Nurturing An Evidence Mindset: EdTech’s Top Aggregators and Investors

As the year draws to a close, celebrating some exceptional accelerators, incubators, and investor portfolios.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Natalia Kucirkova

CHALERMSUK BOOTVISES

Much of what falls under the edtech label has been found lacking in educational value. There’s now a trend towards embracing “wise” technologies that actively use research, impact assessments, and science-based approaches to advance learning. Such approaches have been modeled by some exceptional edtech aggregators whom we wish to celebrate as the year comes to a close.

Edtech aggregators such as accelerators, incubators, or investors’ portfolio companies wield significant influence in the sector. They play a vital role in shaping edtech quality through their emphasis on fostering an evidence-based mindset in portfolio companies from design to scale. An evidence mindset reflects a commitment to continuously measuring, improving and demonstrating the impact edtech companies have on education. 

‘Edtech aggregators such as accelerators, incubators, or investors’ portfolio companies wield significant influence in the sector. They play a vital role in shaping edtech quality through their emphasis on fostering an evidence-based mindset…’

Supporting An Evidence-Driven Edtech Culture  

Effective collaboration between accelerators and investors is crucial to ensure that mentorship for new startups aligns with an evidence-based mindset, which strikes a balance between return on learning and return on investment objectives. Given the ethical ramifications surrounding generative AI in children’s education, it becomes even more crucial for aggregators to instill and financially support an edtech culture driven by evidence of positive impact.

Take these examples as an inspiration. 

  • The Stanford Accelerator for Learning (USA) is embedded within research. They partner with a wide network of nearly 100 faculty affiliates across the Stanford campus and have 6 faculty director leads for each of their initiatives.

 

  • The SEK Lab Edtech Accelerator (Spain) is part of SEK Education Group with 130 years of history. All the startups that won access to the accelerator can make a beta testing according to their target focus and affiliated researchers choose companies that match with their studies. 

 

  • EdTech Estonia is part of three international cooperation projects (Erasmus, Horizon) which include multiple universities offering their mentorship to the companies. Their co-creation program with Tartu University gives 5 teams a three months to work on their prototype and receive mentorship from researchers.

 

These examples are different from edtech incubators that solely focus on business metrics. Often, with good intention but little training in evidence or research, such aggregators let companies mobilize research to back up their solutions rather than start with evidence to develop new solutions. In contrast, evidence-oriented aggregators prioritize independent studies to evaluate various solutions. They do not look for convenient stories in companies’ data, but support data infrastructure that can demonstrate impact growth over time.

Enduring Companies, Investors at the Forefront

Similarly, impact-oriented K-12 edtech investors understand that enduring companies will be those that have evidence of positive and long-term impact on children’s learning. These investors do not only insist on impact metrics from their portfolio companies, but also provide resources to achieve them (e.g. in the form of mentorship hours, research subsidies or office hours with scientists). 

Edtech investors who are at the forefront of evidence work with scientists and research teams to support their portfolio companies with individualized guidance for determining suitable metrics, and indicators of educational outcomes.

‘Edtech investors who are at the forefront of evidence work with scientists and research teams to support their portfolio companies with individualized guidance for determining suitable metrics, and indicators of educational outcomes.’

The Owl Ventures’ annual Education Outcomes Report serves as an excellent example of impact metrics that investors can encourage in their portfolio companies. This approach ensures that these companies assess their impact on learning over time and integrate impact considerations into all aspects of their operations, showcasing an evidence-based mindset from design to scale.

Another example is The Jacobs Foundation, which committed CHF 40 million to global edtech research and investment and as such, turbocharged EdTech evidence with initiatives that bring together science and edtech industry, including the MiT Solve LEAP Challenge, the CERES initiative or offering subsidies for companies undertaking ESSA-aligned research studies.

When evidence and ethics serve as the guiding principles for edtech investments, edtech can scale their impact and positively change both individual learners’ trajectories and the larger goal of improving schools. Such edtech do not only target traditional outcomes but also skills that reimagine education, such as critical thinking with AI or empathy-led citizenship. Such edtech is wise edtech that we anticipate will expand and thrive in 2024.

Disclosure statement: Professor Natalia Kucirkova is a Research fellow funded by The Jacobs Foundation and involved as team lead in the MiT Solve LEAP Challenge and affiliated member in the CERES EdTech initiative funded by the foundation. The Jacobs Foundation also supports the network of EdTech researchers “WiKIT”, which Natalia leads.

Natalia Kucirkova is Professor of Early Childhood Education and Development at the University of Stavanger, Norway and Professor of Reading and Children’s Development at The Open University, UK. She is the founder of the university spin-out Wikit, AS, which integrates science with the children’s edtech industry. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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