Landscape map. In creating a useful tool for the industry, accounting for the rapid evolution of both education and technology was a key consideration. While areas like digital credentialing, voice technology, and virtual reality might be relatively nascent in the K-12 space, they are rapidly finding footholds and use cases to prove their future value and should be on the radar of everyone involved in edtech. And as the market matures, evolving the way we’ve historically categorized products to recognize new distinct segments will enable better analysis of the industry.
“We’re privileged to work with exceptional advisors like Courtney and wholeheartedly share her sentiments that edtech is effectively vertical SaaS. There are front- and back-of-house functions with a dynamic constituency that need to be delighted, supported, and optimized to ensure the success of the ‘enterprise’ or the school or district. It’s table stakes and we’re excited by the evolution of the landscape as we see it today and envision it evolving.”
—Sanket Merchant, Partner at PeakSpan Capital, who leads their investment focus on all things edtech (K-12, Higher Ed, Vocational & Professional Learning)
As a multi-sector, growth-stage investor, PeakSpan is unique in its approach, supplementing its sector and stage expertise across the investment team with a rich community of advisors and experts to support the entire investment lifecycle. These external advisors support and inform the firm’s understanding of the market.
The systematic approach exhibited in this Landscape map – including both identifying emerging areas of innovation across new and growing categories, and more intuitive synthesis of legacy categories into smaller, more relevant subsegments – was only possible because of the breadth of expertise that PeakSpan cultivates.
As sector agonistic investors enter this maturing market, capital has and will continue to be a commodity. But the ability to drive impact and value will be best enabled by investors who can support founders and entrepreneurs with this type of access to a range of relevant expert knowledge and capabilities.
The Heart of this Ecosystem
Because while analyzing the market and anticipating the growth curve, it is critical to keep the heart of this ecosystem in mind: enabling the unlimited potential of every individual learner, and the deep relationships they form with peers and caring adults to support their transition into productive, contributing citizens.
‘…it is critical to keep the heart of this ecosystem in mind: enabling the unlimited potential of every individual learner, and the deep relationships they form with peers and caring adults to support their transition into productive, contributing citizens.’
This fundamental purpose will always be what makes the edtech sector both unique and special. To the extent that technology enables more time, care, and concern to be directed to bolstering relationships between educators and learners, the maturing of the edtech sector will positively impact our society.
As both stewards of, and contributors to, our K-12 education system, let’s all keep centered this fundamental role. Onward!
Courtney Reilly is a co-founder of Skillsline, the human skills company, using modern technology and learning science to teach young people the foundations of the human skills essential to thriving in work, school, and life. Courtney also serves as an Advisory Board Member to the CAPS Network, and an edtech advisor to PeakSpan Capital, a $1.5B+ AUM B2B SaaS growth equity firm based in Silicon Valley and NYC. Connect on LinkedIn.